In Defense of our Hospitals

During my stay in Europe this summer, I was told I needed to do a biopsy for a tumor (which this post is not about). After the bothersome procedures, I met up with my doctor and then he went on an annual leave the following day. Naturally, I expected reports to arrive by mail but nothing came. After ringing in, all I received was a summary of my visit with the doctor and brief formalities. There were no images included in the reports whatsoever.

Puzzled and confused, I realized at that point that I needed to request a new ultrasound before going back home. I like to keep my records organized in a folder.

I called the hospital I did the core biopsy in inquiring about my mammogram & images. I was told there was nothing to give out. Any images they had are digital and usually are not given to patients unless another hospital formally requests them and this normally takes a few days to settle. If, and when, I decide to retrieve my images, I need to pay an additional fee to retrieve the data from their storage. This sounded seriously ridiculous to me.

Okay, so I thought I’ll be proactive and book for a new ultrasound appointment to avoid this fiasco. I had to make 50 different phone calls to 50 different places and then finally came to the understanding that IF I decide to make an ultrasound, I need to have a referral letter from my GP. This is not an option for me because of time constraint.

Okay so what’s the solution? I’ll just find a screening center with self-referrals so I don’t need to waste another 3 or 4 days seeing a GP. Over and above, I made another 50 phone calls and finally I found a private imaging center. I called them; I gave them my details and waited. An hour later, they call back saying they cannot take me in because the specialist finds it (probably) unnecessary. Fine. I find ANOTHER private screening center with self-referrals who tells me, while indeed they accept self-referral patients, they will still need to contact my doctor (who again happens to be vacationing somewhere around the globe). I overlooked the tendency to define to them what “self-referral” means.

I finally decided to contact a hospital outside my hometown (which will most likely be a commercial one) that can take me as a private patient, and even that is currently weighing the possibility of seeing me without a post-biopsy images which is the incentive behind requesting an ultrasound to begin with!

So here I am, having wasted an entire day doing absolutely nothing other than waiting by the land phone (and another 2 mobile phones) for clinics to call me just so that I can get one single friggin appointment to do an ultrasound screening that will probably take less than 30 minutes to complete.

While I acknowledge that our hospitals back home aren’t the most efficient; if there’s one thing I highly appreciate at this moment, is having access to medical services when I need them! Hospitals here in the Uk are masterful in receiving phone calls and they usually do get back to you, promptly, 90% of the time; however, for simple procedures like a blood test or an ultrasound- you need to go through all of these pointless and needless procedures that are frankly uncalled for. Back home, I usually just walk into a private blood laboratory and get my blood-works down without any referrals and then get the results faxed to my home on the same day. The same thing with ultrasounds or any other X-ray imaging. In a perfect world, it would be really nice if I could combine the positives of each medical system (here and there) to spawn the ideal one.

Meanwhile, I continue chewing on my apricot waiting for that damn phone to ring.

My Visit to the Churchills

I went on a road trip this week to visit Blenheim Palace. A place famed for being the finest view in England and the birth place of Sir Winston Churchill. Overlooking a stunning lake, bridges and miles of acres with old oaks; quoting Lady Randolph Churchill “I found no adequate words to express my admiration… I confess, I was awed!”.

Before reaching the palace grounds, we drove through Oxfordshire and immediately we were greeted by old brick. Lots, and lots of old soot-saturated brick. Little 17th century domestic structures with small balconies, recently washed garbs hanging from laundry strings, and several plant pots filled with orchids. Around every road bend, there’s a small “Fish & Dragon”; “Rabbit & Mouse”; or “Lizard & Pig” inn or pub.

At last we drove into the palace gates, parked our car, and walked to the main spectacle. The great court with its massive 18th century English Baroque engraving came into view. Lavish ornamentation crown the north, east and west gates. The lion of England assaulting the cockerel of France, trophies of war in front of the portico, and a clock tower situated right below a golden sphere. The sight of it is magnificent! I felt my eyes trying to seize the sheer size of it all at once and I couldn’t. I probably wasted half my memory cards at the gates alone, at which point I also realized what a mistake it was for me to leave my Canon 70D behind.

Now a little bit of history to explain why this place is significant to begin with. Blenheim, in fact, is the only non-royal structure termed a ‘palace’. A man named Sir Winston Churchill born in 1620 married Elizabeth Drake and had a son, named John; Johan married Sarah. The couple were well connected to the royal circle during Queen Anne’s accession to the throne. In fact, Sarah was close friend to the new queen.

John had extensive military experience, so when the war broke out in Europe, he became the obvious choice of leader for the allied forces. John aided England in defending Holland against the French, and then on August 13th 1704,  John became a legend when he won a decisive victory at Blindheim (aka Blenheim) on the River Danube in Bavaria. This victory was so important in European history, because John became known as the man who crushed Louis XIV’s ambition to rule Europe.

As a reward, Queen Anne gave John the Manor and Honor of Woodstock and the Hundred of Wootton, where the palace would be built. John was granted Dukedom and became known as the 1st Duke of Marlborough, and from him- as of 2015- 13 dukes descended.

Things weren’t all that peachy; however, when the palace was first commissioned to be built. We were told Sarah (John’s wife) was very stingy, demanding and quite the character. She gave several of the people who were building the palace a hard time. As a result, many architects, master carvers and painters never returned. The building of the palace stopped due to bickering with the Treasury. Later, Sarah’s friendship with the queen also faltered and John was dismissed from court. The couple left England but returned after Queen Anne passed away, three years later.

It’s very interesting to me how much power John yielded despite the hiccups he and Sarah had with the royal court. None of John’s male heirs survived and therefore he was able to convince the court to appoint his daughter Henrietta as Duchess of Marlborough, which is not a title females could inherit at the time unless they were married to Dukes (obviously). Henrietta did not have any children of her own, so it was her sister Anne who married Charles Spencer, from which later generations of Churchills came. This is why, from that point on, their name became Spencer-Churchill. And yes, you have guessed it already- they’re the same Spencers related to Princess Diana of Wales.

So where does Sir Winston Churchill fit in this whole equation? Neither, Winston nor his father were dukes. His uncle and cousin; however, were. I laughed at a little quote he mentioned later when he said, “At Blenheim I took two very important decisions; to be born and to marry”.

During the holidays, Lady Randolph Churchill gave birth to the later prime minister in a small room unexpectedly. They even had to borrow a small cute onesie from someone to clothe him.

It was also in Blenheim where Churchill convinced his cousin (9th Duke of Marlborough) to invite Clementine Hozier to stay at the palace- a girl he was madly in love with. On the 11th of August, Churchill proposed to Clementine next to the Rose Garden as they took shelter from a summer downpour under the Temple of Diana.

The long library, naturally, became my most favorite place in the Palace. The room is 183 feet long and 19 meters high. It is considered the finest and 2nd longest room in British housing. It also accommodates a whopping 10,000 volumes that were collected by the 9th Duke.

I absolutely loved every detail in this room, from the pastel colors, the wooden flooring, the stucco decoration in the dual domes of the ceiling, and the Willis organ hoisted against the north wall at the end of the library.

Clearly I couldn’t keep my hands off the shelves despite the endless warnings. For a moment, I thought they might be replicas but indeed they’re real! There is an entire collection of Shakespearean works, a hundred several bibles and lots and lots of Greek tragedies.

My second favorite place in the Palace is the rose garden, also known as the “Rosary”. I later learned from a history book I picked up from the Palace gift shop that “rose gardens” had long been a standard element of leisure grounds hidden behind a screen of trees or shrubs away from the house. They particularly became very popular during Victorian times. The 7th Duke, in particular, moved this beautiful garden in place of a Chinese one. The book also mentioned that at some point there were a dozen emus, chicks and kangaroos roaming freely next to this are. Can you imagine that?

It was so surreal to walk between thousands of roses beds, both standard and dwarf. They were carefully sectioned, cut and labeled. The smell alone was wonderful. As soon as I pushed open the metal gate and heard it creak, I imagined Clementine walked across the flower beds with her long ruffled skirt; one hand around Winston Churchill’s arm and an umbrella in the other. Can you imagine how amazing it is to have a garden like this next to your home that you can always escape and read in next to a beautiful lake?

Unlike other world heritage sites, the restaurants at Blenheim are really good. We decided to eat at the terrace restaurants overlooking the fountains. I ordered a char-grilled chicken burger with a side of french fries and it was flavorful.

At the end of our day, I spent the drive back home in a daze from everything wonderful I’ve seen. I spent the evening devouring all the history books I bought from the gift shop. I highly recommend visiting the palace if you’re ever in town. There’s also a family oriented pleasure gardens on West side of the palace. Plenty of butterfly houses, mazes and children activities with lots of greenery.

The video I uploaded above is a compilation of  the photos I took. I feel terrible that I didn’t take my Canon. The iPhone’s camera isn’t that bad but in some parts the images are slightly blurry.

On Books Censorship

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Here’s a nice quote & food for thought that I stumbled on today from the Association of American Libraries on censorship. The article this quote was taken from discusses a recent debate over whether books should carry ratings similar to those of movies, TV shows and video games or not:

“The support for ratings is not surprising. Many people are looking for security that they won’t be offended or [made] uncomfortable. Rating books won’t do that. Even with the cleanest rating, a person can still be offended. Because people are unique and books are complex. No rating system is going to convey everything in a book. To do that you need to read the book and decide for yourself,” she said.

“The spirit of democracy is free choice, debate and critical thinking. We want individuals not robots. Ratings allow other people to make choices and restrictions for you based on criteria that you may or may not value. Thankfully, we live in a country where the first amendment guarantees our right to do that.” — Kristin Pekoll, assistant director of the office for intellectual freedom. 

Related posts: 

A Book’s Journey: From Mailbox to Shelf

Have you ever wondered how a library book ended up on its bookshelves? There’s usually a long process from the moment the book arrives in the library’s mailroom all the way to the moment it’s finally prepped and dolled for borrowing. Here’s a really fun article written by the Library of Congress that explains how it’s done. You can read The Path a Book Takes article here.

It actually made me feel a little proud of myself considering I ran a one-person-library for five years on my own. Every process that took place from acquisition, to security, to cataloging and marketing- I had to do it myself. Registering one single book took a long time; Imagine doing the same process for over 500 books. Things got a little easier, later on, once we started hiring part-time librarians, but when I look back to those early days, or even read my earlier blog posts about the struggles I faced (which you can find categorized under Office Scraps), it makes me smile. I really enjoyed every bit of it.

Sometimes I wonder whether it was worth it all, especially now since we’re in the process of a massive transition. Another management will soon take over and my work is done. While I’m happy the place is expanding, I secretly felt a little sad, wondering whether the effort and time I put was  ever worth it. And now I realize it was. Every experience I had; every lesson I learned, and every book circulated was because of the work I did, even if it seems useless now.

Review: The Painted Man

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In the world of The Painted Man, creatures have been haunting people during nightfall for centuries. In order to keep safe until dawn, people developed magical wards which take the shape of written forms. Because of this, life is hard and city dwellers cannot commute freely. Messengers are men who train to perfect the art of survival. Not only do they deliver letters and commodities between cities, but they also learn how to ward on the move.

Arlen Bales is a young boy who lives with his parents in an isolated farmland until one of the dark creatures demolished his home. Forced to witness brutality at a young age, Arlen grew up rejecting fear. He also wanted nothing more than to become a messenger to flee for a chance of survival. In the process, Arlen crosses paths with many characters and learns savage lessons to finally eradicate many superstitions and form the path of the awaited “painted man”. 

Who is the painted man; what does it mean and how did he come into being is something you’ll find out when you read the book (obviously). 

I don’t remember when was the last time I enjoyed a Fantasy book. It’s safe to say it was a long long time ago. During my last visit to the bookstore, I wanted something new to read so I hopped from one genre to another without anything in mind. Later, I had a chat with the salesguy and after telling him the 50 things I liked and didn’t like, he handed me this book, which I’m very grateful for.

The book is rather big and the author takes his time describing each main character of the story. And if I hadn’t known that this book was part of the series, my complain would be that the focal action of the plot lies mainly in the last 100 pages. Once you’re done; however, it all ties up really well in order to prepare the reader for book two of the series.

The character development is done really well, that by the time you reach the end of the book, you pretty much can anticipate how each characters will react, not because the story is predictable but because you’ve known them so well. Overall, there’s a very strong resemblance to the story of Attack of the Titans. Volume one mainly introduces you to the main characters and where they come from; whereas volume two expands on tactics of war. 

I can’t recommend this book enough. If you haven’t done so already, it’s definitely worth the read. 

Note: The book goes under a different title “The Warded Man”. They’re both the same. 

Scrapbooking in My Midori Travelers’ Notebook

It’s been a while since I sat in my crafts room to create anything. I have so many ideas for projects but very little motivation. Usually this is the time of the year when I look forward to getting a break, but this summer has been seriously challenging for me on so many levels. Aside from my own health hiccups and lack of sense of purpose, four of my relatives were admitted to the hospital at the same time; one of them passed away shortly after. It’s been over a month since I went to work too. Spending my days looking after sick loved ones is using up most of my energy, there’s very little left to feel inspired about anything.

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So when my Midori Travelers Notebook arrived a few days ago, I felt a little happy. It made me want to watercolor again. Each day I would pick something random from my desk and paint it. During evening times, I would sit at my crafts table and put together random scraps of paper that I’ve gathered throughout the day (receipts, tags, recipes, doodles…etc) along with my watercoloring to document the day into a scrapbook layout. I still haven’t worked it out into a habit. It’s just something I seem to want to do, every now and then, to get my mind off things.

Pepper & Salt in our Basement

Pepper & Salt are two bengal cats that live in our basement. Their mother is a street cat that we used to feed leftovers every now and then. They found a flower pot in our garden and made it their home. Because we’re a little obsessed with cleanliness, Pepper & Salt will probably not stay with us permanently. The plan is to keep them temporarily until they’re weaned and strong to venture on their own to explore the neighborhood. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying watching them grow. They may not be polished and refined as domestic cats but they have amusing personalities.

Pepper is the stockiest of the two. He’s much calmer and softer in countenance compared to his brother Salt. Despite that, he also inherited his mother’s jitteriness and uneasiness. Although he’s used to having me close by, he still wouldn’t let me pet him. Ironically, he happens to be the affectionate one in this cat family. He’s the one you catch by his mother’s side all the time demanding cuddling. He thinks twice before taking plunges and the first one down the rabbit hole whenever things are strange and unfamiliar.

Salt, on the other hand, is the clown. He’s thin as a toothpick but with a personality triple his size. He wouldn’t allow a thread or bug to travel by unnoticed before marking it his own. During play time, he’s the fastest, bravest and most dominant. He also has a funny habit of hiding his toys so Pepper won’t touch them. When it’s nap time, he sleeps more than the rest; when it’s feeding time, he’s the pickiest. Without a doubt, he’s the first to pull Parkoor stunts and get stuck in a tree unable to climb down.

Here’s a short video documenting their funny play

E3 Presentations Recap

After a stressful phase for me, the E3 came at a much needed time. It was something to be excited about for a change. Here’s a short recap of what took place.

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The event took off with Bethesda, who only a few days ago announced Fallout 4. The amount of creativity Fallout fans exhibited at the start of the event was refreshing. I particularly liked the short interviews they had with fans and their keen attention to details in custom designs and props. The other pleasant surprise Bethesda had in store was Dishonored 2 alongside Doom, Battle Cry 3, and Fallout Shelter (for the iOS). They launched the event with a good start although it made me wish, in several instances, they had more to say than “We’ll say more later”.

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While Bethesda’s was short and sweetly seasoned, Microsoft’s was clamorous with the resolve of hurling shock bombs on everyone. If Halo: Guardians, ReCore, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare II, Sea of Thieves, Fable III and Gears of War wasn’t enough to dangle a carrot in our faces, Cuphead and Dark Souls III sealed the deal- at least for me. And if those weren’t enough either, our minds totally blew away at Microsoft’s HoloLens presentation. I’ve never seen anything like it! Next, they threw a GT car across the stage to unravel Forza 6 and finally when everyone least expected it after all the foregoing fireworks they went ahead and made Xbox One backward compatible. That, in itself, has completely obliterated the Xbox 360 and every other game developer waiting in line for their presentation, unless they could top it (and sadly, to my detriment, no one did).

EA

EA’s presentation centered around the Star Wars franchise: The Old Republic and Battlefront, which I have to admit had a nice gameplay. The footage of the latter was very solid and I particularly liked the idea of toggling between FPS and 3rd. It seems a lot of games are now adopting this. The other focus of the night for EA was the reveal of Mirror Edge Catalyst, which I’m not a huge fan of. Other than those, there were a few other titles such as the new Need for Speed, Plants vs. Zombies (obviously), FIFA 2016, NBA Live 16, Madden NFL 16, Minion Paradise (meh unless you’re a kid) and a heartwarming indie game called Unravel, whose developer stole everyone’s attention due to his severe nervousness and excitement.

Ubisoft

Ubisoft’s appearance in the show went head to head with Microsoft. At least they tried to. If Microsoft dropped a GT car across the stage, Ubisoft decided to bring Jason Derulo to celebrate Just Dance 2016. He sang; they danced; gamers sat looking unimpressed. What DID impress everyone; however, was the amount of new titles, such as the three separate ones from the Tom Clancy’s series: The Divison, Rainbow Six, and Ghost Recon. The other was a new IP entitled For Honor, which I have to admit I really really liked. Other than these, South Park: The Fractured but Whole, Awesome Level Max, The Crew: Wild Run, Anno 2205, Trackmania, and (saving the best for last) Assassins Creed: Syndicate were all announced. Honestly, what I liked about Ubisoft is their ability to take criticism well. They’ve had their fair share of negative feedback recently, especially after AC Unity’s bad reviews. During the presentation, they didn’t try to hide any of that. In fact, they had a funny behind-the-scene interviews with the developers and their reaction to the public’s negative feedback. While not necessarily genuine, their reactions was funny. If anything, it did make them come across as a company that wasn’t ashamed of its mistakes and was doing its best.

SonyE3

Sony’s presentation wasn’t necessarily disappointing but because it is Microsoft’s contender, a lot of us had hopes that it would top the latter’s backward compatibility surprise, or at least, issue the same upgrade. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. At the same time, the session wasn’t a total let down when suddenly out of the blue, Shenmue III’s kickstarter project was announced. I couldn’t believe my eyes and to everyone’s happiness a few hours later, Shemnue’s kickstarter reached the budget required to develop the game. The other huge surprise was Final Fantasy 7’s remake. Other titles that I’m also looking forward to are The Last Guardian, Horizon, Uncharted 4, and Fire Watch. Hitman, Street Fighter, No Man’s Sky, Dreams, Call of Duty Black Ops, and Destiny’s new expansion The Taken King were also announced.

NintendoE3

Nintendo, to my surprise, was the biggest disappointment of E3 2015. Out of all the other presentations, it was the only digital event, which kind of robbed off everyone from getting the satisfaction of meeting the developers in person live on stage. Worse than that, not many interesting titles were announced other than perhaps Zelda’s Tri-Force on the 3DS, Fire Emblem Fates, Xenoblade Chronicles and Yoshi’s Wooly World. I was secretly rooting for a new Mario Sunshine. In fact we’ve been rooting for one for a decade now and the best we got was the new Super Mario Bros a couple of years ago. The other titles from the franchise announced included Mario Tennis, Mario Paper Jam and Super Mario Maker, none of which I felt I would be getting into. Star Fox, Skylander, Hyrule Warriors 3DS, Metroid, Mirage Master, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, and Yokai Watch were announced as new games from Nintendo as well.

SquareEnixE3

SquareEnix came last and right after Nintendo’s disappointing digital event, which made me hope even more for something to be hyped up about and alas they didn’t disappoint. Getting a sneak peek into Kingdom Hearts III was enough to keep everyone pleasantly happy. The other title I’m excited about is Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. Other titles mentioned were Just Cause III, The Rise of Tomb Raider, World of Final Fantasy and Deus Ex. A new IP was also revealed under the current name of Project Satsuna. It’s still very early in development so not much is known about it but the initial drawing works looked fabulous.

Overall there’s so much to be hyped about this year in the world of gaming and it wasn’t a fail. What I didn’t like, though, about the execution was how some companies relied on over the top thrilling experiences to market games. Putting hollywood stars in the front line to host a game launch, displaying a fancy car or turning the show into a musical concert just seemed a tad bit too commercial for me. Maybe I’m old-school like that, but I’m of the notion that hard core gamers will support game developers because they truly care about the work they do. They don’t need extra whipped thrill on the top, but that’s just me I guess.

Apple Watch as a Fitness Companion (Review)

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About a week ago, I received a surprise call from my brother, who at the time was on a short trip, asking me which Apple watch I wanted. It was really nice of him since I’ve been toying with the idea of buying one. A couple of days ago I received my gift and yesterday I’ve put it to the test in the gym. If you want a comprehensive review of the watch itself, this post will not be one. I’m only interested in using the watch for fitness so my focus is mainly on Apple’s workout app.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been using my phone to help me keep track of my workout progress. With the iPhone 5, I used to wear a waist strap. I did not have issues with it other than the fact that I don’t like strapping gadgets on my body. I refuse to wear them all day long except for when I’m in the gym. The biggest hurdle was that, even with a strap, the phone got in the way of my movements; if it wasn’t the phone, then it’s surely the headphone wires. Last year, I upgraded my gear and I purchased the MIO HR monitor to keep track of my calories. This slightly reduced my tendency to hold a phone as the MIO functioned as a wrist watch. The biggest flaw; however, was that it wasn’t able to track my calories. As a solution, I bought the MIO fitness band. It displayed the calories count for me but it wasn’t as sturdy as the older version. Any slight movements affected the reading. When Apple announced a workout app in the Apple watch, I figured perhaps this would solve the problem.

Pocket-Lint described the Apple watch as being able to paint a “a complete picture of your fitness and the effectiveness of your workouts”. In their opinion, “Many fitness devices simply can’t do any of this; they’ll serve up a generic amount of calories burned based simply on the fact that you’re moving, but you won’t see detailed information for each specific exercise”.  I kind of disagree with that. A lot of the fitness apps I’ve used in the past were pretty comprehensive. The only difference is that you need to use several devices and apps in order to achieve that. The Apple watch, on the other hand, does all of that in one place supposedly (but not quite).

The Good News

The Apple watch sports edition is water resistant, comes with a changeable durable band and looks cool. The interface is easy to use, especially if you’re used to the iOS. The watch syncs directly from your phone; there’s no need to hook it up to iTunes. The workout app has various activities to choose from: Outdoor walk, outdoor run, outdoor cycle, indoor walk, indoor run, indoor cycle, elliptical, rower, and stair stepper. For each activity it gives you a breakdown of information. In my case, I tried the app to track my workout for a dance class and body toning. Not only does it display your active calories but also your resting calories (which I really like), HR, steps, distance, awards and achievements (if there are any). The watch itself memorizes your last readings so the next time you’re at the gym, it will display those as your milestones if you prefer to keep them; otherwise, you can use a free mode to workout without a target. Other features I like about the watch as a whole is that it gives you the option of making calls, sending messages, and reading your mail. While they’re not fitness features, they’re more practical than using a phone in the gym.

The Bad News

Although the idea of using the Apple watch, at least to me, was to save me the hassle of using a phone, it cannot function comprehensively without third party apps. Meaning, you do need your phone to be there. Another way to look at it is to view the watch as a remote to the phone itself. In order to make calls, listen to music or send messages, the watch needs to remotely access the iPhone. There are some features that you can use without the iPhone such as tracking your calories and HR but if I was outdoors then it cannot use GPS on its own. This will probably be a problem for me when I cycle outdoors. It means that I still have to carry my phone with me. The other issue I have with it is that there’s a limit to how much music you can upload to it (the cap being 1GB). Having said that, at the time being, these issues are not a deal breaker for me. While I’m at the gym, I usually keep my phone in a small bag near my mat. I can still move around and toggle between machines, using the watch just fine, as long as I’m within the iPhone radius. One or two times; however, the watch wasn’t able to tell the phone was near by.

Verdict

Overall the device is okay. Is it amazing? Probably not. There are nice features in it but not something you wouldn’t necessarily get with other options. If you mostly do your workout outdoors then the watch will probably be lacking; if you don’t mind carrying your phone (which ironically defeats the purpose), or you’re like me and you keep your phone not too far from your workout area, then the watch can be useful. And last, if you’re already happy with your fitness devices, then I would just pass on this one and wait for the next generations. I predict a lot of useful upgrades on it in the future that could make it outstanding.   

Review: Assassins Creed Unity

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After picking this game up then putting it back on the shelf to collect dust; picking it up again then putting it aside some more, I finally finished the game yesterday. Not really sure how to describe this really. If I were to hold Black Flag as a yardstick then I won’t be doing it any justice at all. However, if I were to put aside its flaws then it’s not such a bad game. The story, is by far, Unity’s biggest winning ticket. The events of the game is what sucks you in immediately the moment you start playing till end. There are a few places here and there where things become slightly mundane but it doesn’t fail to deliver in terms of keeping you wanting to find out more. The gameplay on the other hand can be at times an obstruction and obstruction is an understatement. There were moments when I wanted to literally throw this game in the trash and never look back.

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So what is it that me and hundreds others hate about it? Bugs! Endless bugs! A garden variety of bugs all over. It’s almost as if Ubisoft released the game too early and they shouldn’t have considering there were two other games from the series out around the same time. Had they delayed the release and focused on refining it, it would have been a really good game. It truly has all the potential to be one. Aside from the good story, the graphics and level of detail is outstanding; the multiplayer and co-op missions are fun and weapon variety along with character customization is decent. It’s sad that you cannot enjoy it to its full potential.

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To make things worse, even after 3 update patches, the game still seems to be unfixable. I did notice a small change with the last patch though. The agony of playing the game wasn’t because the levels were difficult. Sequence 12: Memory 1 left me literally in tears of frustration because I couldn’t control my character. My assassin would heave himself in the air in every other direction other than the one intended. In a stealth game, that’s the last thing you need. Sometimes it takes a really long time to walk through highly secured areas and then at the last minute when you reach a window- an opportunity for exit, the character decides to hoist himself in frenzy all around the window frame then transport to the ledges around the frame and by that time, your cover is blown, the alarm is triggered and 65 security guards are at your tail.

Other than that, throwing knives in this game don’t work. Literally. I had to stand nose to nose with the enemy to finally allow it to recognize there’s something in front of me that I want to use my throwing knives on, which kind of defeats the purpose of using a throwing-something. I cannot count the times when they could have been extremely handy to avoid combat. Instead, your aiming cursor shadows the enemy but does not trigger it as a possible target. As a result, you can throw your phantom knives but good luck reaching the enemy. I also can’t figure out why sleep-inducing knives or whistling were thought of as unnecessary for this game but the laughable shape-shifting stealth option to suddenly transform into something else was thought of as inventive! And when I say shape-shifting, I literally mean that. Instead of making your character look as if he changed clothes to camouflage himself, he suddenly and magically became 5 foot, blonde and put on a few pounds around the waist. No, seriously?

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Talking about the game’s flaws could be endless but does it stop you from enjoying the game? I’m not sure. They were cumbersome enough for me the first time to stop playing all together. Had it not been for the slow PS4 market at the moment, I might not have decided to give it another try. Once I did though, the story grew on me. To be fair, I consider the characters of this game to be well rounded beyond compare to all the other games in this series, perhaps even more than Black Flag.

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Ubisoft apologizes and fully admits that the quality of the game is diminished by its technical flaws, which I imagine only puts more pressure for the next game in line. I can’t imagine what new things Syndicate is bringing to the series at this point and it’s a little worrisome considering the similarities it might have with Unity. The time period are not that far off, civil war, and aesthetically speaking, it could come across as repetitive, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

If you’re not a fan of the series, I wouldn’t really recommend playing this at the risk of forming an impression about it based on its black sheep. If you can tolerate its inconsistencies and have the option to rent it instead, then it could be worth it.

Review: Sea of Darkness (ND #32)

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Sea of Darkness is Nancy Drew’s latest mystery game. The 32nd installment in the series to be precise. Much like all the other ND games, something goes wrong set within a certain setting and theme where Nancy Drew is ushered in to save the day. With this particular title, the focal point is a celebrated ship called the “Heerlijkheid” set in a small Icelandic town. The captain of the ship has gone missing and there’s a rumor of a legendary treasure involved. Nancy Drew arrives in town to investigate the scene, interrogates the people, and of course cracks some hidden puzzles to unravel the mystery.  Because the theme is a nautical one, you get to learn a lot about ships and sailing, not to mention a small introduction to Icelandic language.

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To be honest I was very disappointed with ND’s Shattered Medallion (no. 30) and while I did enjoy Labyrinth of Lies (no. 31), I wasn’t that crazy about it either so I kept my expectations humble for Sea of Darkness. To my surprise I liked it a lot. There’s something about how the story ties up very well in it that takes you back to the older ND games and how good they were. Not to mention there was one particular heartwarming conversation in the game between Nancy and Ned that really took everyone by surprise. To ND fans, this is obviously a big deal since it gave everyone a little insight into Nancy’s relationship with her friends. It was sweet and memorable.

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The game’s interface remains the same but I did notice they fine tuned a few things. The icons are slightly smaller and almost shinier. The character design and graphics have really improved. Just standing inside the Cultural Center gift shop looking outside the window is enough to make you feel an immediately sense of coziness. The soft movement of snow falling against the glass is beautiful. It reminded me a little of ND’s Captive Curse (no. 24). I found the puzzles a little harder to solve this time, almost as challenging as the ones in ND’s Shadow at the Water’s Edge (no. 23). Much like the latter, there were a lot of algorithms involved as opposed to mechanical-based puzzles. I love numbers but they’re not the kindliest friends to me, so I did take a couple of peeks into the strategy guide for help. The voice acting is top notch and the music is catchy and memorable. Overall this is a great ND game and I’m so happy at what Herinteractive has done with it. If you haven’t played any of the ND games, this is a good one to start with.

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And as usual we are given a small teaser at the end of the game for the next ND game and this time it’s going to be set in Salem during Halloween. That should be fun. It almost seems like they alternate their installments between horror & suspense. It only makes sense that the next one should be a spooky one.

Related Posts: 

Make it Small. A Review of Mini Habits

Mini HabitsI’ve read so many books on habit formation and while some of them were fantastic, Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits by far stood out the most for me. The benefits and power of the strategy delivered in this book hinges on your ability to soft-pedal the process of a habit. Most people, including myself, rely on motivation to execute habits they would like to achieve, but because motivation is dependent on emotions and emotions are unpredictable, the author believes motivation is an unreliable strategy for lasting change. There are so many things that can alter your motivation such as external stimuli, chemical fluctuations, blood sugar, etc. And once we’re down, we don’t really want to get motivated and therefore habits fail. What a lot of books teach you is to find creative ways to wrestle with your brain in order achieve productivity.

Guise realizes that changing your brain is not easy and therefore introduces an alternative strategy to forming habits other than motivation. The idea is to rely on willpower instead. Unlike motivation, willpower does not need emotions and therefore is more reliable. However, willpower is limited and in order to use it as a foundation for habit formation, you need to start small. Really really small. Like 1-push-up a day small. So small you brain will think ‘meh! I’ll just do it’. This way, your resistance will always stay at bay and you’ll take things one step at a time without feeling overwhelmed.

Guise also believes that due to our human nature, if you keep your 1-push-up-a-day consistently, eventually you will WANT to do more but the trick is to maintain your small expectation no matter what. This way, if you exceed your mark there’s no limit to how much you can go up but you can never go below a 1-push-up which should only take 1 minute to complete. If you’re not in the mood for it, just do the 1 push up and you’ve had a successful productive day.

At first this whole concept sounded ridiculous to me. Would I really achieve anything with 1 push up? But then I sat and remembered the dozens (if not hundreds) of times waiting to start 10 push ups and they never happened. Had I just kept a 1 push up, I would have been more productive by now. I’m using the author’s example of a push-up but it works with anything really. If your objective is to read more then limit it to 2 pages a day. If it’s to write more than only set your bar to 50 words a day. The idea is that it has to be so small and ridiculous your brain will think you’re so silly and not worth its vengeful plans to screw it up with procrastination.

I highly recommend the book. The Stephen Guise’s writing is very clear and to the point. Also he may not be a famous rocket scientists but everything he says is common sense and feels right. Additionally his data is backed up with facts and research in addition to the experiments he did himself. Overall it’s a really nice book- simple and small as it claims things should be.

Blog Makeover

I’ve been on the look out for a better blog theme that enables me to display my crafts work in a different way but I couldn’t find something I liked for a while. Most blog themes are either designed for photographers in mind or writers. It is very rare to find something that can incorporate both. On the one hand, I still prefer the traditional layout of a column and a side bar but on the other l wanted something designed specifically for crafters with enough space to display photography and art flawlessly. I found my solution in ThemeZilla’s new theme Curator. I think what grabbed my attention was the grid-like layout which is very reminiscent of Pinterest. It’s a little pricy but I love how flexible it is. It comes with a custom background, colors and menus; a full width template, infinite scroll and several post formats (aside, gallery, image, link, quote, video, and audio (yay finally!).

CuratorAt the time being I’ve set it up with one column and a side bar but I think in the future I’m going to turn the grid-display function and see if I like that. I do acknowledge that perhaps it is not as colorful as I would have liked but I think it’s the most suitable. Photography and art work already comes with a lot of color, it seems the best option to keep the layout clean and simple to avoid visual noise (is that a term?!).

I’d love to hear what you guys think! 

Childless: Circumstantial Infertility

I stumbled across this article written by a woman who claims to be secretly grieving over a child she never had. At first I was merely going to tweet the link of the article but the more I kept reading, the more I felt emotionally charged at every word she used and decided this warrants a post on its own. You often see people sympathizing with couples who grieve their lost chance of conceiving due to biological circumstances but no one speaks about the grieving thousands who are healthy but childless due to circumstances beyond their control.

In fact, in the west women are judged for not having been smart enough to have adopted or conceived from a donor’s bank. In this part of the world, single women are equally judged and it’s always the case of being “too picky, having high standards, too demanding, stupid or careless”. Perhaps it’s a feminist whim I never thought I had in me or perhaps it’s the 2 months shy of turning 34- I really don’t know. What stood out the most for me was when she said, It’s the grief you don’t feel allowed to mourn, because your loss isn’t clear or understood”. In a world that is constantly brimming with occasions to celebrate family connections, baby showers, deliveries, receptions, weddings and valentines- it took one brave woman to actually come out and express what thousands of childless women cannot and will probably never say.

I believe the intention is not to give prominence to the possibility that they’re the type of people that covet or envy your happiness because others managed to achieve what they couldn’t but rather it simply means that in a world that is often so busy living the “norm” there are a good number of women out there who secretly grieve even if they have successfully attained internal peace and acceptance with what fate has ordained. Much unlike what some think, they’re often forced to be too busy trying to live a meaningful life against the currents of the norm to actually compare or ask for sympathy. But in my opinion, they deserve just as much if not understood then to be heard before possibly being judged.

I’ve pasted the entire article below to make it easier to read:


My Secret Grief by Melanie Notkin

The grief hit me in my mid-thirties without warning.

By all appearances, my life was fantastic, or pretty close. I had a great job in New York City, good friends, some good dates. But then there were times, lonely days and nights, when I would cry. I would sob. I would lie in bed awake for hours, tears running onto my pillow. I was in mourning, but I didn’t know it.

Having experienced the same feeling for a few years, I now know the grief was over being childless, or more poignantly, over the loss of the baby I never held in my arms. By that point in my life I had expected to be married and a mother to at least two kids. I was far from it, still very single, no kids. Passing by a new mother and her infant strolling down Broadway would rattle my womb. Even seeing a woman swollen from seven or eight months of pregnancy would make my petite frame feel invisible and small. The sadness I’d feel around my period was deeper than hormonal. I was mourning the loss of one more chance at the family life I always dreamed of.

And I grieved alone.

Grief over not being able to have children is acceptable for couples going through biological infertility. Grief over childlessness (link is external) for a single woman in her thirties and forties is not as accepted. Instead, it’s assumed we just don’t understand that our fertility has a limited lifespan and we are simply being reckless with chance. We’re labeled “careerwomen” as if we graduated college, burned our bras and got jobs to exhibit some sort of feminist muscle. Or, it’s assumed we’re not ‘trying hard enough,’ or we’re ‘being too picky.’ The latest trend is to assume we don’t really want children because we haven’t frozen our eggs, adopted or had a biological baby as a single woman.

This type of grief, grief that is not accepted or that is silent, is referred to as disenfranchised grief (link is external). It’s the grief you don’t feel allowed to mourn, because your loss isn’t clear or understood. You didn’t lose a sibling or a spouse or a parent. But losses that others don’t recognize can be as powerful as the kind that is socially acceptable.

Let me be clear. When you’re over 35 and heartbroken over a breakup with the guy who you hoped would be ‘the one’ or haven’t had a good date in a while or watch your close friends go on to their second or third pregnancy, it’s hard. It’s disarming. And sometimes, it’s unbearable.

I’ve always loved being around babies. I couldn’t get enough of my own newborn nieces and nephew. Not having my own, I felt like the world, in one big swoop, was moving forward and I was being held back.

Turning 40 helped. Just the anticipation of turning 37… 38… 39 and remaining single was creating more anxiety than anything else in my life. Once I hit 40, I realized that despite my dreams (and deep biological and emotional desire to be a mother), I was still happy for all the other things in my life. Being an aunt was (and will probably always be) my greatest joy. Starting my own business, becoming an author and fulfilling my professional potential have been extraordinarily rewarding.

I’m 42 now, and I’ve quietly moved on. Becoming a mother at this point would be a very happy surprise. Of course, I still have my moments. That hard-won peace of mind can be interrupted by an unexpected package from a PR agency sending me a newborn baby onesie for promotion. (There’s something about a onesie I have no use for that is especially tender). Or when people assume I never wanted kids because I don’t have any. Or act surprised when I reveal that I do. Or worse, presume I am happier for being childless or more fortunate for not having to ‘worry about kids.’ Some have even come to call me “childfree” — a term coined by those who have chosen never to have children and have no desire to have children, simply because I’ve ‘chosen’ to wait for love. I not only have to cope with my circumstantial infertility, but I have to defend my desire to be married to someone I’m crazy about before conceiving. I have to defend why I’m not a mother when it’s all I ever wanted to be.

The grief over never becoming a mother is one I will never get over, like the grief over losing my own mother 23 years ago. But like that kind of grief, with time, it’s no longer constant or active. Yes, there’s still hope I’ll meet a man who has the desire to have a baby with me and will be prepared to be with me through the treatments I may need to make that happen. Or grieve with me should they not work. But mainly, I just keep going, looking for love. Thankfully, there’s no biological time limit on that dream.

I cautiously hold onto the hope that I may still have a chance to hold my baby in my arms — and that I am still attractive to men who want children too. I know I’m not alone. I am one of the 18 percent of American women between the ages of 40 and 44 who are childless. Pew Research reports(link is external) that half of this group has chosen that fate; they are childfree by choice. And the rest of us, about one million American childless women ages 40 to 44, suffer from biological or circumstantial infertility.

How we choose to move on from this grief is now the focus of our own kind of happily ever after. And I must say, I plan for my ‘happy’ to indeed be ever after. And hopefully, it won’t be alone.

Review: Bloodborne (No Spoilers)

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This is a game that I bought on a whim and as a first impression loathed due to the excessive amount of gameovers I was encountering in the beginning. I never played any of the earlier soul games made by the same creator so I really didn’t know what to expect. When it comes to close-combat battle systems (which is the case in Bloodborne), I usually rummage through the scene with repetitive button smash. This seriously doesn’t work here. The game’s difficulty is set really high and forces you to think carefully about your tactics. You truly have to earn every kill and accept responsibility for every failure. Every enemy in the game even the seemingly small and weak could kill you. What really separates your success from loss is a thin line. Because the battle system is structured in a way where you could lose HP very easily but also gain HP if you land your slashes successfully it becomes easy to be greedy. There’s always that part of you that compels you to hit one more and that’s when you lose.

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Other than not being used to this type of battle system, I wasn’t accustomed to the excessive cut content which seems to be a norm in soul games. The story, though very complex, is heavily implied and never directly delivered. Everything we know about the world of Bloodborne comes from lore picked up through items (except for a handful of FMVs). It’s funny how for the first few hours of my gameplay, I still waited for a thorough cut-scene or a conversation to explain what was happening. It never occurred to me that I was on a mission to piece things together from the items in my own inventory. In fact, I wasn’t aware that I could press the square button to read what little lore is left there until much later. Even after finishing the game, there were so many loop holes intentionally left behind for question. I came across information online somewhere stating Miyazaki grew up reading a lot but rarely understood what he read. Ultimately he depended on his imagination to fill in these gaps. Later when he created his games, he deliberately made his stories mysterious in order to very much inspire everyone’s imagination as much as his own. It’s also interesting how even though I finished the game, I still go back to read online and find something new every time being discussed or theorized by new players.

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After spending a week of trial and tribulations, the game truly grew on me (until the next gruesome boss of course where I endlessly vowed never to touch the game again). The magnificent graphics and architecture of the game kept me engrossed. Truly the quality is unparalleled. Even the music, despite how subtle and hardly noticeable in places is immensely exquisite.

I think it’s safe to say that without a doubt, this is probably one of the best games I played for a long time now despite my love-hate relationship with it. I hated how difficult, scary, creepy and frustrating it can be but I was absolutely swept away by its lore and level of depth. If you can harvest (pun indented for those who played it) diligence and patience then it’s definitely worth your time!

Watch the awesome trailer below! Highly recommended!

The Order 1886: A Non-Spoiler Review.

The Order:1886 is a game developed by Ready at Dawn and SCE Santa Monica Studio, and one that I have been looking out for since it was announced in 2013. It was finally released last month on February 20th. The game is a single player, third-person-shooter set in an alternative history London during the 19th century. Without saying too much to ruin the game, King Arthur has inspired an order of Knights appointed to keep London safe from half-breeds (a mixed race of man and beast). Following through King Arthur’s ambition to bring hope to people’s fears, the Knights swoop the city to contain the outbreak so they could maintain order and peace. However along the way, this undertaking becomes complicated as Knights struggle to abide by the order itself and their own convictions.

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The first thing that stood out for me was the consistent sombre-tone of the game followed by flawless realistic graphics and filmic-presentation. I do not believe I’ve seen anything like it. Notwithstanding its perfection in that area, the game did not receive good ratings. Amazon gave it 3.5 stars; IGN 6.5 on a scale of 10 and Gamespot 5 out of 10. The biggest complaints from players were that it lacked interactivity with the world delivered, too generic, linear and unforgivably short (5 hours on normal difficulty only). It also seems that rumors broke out before the game was released regarding its length, in which Matt Miller commented from the Game Informer saying that “1886 goes against the current tide of open-world wandering and emergent sequence, and banks on the idea that players can enjoy a straightforward and relatively brief cinematic adventure”.

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There were positive things about the game, for instance other than the amazing graphics, the voice acting was decent, the music was immersing, the action scenes were suspenseful and the background was authentic. Personally I don’t like long games that require putting in more than 40 hours of gameplay with massive amount of detail so 5 hours wasn’t an issue for me, but putting aside my own preferences- is it really enough for a game like The Order 1886 to be considered a successful game for gamers today? I guess the next question to ask would be, “What makes a good video game?” and more accurately “what makes a good video game for 2015?” In the past, not many could object to single-player linear games. Titles such as Super Mario Brothers, FF7, and the first generation of Zelda games made it big at the time and could be considered as linear. Today; however, gamers’ expectations drastically changed especially with multiplayer and massive open worlds. Good graphics and a good story does not cut it anymore.

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Well, according to IGN and Kotaku, there are several school of thoughts pertaining to a game’s success and I’ll summarize them as follows:

1. Gameplay vs. Story. Let’s take Destiny for instance, the story is almost nonexistent but that did not take away from its success in keeping gamers playing nonstop and coming back for more. The opposite could also be true.

2. Experience vs. Story & Gameplay. This school of thought is of the opinion that as long as the gamer is able to get immersed regardless of the game’s gameplay and story, then it has done its job. In this regard anything from music, an engaging character, or memorable universe is enough to instill a rewarding impression.

3. Innovation. An engaging story, progression and game customization are considered standards in this school of thought.  The game must deliver something new and unless it does that then it is very well on its way to being forgettable.

So where does The Order:1886 fall in terms of these three categories? Obviously this varies from one person to another. There’s no doubt; however, that the developers of the game put more focus on the game’s filmic presentation along with its story which far outweighs The Order’s gameplay. There’s very little importance in upgrading weapons for example, you can get by with pretty much anything you pick up. When it comes to experience though, the game’s heart wrenching soundtrack along with the architecture, costume and decorations of 19th century London could immediately situate the game in the hearts of history fans. When it comes to innovation, I could think of very few games that utilized history the way The Order did and how it encompassed famous historical figures such as Tesla, Darwin or Jack the Ripper into its storyline without coming out too cheesy. Not to mention, the level of technology at the time and how it was used in order to make the best out of every invention to strengthen the city’s defense demonstrates good research and in my opinion- inventiveness. Yes there are times when the game can be generic and lacking interactivity and there are a lot of loose ends left untied, I also think it’s fair to say that I ended the game feeling like I wanted more out of it but I wouldn’t say it was a total waste of my time.

I believe gamers today are just so accustomed to expecting certain criteria in their games such as multiplayer, open worlds and a specific type of inventiveness. If you approach a game like The Order: 1886 with that mind-set then you’ll surely find that it disappoints heavily. However, if you take the game for what it offers then there’s a good chance you could enjoy it as imperfect as it may be in today’s standards.

For game trailer, click Here

The Story Behind Mary Poppins

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Last year I watched Saving Mr. Banks in the UK. Having grown up watching Disney’s Mary Poppins, I was curious to see a film about its author (not to mention both Hanks and Thompson are in it). When the movie ended, I walked out neither loving it nor hating it but I knew I wanted to read the original novel which I never did during my childhood. At that time, Waterstones stacked up several copies of the first book in the series in beautiful hard cover binding, it was hard not to pick one. I finished reading the novel yesterday and immediately re-watched the Disney adaption, eager to see how the story pans out in both.

In an interview Emma Thompson, who played the role of P.L. Travers in the movie Saving Mr. Banks, said “it is wonderful to play this relationship between two people who’ve been very damaged as children yet responded to that damage differently. Walt expressed it with a kind of huge, sometimes misplaced optimism and faith in human nature. (Traverse believed) that there is great darkness in life and if you want to really serve children, you include the darkness”.

This is very accurate. There were several passages in the book that left me wondering- “is this really suitable for children?”. It wasn’t absurdly over the top but in many ways Travers’ stories correspond well to the shocks and creeps of the likes of Christian Hans Anderson and Brothers Grimm children’s fairy tales. Travers herself spoke of Mary Poppins as a woman that “never pampers the children and that she makes them face great truths”.

In this sense, I totally understand why Travers turned down Walt Disney’s pursuits to buy the rights of her novel despite his efforts of trying for 20 years. They simply do not see things eye to eye and both of them approach children fantasy in a somewhat different manner. I believe in Travers’ head, her greatest fear was that Mary Poppins would eventually succumb to the “Disney Treatment” as she puts it and sentimentalization. Ironically, I think the “Disney Treatment” and sentimentalization was the best thing that ever happened to Travers’ Mary Poppins!

Before talking about the movie adaptation, let me describe what the original book was like. Unlike a regular novel, there is no single course of narrative to allow the explanation of characters, themes and settings from a beginning to an end. Instead, the book serves as a compilation of several short stories that took place between two points in time- the East Wind when Mary Poppins arrives in Cherry Lane Tree to join the Banks family, and the West Wind when Mary Poppins would leave the Banks residence. Each chapter recounts a short story that imparts an understanding about Mary Poppins and her relationship with the kids and the Mary Poppins World.

The Mary Poppins World is a fantastical fairy tale realm filled with surprises, magic and myths that the children are invited to visit but never really belonged in. Travers is so smart to keep Mary Poppins aloof that way. She consistently denies the absurd in the face of reality despite the pipe dreams she encourages the children to take part in, which ensures she always stays mysterious and interesting in the eye of children.

If I was a fairy tale author in the 1960’s, I would also find it equally hard to digest the idea of turning my imagination into a movie; however, Walt Disney did an incredible job with the adaption. Putting into consideration the limitation of cinema at the time, the blend of live acting with animation is ingenious. The movie does not religiously follows the pattern of the book but gives justice to many characters of the first novel in the form of a song or side story. In the book, the emphasis on Mary Poppins being fair and strict far outweighs her kindness; whereas in the movie Disney chose to subdue that bitterness making it easy to fall in love with her character.

Overall I found the book well written and fun to read for children but my perception of Mary Poppins, without doubt, will always and ever more remain loyal to Walt Disney’s adaption.

Links:

National & Liberation Day

More than 20 decades ago, our February 25th was a family tradition where my parents decide to take us on a drive downtown to look at the National Day frills and decorations. It had to be an evening trip so that we get to see the ornament lights arranged on all the public buildings lit with hundreds red, green, white and black electric lights glistening at night. My father would turn up the radio and Shadi Al-Khaleej’s songs blare against the car’s speakers. 

My favorite sitting spot during those trips was leaning against the ridge at the rear window. I would rest my chin against my hands and sit watching as the car moves turning the beam of lights into a sort of kaleidoscope. There were no hand held mobile devices at the time or text messages or social media buzzing. It was all very simple- the soothing movement of the car, the radio and occasional chatter every now and then. Cars storm by and you can hear the joyful honking, flags sticking out of windows and every so often a disorderly hand comes out of one of those windows spraying spaghetti or foam against ours. 

Little did we know just a couple of years after that our homeland would be taken away from us and that same street filled with festive celebration became deserted. In place of the happy honking there were war sirens; and in place of those hundreds colorful lights there were broken windows and choppers assaulting.

It’s been so long since the invasion of Kuwait but when you’re a child of 9, witnessing a war will stay imprinted in your brain forever. The loud noises, the tension, the hiding, the fears- all of it stays with you. Even after the liberation, trying to ease back into the routines of a normal life was hard. Being lectured at home to be careful and not wander here or there during school time was an everyday ritual. Being told our school’s playground was dangerous now and might harbor underground mines provoked all sorts of vicious depictions in a child’s brain. Even now in my 30’s I still can’t get over the sound of sirens or my fear of flying or anxiety in general. As kids we didn’t understand politics at the time but the impact the war etched in our memories stays real.  I get so angry sometimes when I read stuff being written by ignorant people online undermining the experience of what happened during 1990 or unabashedly ignoring it all together.

Here’s a little short video to recap some images of what took place. The other video gives tribute to those who lost their lives during the war defending their land and also those taken away from their families and children as prisoners but never made it back home (the video contains graphic scenes of torture and might not be suitable for all). 

Tribute Video

Happy National & Liberation Day

“Come Fly With Me” Journal Page

I’ve been reading plenty of classics lately and so for this week’s art journal page I was in the mood to make something dreamlike and fanciful. Not to mention my package arrived last week and one of the things I got was Hero Art’s super cute cloud stencil which I really wanted to use. Surprisingly the page took less time to make compared to my previous pages and I had a lot of fun making it. Sadly halfway through filming the project though, I realized I didn’t press the recording button for one of the segments. I added a little note in the video explaining what was missed so hopefully it’s clear enough.

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Also I’m a bit weary of using too much yellow because the previous Tim Holtz Distress Paint “Mustard Seed” I used in my Lemons themed project was excessively bright compared to the mellow “Wild Honey” paint I used for this one. At first I was going to paint the sky blue but I’m so glad I went with Wild Honey after all. I think it worked out really well in balancing all the other elements in the layout.

So without further rambling, here’s the video. I hope you enjoy it.

Happy Mess Making…

Omnifocus vs. Todoist

I have been using a paper planner since the beginning of 2015. About a week ago, I realized I was inputting my agendas on the wrong week. Basically I was a week ahead of my actual one. Trying to clean up the mess I did and move the agendas a week before was a nuisance so I decided to temporary hop on a digital planner until I reach where I left off on the paper planner. If you’ve been reading my blog long enough you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Omnifocus and have been using it for a long time but when I decided to switch digitally, I decided to test-drive a new app and my choice was Todoist.

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The one major give that Todoist had on me in the beginning was the simple interface. I realized what a digital planner should be like- something that didn’t entail a lot of guides and workshops to teach you how to use. At the end of the day, it is a tool to tackle your projects and is not a project in itself. Omnifocus on the other hand is immensely versatile, which is not necessarily a bad thing but IMHO requires more time to set up. Let’s take the example of assigning routines. In Omnifocus an entire menu is triggered for you to choose which days your task will appear in and what kind of “repeats” you would like to assign to that task as there are several kinds. On Todoist, there’s a single bar to assign this and all you need to do is write “every/ever/ev Sunday, Wednesday or…etc”.

The other big relief was the smooth syncing. I always had issues with syncing Omnifocus across different devices. Also, if my database exceeded a certain number, then it will prevent it from syncing all together which prompts me to ensure that my database size always stays small. In contrast, with Todoist even the desktop app functions like a Web page, which I’m assuming uses a different kind of storage than Omnifocus. On my hard-drive Omnifocus consumes 50MB whereas Todoit uses only 3MB.

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Having said that, there are a few things I do miss about Omnifocus. Not to mention I invested a lot in online workshops to learn how to use it properly but often it happens that over time I forget about what I learned due to the sheer size of features it allows. The other issue was the price. Although Omnifocus is very expensive (as most Omni apps are), it’s a one time payment and with that one time payment I get all my updates (except for major ones), including all the bells and whistles. Todoist, on the other hand, is subscription-based which I seriously don’t like. Although it’s $20 a year, over the long run it will cost more than Omnifocus. I can still use the Lite version but that means I won’t be able to have notifications or the notes feature which I use a lot.

Here’s a simple summary chart where I compare the two:

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Luckily I received an email a couple of days ago to try Todoist upgrade for free. I was seriously contemplating sticking with it but I’m not sure the subscription is worth it after all. I normally use the Due app for reminders in which case I’ll be paying the subscription mainly for the notes feature. I don’t consider this whole experimentation with Todoist as a loss though because apps like these inspire more time to accomplish and less planning. Using a versatile app like Omnifocus can be overwhelming but you can always use the same philosophy applied to simple apps as Todoist to Omnifocus.

Meanwhile Omnifocus came out with their 2.1 version upgrade on February 19 which includes some tweaks to the interface matching OS X Yosemite, added icons and some improvements to syncing. I decided to give it another go and minimize the way I use it just like I did with Todoist, otherwise if that didn’t work then I’m just going to jump back to my good old Midori paper planner.

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Lemon & Orange Picking

A couple of weeks ago I joined my parents in the garden for fruit picking. We stopped buying lemons & oranges since we planted their trees. That little trip from the kitchen to the garden to pick a lemon or orange for a dish your making might be silly but can be so rewarding. At this time of year all the trees are fully in bloom and they kind of look like Christmas trees with orange and yellow ornaments. Their citrus smell is amazing too.

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The oranges tasted weird though, or I’m just not a fan of sweet oranges. I always prefer them to be sour/sweet. I think I read they’re slightly more beneficial than the other variety though but I could be wrong.

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And this is a tree which we recently planted. I didn’t use any filters on the shot because I think it’s perfect as it is. Another tree used to be in its place which died and we needed to remove it. What was interesting about it though was that it had two deserted bee hives. They were quite big and the level of intricacies that went into making them was just amazing. I regret not taking good shots of them at the time. I’m hoping with this coming Spring, bees will take interest in this tree instead and make it their new home.

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I just realized I always write a post at the end of winter expressing how much I’m going to miss these garden trips because for the rest of the year I really really do.

My Vegetable Noodles

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Last month I passed by Williams-Sonoma at the Avenues Phase III and picked up their Paderno Spiralizer. I’ve been planning to get one for a while so that I can make vegetable noodles but couldn’t think of where to get it from until I heard someone mention it being sold there. The machine is very simple and hand operated, not to mention it’s also BPA-free and dishwasher safe; however the lady who sold it to me informed me that it’s better off being washed by hand instead. The type I bought comes with 3 blades instead of 4. It produces spiral cuts, shoe strings or noodles depending on the texture you want. The blades are very easy to change and the ones you don’t use can sit snug in their drawers at the bottom of the machine itself.

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This weekend I settled for a zucchini and carrots salad until I find a good sauce for vegetable noodles. All the ingredients were raw and fresh. I started with 2 medium sized zucchinis and 1 carrot cut in half. I placed the vegetable in its designated placed hooked between the handle bar and blade and began spiraling. Immediately long zucchini ribbons came out from the other side.

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The carrots; however, required a bit more force to spiral compared to the flawless results of zucchinis. It seems it works better with mushier vegetables just as I suspected. I probably just need time though to get used to it with different kinds of vegetables.

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Finally, I drizzled organic extra virgin olive oil, added Parmesan cheese, black pepper and sea salt. The result was amazing. The dish did not take more than 15 minutes to prepare and the taste was just fantastic.

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Dismantling the machine was not a hassle either. I slid off the blades and left them soaking in warm water and dish soap for a few minutes before running them under water with a few mild scrubs using a dish towel. Next, I wiped the spiralizer and then put it back in storage as good as new. The entire process including preparation time did not exceed 20 minutes. So far I’m loving it and I think it’s the perfect solution for a quick snack during the week when you’re in a hurry.

If you’re interested in getting one, you can find it still being sold in Williams-Sonoma for 19KD. For more information about the machine, dimensions & features, the link is below.

Link

“Library” Another Journal Page

LibraryArtJournal

While I sit and wait for my next shipment of art tools, I mine the thousands of layout ideas I’ve always wanted to make but failed, one of which is a library layout. Last summer while I was in the UK shopping at HobbyCrafts I found a special edition Roald Dahl stampers set. The cling ons were sadly not the best quality but I loved the paper patterns. One of them came with an image of an opened Dahl storybook. I cannot tell you how many times I attempted to recreate a “reading” design with the 6 duplicate pages of that pattern and every single time I tried, something went wrong. That’s the case with art sometimes. You need to stop trying and wait for the next inspiration to hit so that you pick up your brush and start all over again. One of those inspiration moments took place last week while I was looking for art magazines in a stationary shop. My eyes fell on a shelf stacked with tiny manila envelopes. We normally buy those for our library at work to carry checked-out borrowing index cards and just like that, I thought “hey! why not use that as a center piece behind a few stacks of books?”.

I’m always curious how other mixed media artists brainstorm design ideas, because I’m sure they don’t fully depend on spur of the moment accidents like I do. I remember one of two mentioning on their blogs that they keep a notebook for doodling. I should try that sometime.

So anyway, I hope you like my page this week. It took about 4 hours exactly to make and another 7 hours to create the video (not to mention the additional hour of uploading due to slow connection) so after 11 hours of this project, I think it very well deserves a snug place in a post on my blog.

Happy reading… or watching.

Review: The Strange Library

The Strange LibraryThe Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Strange Library is a strange book indeed. The only thing credible about it is the word “strange”. It also has a peculiar sort of packaging. It vertically snaps like a notepad but once you take the clasp off, the book reads from left to right like a regular book. The font is big and fashioned as if type-written which I really like. Each page is accompanied by a right-side creepy illustration- which I really don’t like.

The content can probably be devoured in one sitting and the translation is done well enough for it to move smoothly. The only thing is, I have no idea what this book is about. It’s probably worth mentioning that this is my first Murakami book so I wasn’t sure if this is something he usually does with his stories.

Without mentioning any spoilers, the story is about a little boy who visits the library because he’s interested in the Ottoman Tax System and upon conversing with the librarian, he is immediately ushered into a strange reading room and locked captive in it until he completes three big volume of the subjects he requested. There aren’t more than 4 characters in the entire story. The events are dream-like and surreal.

The ending; however, is absurd and makes no sense. You can tell the book is heavily loaded with symbolism. It’s just not long enough to develop analogies or turn them into anything discernible. At the same time, the book isn’t short enough to be a simple story either. The other plausible explanation is that Haruki Murakami was heavily stoned writing this.

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Review: Song of the Sea

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This Irish animated film is unheard of, although I just learned it was nominated for an  academy award. It was produced by Tomm Moore– one of the directors of another Irish title “The Secret of Kells”

The tale of Song of the Sea is based on Celtic mythology. It’s about Selkies who are mythical beings, half human and half seals. A lighthouse keeper marries a selkie and during the birth of their second child, something goes wrong. Without saying too much, the film has a little bit of everything: a whimsical adventure, mythology, Celtic music, and casual humor. 

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What stood out for me the most about this fil was the artistic craft. The art work is very distinctive. The simplicity is astounding. Each scene takes shape almost like a still canvas, and although at times the drawings appear unreasonably proportioned they hold you spellbound with how pretty they look. Everything is drawn bulbous, round and cute- it’s such a feat to the eyes. 

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I wish I could say the same about the story though. For someone who’s used to Miyazaki’s fanciful worlds, I grimaced at some of the parts finding them hard to digest. It might be because sometimes the movie comes across as very realistic but then quickly shifts eccentrically, unlike Miyazaki who introduces you to the improbable from the very beginning. That way you know what to expect and the improbable doesn’t seem doubtful anymore. 

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Having said that, I think kids would like this film although you might be facing plenty of questions that require an open mind to converse and explain. Some slightly scary scenes here and there, and another handful of heartbreaking ones but nothing more than that. 

Trailer

Making New Space

It’s been a while since I wrote about the library. I like to document stuff from time to time because when I go back and read through all my Office Scraps posts, I find joy in seeing the developments over the years even if small. I took over a storage room in 2009 and it’s gratifying to see the library transform and come this far. But because budgets are tight, I try to mine our collections as much as I can. One of the ways I do this is focus on consistent weeding. A lot of people are generous to donate books but we also find ourselves either hoarding outdated materials or running out of space. This is why after every weeding, we set up a small humble book festival for freebies.

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Normally I would giveaway about 50 books or a 100 max, but this year I launched 2015 with the courage to giveaway 281 books. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do because the books were interesting but not useful for our target patrons. Despite that, I find it hard to give them away for sentimental reasons. I remember spending time when I’m free in the library to look through them. I even used some of them for personal projects & workshops but I realized that loving books doesn’t mean you have to keep them. They might be far more useful to someone else (at least I hope). So for a week, I watched in agony AND joy as one book after another disappeared from the giveaway table and into someone’s bag. I also give myself credit for only stealing one.

And today I crunched some numbers and I found out that out of the 281 books we set up, 156 were picked up! Isn’t that awesome? It really made me happy. Now I only hope that they do actually end up being read and not spined collecting dust. 

Image Link 

Routines. The Anythings & Somethings

Everyone is back from vacation at work this week setting motion to the usual routines. I haven’t taken a vacation since last summer except for a couple of days off in December to attend a family event in Dubai but I also feel like I need to regulate my weeks. At the beginning of this year though when I wrote down my 2015 road map, I told myself I wasn’t going to tie myself to a succession of monthly, weekly or daily rituals because nothing went right in 2014 when I did that. I settled on a plan to write my goals for the year but in a way that will ensured bendiness. The good thing is that I never take myself seriously during Januarys. I expect a lot of hiccups in my plans until I find something that works.

Well, the first two weeks felt unslacken compared to the strain of the previous year when I had a very busy schedule to keep, soon after; however, I felt a little strayed. I actually missed routines. I came to the conclusion that not everyone can afford to live positively drifting. If you already lead a busy life that is filled with responsibilities both at home and at work, then the last thing you need is a rigid roadmap. Wandering about your day unoccupied by a to-do list is a bliss but when you have so much space to do anything, that anything begins to haunt you. What should that anything be?!

I noticed when I’m at a certain point in the day, that anxious dread of anything is minimized when I look at my planner and remember that I have to do something at 5 at a certain day of the week. On good days, I actually look forward to whatever that something is. The trick, though, is that you have to stick long enough with your somethings in order for them to grow on you and eliminate the anythings.

So what about you? Do you like having routines or do you prefer living your day without the hassle of scheduling anything?

Review: Footprints in the Sand

Footprints in the Sand (Wedding Cake Mystery, #3)Footprints in the Sand by Mary Jane Clark
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The plot revolves around Piper Donovan who’s in sunny Sarasota Florida with her family to attend the wedding of her cousin. Shortly after, they find out one of the bridesmaids mysteriously disappeared and it’s up to Piper to unmask the mystery.

This book was such a disappointment to me. First of all, there was no mention whatsoever that this is not a stand alone title but part of a series so if you’re not a Mary Jane Clark books veteran then chances are you’ll end up like me, taking a while to decipher then remember who’s who in this story. Aside from that, the way the chapters are written is exceedingly vexing. After approximately 6 paragraphs, the chapters end abruptly probably in the hopes of creating suspense; the result however, is a 300 page book with 108 chapters. Sometimes I feel Clark runs out of ideas on how to end the chapters obviously because you can’t possibly end 108 chapters 6 paragraphs apart in a suspenseful note every single time, yet Clark insists on doing that. The book is a fast read- I give it that, but there is no room to tune in the book before another chapter springs up. Overall, the writing felt very flat to me. After 150 pages, I decided to finally cave in and give this book a rest and I think I did myself a great favor.

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Anime Winter Season 2015

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The winter anime season kicked off a couple of weeks ago and I was wondering whether I should really write about it since out of all the new releases, I’m only planning to watch one. It slightly feels like the fall seasons come with better titles compared to the winter ones. Some series from fall 2014 are still running such as Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso which I really liked the character design in. It also seems to have gained a lot of good ratings. I’m way behind though so I still don’t know how good it really is. As for Akatsuki no Yona, another one from fall 2014 that is currently running, remains on my list despite how I felt about its pilot episode. It came across as very flat in the beginning and borrows heavily, in my opinion, from Fushigi Yuugi but after the early episodes, it picked up nicely and I think it owes it to the sudden transformation of the lead character. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon: Crystal series is also still airing at a snail’s pace (every other week) and frankly it is off putting how slow it’s going but I only watch because it feels so nostalgic to my childhood. 

From the winter 2015 season, there are a couple of anticipated titles such as Durarara and Psycho Pass’ second season but since I didn’t watch the prequels they didn’t pick my interest. The one that actually did was Aldnoah.Zero. I’m holding off on the second season as I catch up on the previous one.

Ansatsu Kyoshitsu is probably, by far, the highlight of this season that everyone has been talking about. I first stumbled on the manga in KinoKuniya’s bookstore this last December. The yellow packaging grabbed my attention from a distance (talk about judging a book by its cover). I really hope it turns out to be as funny as people say it is. I only bought the first volume but I think I’m going to jump right ahead into the anime once I’m done with the manga.

And speaking of comedy anime, I always feel like my watch list is not complete unless I add a few funny ones in between and in this case I went back to School Rumble, Gintama and Kill la Kill. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to watch anything deep and I’m hoping these will fit the bill.

For the entire list of the winter season, you can check out the Live Chart here.

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Highlighting in eReaders

I really liked last week’s episode of Books on the Night Stand. Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman from the podcast show shared a few interesting ideas on how you can highlight & annotate text on your eReaders using Evernote but before I summarize them I thought I would talk a little about how I normally do my own highlighting. 

I have to admit, I find it far more easier to highlight with a real pen and then flip through the pages to find my markings. Because I’m a visual person, my mind sometimes registers the location of my highlights based on the thickness of the book. I can immediately tell if my chicken scratches are in the first quarter of the book or at the end. As a result, with eReaders I feel a little lost.

When I’m reading fiction then highlighting within iBooks or Kindle will suffice since I do not highlight much. Triggering the built-in highlight list from the app is more than enough. When it comes to nonfiction books; however, I highlight A LOT and the built-in highlight list can be a little overwhelming, in that case, to rummage through. With productivity books and such, there’s plenty of information & instructions that I eventually build on, either to implement or turn into a post or an idea of some sort. In this case, I dedicate a notebook in Evernote for my book summaries. I try to summarize the entire book in a page with only the information that I know I’ll be using. I would have the advantage of having that notebook with me wherever I go and I can easily send a summary to my Daily Launcher notebook if there’s something I want to focus on in that particular day or week.

BookSummaries

Sometimes the ideas are complex or interrelated, I find that they’re better suited to be expressed visually so I use MindNode Pro to draw a mind map and then add that to my Book Summary notebook.

MindMap

Other than nonfiction and fiction books, I do read a lot of articles from time to time that spur my imagination or just inspire me to reflect. In those cases, I use a printed Journal to jot down my ideas. I find that physically writing them down helps me digest the information better compared to typing. In a nutshell, that’s as far as I go using Evernote for my book annotations. 

The podcast went even further by introducing other ways such as using snapshots. Let’s say you would like to save time on typing and take a snapshot instead. Evernote has an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) feature, meaning it will turn the text in your image into searchable characters. This is quite handy and one of the ways suggested was to take a snapshot of several books stacked on top of each other and you’ll end up with a searchable list of some of the books you own (the titles on the spine are now recognizable). If you use the Evernote camera, then you have the added advantage of including tags & notes also. 

Another suggestion was to use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip information about books from Amazon for example and then attach the copied selection to a reminder. This allows you to be notified whenever the book is released. I still find it easier to use other Current Awareness services online but I can find it useful to set a reminder for something to be reader at a later point. 

Ann and Michael curated the material in the podcast using the following links. They include more information other than what is mentioned here and they were fun to read:

They also have a Goodreads group which I also follow. It’s nice because they do stay on top of the discussions there and you get to read other people’s opinions about each episode as soon as it airs on Wednesdays. 

My Homemade Energy Drink

During workout, your body loses water and electrolytes. It is often recommended that you sip fluids every 15 minutes or so during your fitness routine. Aside from regular water, I noticed sometimes people at the gym drink caffeinated beverages, protein or energy drinks. I asked a couple of them if it really made a difference in their workout and some say it makes it a little easier. I wanted to see for myself if it does as I’ve always just settled for chilled water, but since I’m a health-nut I decided to make my own at home.

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I mixed about 4 tablespoons of organic cranberry juice and another 4 tablespoons of organic blueberry juice added to chilled water. The amount depends entirely on how concentrated you would like your drink to be. Since I’m prone to acid refluxes, I decided to add a lot of water. Next, I threw in a pinch of sea salt and a teaspoon of sugar crystals. Bare in mind I’m not a dietitian nor a professional so I don’t know if it makes any difference what kind of juice you use but I like berry ones so I naturally opted for those. I read online some people use cherry juice but I couldn’t find any from the brand I like and the one I like is this one.

Now you’re probably wondering if it worked or not, hehe. I wouldn’t necessarily say I saw a substantial difference but I did feel refreshed, perhaps a little more than usual and enough for me to decide to make it a second and third time.

The drink isn’t meant to be a tasty one so you might notice it’s a little bit sour, salty or weird. Some recipes online suggest adding honey if you like. I used natural sugar crystals for no reason other than the fact that I bought them a while ago and haven’t used them much.

You can find a lot of other homemade energy drink recipes online as well. So whether you decide to follow my recipe or improvise your own, do share your experiences below because I’d love to hear about them :)

Image source

Review: ACIV Black Flag

I’m not a fan of the Assassins Creed series and haven’t played the earlier installments except for the first one which I found very repetitive and boring. I noticed Black Flag in comparison has obtained an unusually big amount of good reviews and since good games, in my opinion, are still hard to find on the PS4 I decided to give it a go. The pirate theme got some time getting used to at first. I just didn’t visualize myself as a seafaring scavanger but surprisingly the more I upgraded my ship, the more I found myself seriously enjoying sea battles & looting.

The world of Black Flag is enormous and not confined to one continent, which I thought added to the pirate theme pretty well. At times, it gets annoying though to go on excursions especially if you’re journeying between two distant locations. Fast travel isn’t always available but there are plenty of side activities to keep you busy such as hunting for whales, looting other ships, diving for hidden treasures, asassins’ sub-missions or just the lush breathtaking scenery.

The game’s plot revolves around Edward Kenway, a poor man who leaves his family behind to make a living at sea. Kenway is a very ambitious man- perhaps too ambitious for his own good. During his journey at sea, his ship was attacked. After finding himself on an island, Kenway crosses paths with an assassin who is set upon reaching Havana as soon as possible with an important letter in hand. Kenway ends up killing this assassin, putting on his gear and embarks to Havana to deliver the letter in disguise. Largely driven by greed, Kenway’s journey throughout the game leads him towards many adventures but ultimately leads him to question his rash decisions and to which extent is he really willing to go to achieve things.

The story is very engaging and the entire Black Flag gaming experience is memorable, from the soundtrack, characters and graphics. I think it owes it most to the pirate theme which sets itself apart from all the earlier installment and perhaps from many of the mainstream games today. I felt the ending was a little bit rushed, especially the events relating to the Abstergo enterprise but overall it’s a game worth experiencing if you haven’t done so already.

2014 Wrap Up

It’s that time of year when you sit evaluating what did, didn’t and should have happened in the previous 365 days of your life. If you were to dismiss the conceptualization of a day, week, month and year, time appears open-ended and uncontainable. With that framework in mind, you start questioning how important it really is to map out a new set of resolutions for the next 365 days. Carrying through with one of them is possible but achieving all is doubtful which makes keeping faith with any of them uncertain.

Ironically, I lead a type of life that spares me all the time in the world to achieve anything I want but I’m unlucky to find myself trying to survive most of the time with very little space to just be alive. My health crashed drastically 3 times this year making it one of my least favorite. I spent the majority of the year trying to piece myself together.

Out of the 10 goals I laid out for myself in 2014, I had my wager on at least graduating and attaining my masters degree. Unfortunately, I had a problem with one of the courses I took. After passing my final exams with good grades, I was told I needed to take an additional 3 credits because they couldn’t accredit one of the courses I took due to a conflict in the system. The fault falls entirely on the registration deparment & school but it’s one of those indeterminate situations where there’s nothing that can be done other than to suck it up and pay dues. Sooner or later things find a way of working out but they do take their toll on you and sap the excitement out of you.

So what’s my outlook for 2015? I don’t look forward to what lies ahead anymore. I pray for health, strength and peace of mind. I also pray there’s less tension, tittle-tattle, fabrication, and for people to finally mind their own business.

So whether you’re one of those writing a detailed list of resolutions or living it as it comes, I hope it’s a good year for everyone.

Happy New Year.

“Time” Another Journal Page

Time 1

Stationary is inspiring especially at this time of year when everyone is getting ready to purchase a new planner or calendar. I noticed I had a lot of crafts stuff that are clock and calendar themed. In the spirit of the season I thought it would be fun to do a “Time” theme. I used a lot of Tim Holtz products and experimented with new techniques as well. There are a couple of things I would change but overall it was a fun page to make.

Time 2

I noticed I’m a little faster now in making the videos. They’re still difficult to do and very time consuming but I love watching them once they’re done. And for once YouTube didn’t send me a copyright disclaimer after purchasing royalty free music for the millionth time. As a new years resolution, I want to get a better camera tripod to film these videos properly. I’m currently using a folded tripod hanging over my head and adjusted by two paint tins to keep it in place. To record the videos, I’m using an old iPhone glued to the tripod with two hair scrunchies, and today in the middle of working on this page, the tripod fell and missed my head by an inch so to avoid going headless I need to figure out a better way to do this.

So enough of my ramblings, the how-to video is below. If anyone is interested in a full list of the products I used, leave a comment below and I’ll provide it with links.

 

Book Review: The Cinderella Deal

The Cinderella DealThe Cinderella Deal by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had hopes for this book to be more than another commercial chick-lit fat with bed-room scenes fillers and for the most part the plot unfolded pretty well, except for every now and then when Jennifer Crusie comes up with banal phrases that succumb to cliche but then she takes me by surprise by saying something really witty. It almost seems like she’s well capable of writing wittingly but decided to rush through the story instead.

Sometimes I feel I’m reading hyperbole; at other times the scenes are slow and engaging. Overall, the idea behind the story is interesting, not to mention the chemistry between Linc and Daisy is great. She chose to mix a stereotypical protagonist (the hot and handsome Linc) with an unorthodox female protagonist (chubby quirky Daisy) and the mixture worked. She built up the tension between them but then ruined everything at the last 20 pages of the book with a very predictable conclusion.

This is my first Jennifer Crusie book, hopefully her other book is better; otherwise I’m archiving these under the “not-my-cup-of-tea” category.

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Review: ND The Labyrinth of Lies

This game is the 31st Installment of the Nancy Drew video game series. What I love about them is that each installment involves a theme, out of which you explore and truly learn a great deal about. In Labyrinth of Lies, the theme is Greece, Museums & artifacts. As usual, Nancy Drew is brought in undercover to unravel the mystery behind missing artifacts in a museum in Greece. The museum is also situated next to an ampitheatre where staff members are scheduled to perform a play. For me, it was very interesting to have a classic Greek play woven into the game itself, out of which you extract clues from its script.

The architecture, ambience and music is very reminiscent of Greece (having grown up there myself) and the soundtrack is very pleasant and relaxing which is a perfect addition to accompany the game’s puzzles. As for the puzzles themselves, they are plentiful and quite challenging which is not a surprise when it comes to ND games. I can never get through them without consulting a strategy guide. I did notice, though that there weren’t a lot of mini games which were customary in previous ND games.

The characters are equally engaging. While they’re barely a handful, each one is distinct and memorable. In this installment; however, it’s not possible for Nancy Drew to contact Bess, George, or Ned through her cell phone but instead the Hardy Boys are available to consult when needed.

Although when assessing each part of the game in this way, I can’t find major flaws in it yet at the same time I wasn’t glued to playing it like I normally would be in any good Nancy Drew game. In fact, I pushed myself to finish it halfway through. I think I would prefer it more if Her Interactive went back to making the game’s events unravel over several days as opposed to limiting the entire game to the events of one day only. Having said that, I believe this is a great improvement for ND games after the previous disappointment “The Shattered Medallion” which received very poor ratings. If you’re a history buff with a knack for anything Greek, you might really like this one.

Official Trailer

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Art Journal Page: Washi Tapes

WashiTape

A little bit late in posting this but took a while until I figured out how to fix the audio problem with my videos and it seems YouTube is still set on sending me disclaimers. I spent the entire day looking and then purchasing Royalty Free tracks but it still says the audio might not work in some countries. Let me know if it works for you. I’m curious to know in which country it is blocked.

So here’s the tutorial. Enjoy.

 

My Chronic Pain

In 2011 I took a seemingly harmless food supplement which triggered a set of symptoms that completely ruined my life. Over the course of two years and a half I struggled with toxicity side effects, living a nightmare until I finally got better and went back to normal. This year, a week before Ramadhan I crashed again, perhaps not as severe as 2011 but it was tremendously difficult nonetheless. There isn’t a doctor which I haven’t seen or a blood test which I haven’t done. Nothing shows up. Nothing identified. “It’s all stress”, I’m told. On the one hand, I do try to convince myself it could be stress, but once it hits and I feel the severity of it, it’s impossible to disregard it as just “stress”. The only way to pass the day is to go through the motions as means of distraction, only that happens to be significantly difficult because I can’t function. The only way to survive it is to live through it and endure it and pray it passes quickly.

Right after Eid holiday, I went on my summer break with the hopes that things would calm down. When I got back, I realized that my relationship to life has become complaint, dispiritedness, and sadness, which I didn’t want for myself anymore. Yes, my life didn’t go the way I had planned and I never thought in a million years I’d be where I am today so I tried to convince myself that everything difficult I’m facing is not incidental but purposeful. Instead of decrying myself through immensely challenging times, I might as well just wobble myself through them. I turned a new page, I faced my fears of being happy, I pushed my dread aside and summoned a monstrous amount of energy to help me accomplish something I thought I lacked the courage to do- to be happy regardless of what happens. So on November 3rd, I went through the day with my notebook by my side. I counter attacked every single negative perception that I had and pushed myself to just be content and to accept life with its disappointments, chronic pain and qualms. A day after that on November 4th I came home from work merry and resolved and completely normal. An hour later I crashed for the 3rd time.

Michael Peake once said “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it”; that’s the exact definition of how I see my life. This recent collapse, although less severe physically than the previous two feels far more emotionally draining. When you face something difficult for the first time, your focus is entirely on regaining control and to have your life magically restored to the way it was before the crisis. When you face the same difficulty twice or thrice, your faith in a better future crumbles. It shocks you, tests your mettle and leaves you wondering how you’ll ever regain a sense of wholeness. Not to mention when you live in a community that constantly watches you, judges you, questions your authenticity and possibly chastise you for the less than perfect aspects of your self, it becomes exceedingly tiring to simply exist. Society’s expectations- your expectations become handcuffs around your ankles. You realize you are a displaced position against the hundred seemingly perfect “norm” and if they’re not perfect “norm” then people should not talk about it and hide it.

Well, I’m here to actually talk about it. Nothing goes as planned no matter how much you try. I wish I knew that sooner. Letting go is an act of surrender that is different from what we’re usually taught to do early in life. We’re taught to draw pictures of our futures, expectations and dreams that we spend the majority of our lives trying to achieve and probably never will. We hang on because we always think “something better will come my way one day”. What if that thing never comes? Currently I’m surrounded by people close to me who are struggling day in and day out with illnesses, pain and failures that they never thought they were going to face. It’s so difficult to face these disappointments and still maintain faith in a better someday. Maybe I’m wrong. I wish I am.

Letting go, on the other hand, is an act of sadness and faith at the same time. In the act of surrender lies new possibilities but you know what? Sometimes these new possibilities are nothing. I still don’t know how to make peace with “nothing” but I’m trying so hard right now to acknowledge that some pieces of my life have served their purposes and it’s time to let them go along with expectations and perfection. There’s still a discomforting absence once you let go but maybe it’s better than smothering yourself with expectations. Things might not work out. Plans can fail. People will leave you, hurt you, or destroy you. Maybe all that really matters in the face of these disappointments is to let go of it all and become greater than who and what we were in the past and to arrive at a place inside that feels a great measure of peace.

I wish some of this you find useful and I also wish it’s easier done than said.

The “Serial” Podcast Rave

A couple of days ago I stumbled on the Serial podcast which has been receiving a lot of great reviews and has lodges itself at the top of the iTunes podcast chart. The podcast is newly created by the people behind This American Life and hosted by Sarah Koeing. It follows the true story of Adnan Syed, a man convicted of killing his girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999 and has been in jail for 15 years. What’s interesting about this show is that you follow up with the events of this case as they happen. I believe Koeing records them two weeks after they take place. Each Thursday a new episode airs that muses over a particular side of the case supplemented with real interviews, research and phone calls with Adnan.

First of all, I should point out that I’m not a fan of crime documentaries. I stopped reading the news a while back but I’m completely hooked on this podcast and I’m only two episodes in. I believe it largely owes to how well these episodes are created. Sarah Koeing has a very pleasant tone when it comes to narrating the events. She adopts the first person perspective and incorporates her thoughts, feelings and speculations about her findings. I believe this is what draws the listener in immediately. Sometimes these episodes play out in my head like a smooth detective noire setting or almost like the anecdotes of a New York investigator sitting in a dark office, using an old typewriter with the melancholy of jazz in the background.

Having said that, there are a few things that I can’t get my mind around. For instance, she comfortably plays audio recordings of a key witness in the case often, sometimes I question the illegibility of the show. Is it really that easy to get a hold of court audio recordings and then broadcast them publicly? Not to mention, her standing about this case seems to me at times to be heavily biased towards siding with Adnan’s innocence although she tries hard to look at things from different angles. Nonetheless, it is very captivating.

There are so many podcasts now about the podcast itself. It seems like everyone is talking about it. There’s also a Reddit page with people’s inputs, questions, criticism and even contributions adding pictures, bits and pieces about the events since they’re real. It made me realize how technology now has enabled almost a collaborative approach to cracking this case.

If you haven’t tried it out yet then I highly recommend it. My advice though is to listen to these podcast in order since they’re related to each other.

Links:

Friday Art Journal “Home”

I’ve uploaded a new video of my journal page but I’m having a serious problem with YouTube. I seriously don’t understand this whole fiasco with audio licensing. Do they really expect you to contact every publisher and musician to retrieve the rights to use in a simple video? As long as you’re not making a business out of it, I don’t see why it should be wrong to use it especially when you’ve already paid to purchase the music. What’s hilarious is that I received a notice on one of my videos of a piano piece I played myself on my instrument and I’m assuming the reason is that they use some kind of audio recognition software so anything that automatically matches their database will receive a notice.  I tried uploading to Vimeo instead but it looks like those guys have issues of their own too. I can’t upload the video as unlisted which is normally what I prefer to do. It’s either keep it open to anyone or provide a password which will require every single viewer using the password to subscribe to Vimeo.

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Frankly I’m fed up trying to fix this so this week my video is muted. I apologize about that. I kind of like my soundtracks compared to the Royalty Free audios on iTunes that sound like elevator music. In any case, hope you enjoy this week’s page.

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Not sure if this is even watchable but after spending so much time working on it, I might as well post it here in case you want to watch the muted version.

Fall Biscuits

Every winter and autumn I crave and make these biscuits, which at the risk of sounding mundane, have named Fall Biscuits. Lately I don’t like to use any baking powder or soda in anything I cook so I thought about altering the recipe this time. I made a little search online and found out that some people used Carbonated Water as a substitute. The logic being is that since baking soda contains carbonates, they might function the same. I was a little skeptical but I did come across a few claiming they made pancakes and cookies with coke and sprite. The curious side of me wanted to see if it actually works.

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I looked in our fridge for anything carbonated and the closest thing I found was sparking water. I know sparkling water and carbonated water are not necessarily the same thing but I gave it a go anyway. Instead of 2 cups of whole wheat flour, I used Quinoa flour and combined that with half a tablespoon of sea salt and 1 tablespoon of carbonated water. Next, I gradually added safflower oil to the mixture. I noticed at this point that the Quinoa flour reacted differently than whole wheat. It kind of melted faster. I added 1 cup of milk and about two tablespoons of honey (you can just add sugar instead if you prefer).

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I kneaded the dough about 25 times and then curled the pieces into small balls. Finally, I laid the balls on a baking tray and flattened them a bit and then put the tray in a preheated oven. I set the temperature to 270c but apparently that was too hot for them. They’re supposed to be baking from 10 to 12 minutes but within 5 minutes they were scourged from the bottom. Again, I think that’s due to the Quinoa flour reacting differently. I lowered then temperature to 150 and left them baking for another 5 minutes, took them out and let them cool.

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The result didn’t come out like I wanted. As you can see the sparkling water didn’t work at all. They turned up brown, flat and very oily which I don’t like at all but the interesting thing is that they didn’t taste so bad. I think for my next batch I’m going to reduce the amount of oil to almost half and bake them in very low temperature.

If you’re going to try out this recipe then I suggest using baking powder if you don’t mind having. The biscuits should look slightly more elevated than mine in the picture. Feel free to alter the recipe to your liking. That’s the nice thing about these biscuits, they go with everything, whether salty or sweet.. I usually like having them with honey and a cup of tea which goes really well with the cold weather.

Review: Book Crawler

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Book Crawler is a book database app that I stumbled on this morning. Personally I’m happy with the Collectorz databases for my books, movies and games, which I have been using for years but I was curious about this one.

Just like any other database, the Book Crawler app incorporates the standard features such as to register, search, share and categorize your collection. What makes this one a little bit different is that it integrates with Goodreads and Amazon Kindle. It supports ASIN not only to log your Kindle books but supposedly it links to your favorite copies. It also imports CSV and SQLite files using Dropbox, can locate books available for checkout at nearby libraries and also features partnership with OCLC and LCC. All in all, it just sounds like a perfect bargain, priced not more than $2.

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The iPad version comes with a standard horizontal view but all the messages you receive are vertical. Not to mention, there are a few tabs that are kept in a vertical perspective as well. Once you shift your Portrait Orientation, it fixes the vertical messages but it still retains the tabs on the sides. This was very confusing to me. I found myself turning the iPad every now and then to read what is written on the sides.

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Inputting data isn’t the fastest either. You are asked to either enter your books manually, by search, or by scanner (Zbar & Pic2shop) which also includes batch scans. The scanner was surprisingly very fast but downloading the meta data took a while to load. On the iPhone this wasn’t an issue. Compared between an iPad an iPhone, the iPhone runs the app more smoothly. On the iPad, the app was very slow and sometimes nonfunctional. Not to mention, the last update for the app was done in June so it doesn’t seem like the developers are on top of things.

The one feature I really liked though was the ability to quickly share book details by email. It transferred all the relevant fields into my inbox, including a thumbnail of the book cover very fast. Overall the app is not terrible but not one of the best either. It is intended to be highly customizable and you can see that under the pile of stuff in its settings. For an app that costs a dollar it’s not a bad bargain but don’t expect anything outstanding.

The Lite version of the app can be found here.

Friday Art Journaling: Letters

This Friday I opened a new journal and it’s always fun to work with a blank notebook. On my Instagram account, I sometimes get people asking me to post videos on how I make my art journal pages but I really never felt confident enough. The reason being is that I still consider myself new to this and up to this point I’ve always borrowed techniques and ideas from other artists with my own improvised touches to them. “Letters” is probably the only page I worked on from from A to Z purely based on my own themes. I’m planning to do the same for all my upcoming projects in this new notebook.

Letters2It takes immense courage though to face a blank page and sketch or even write without a prior idea in mind. When others have said it or drawn it, I have an idea what the end result will look like and so it’s easier to stick with the project and not give up too soon at the slightest ugly obstacle. But when you’re trying to invent something from scratch, it’s unknown territory. Learning to love the ugly sides of your work in the midst of a dark territory requires patience because a lot of the time if you work really hard on revision, the end result will blow you away. My mistake when I’m fully on my own with my work is that I always give up so fast. Not to mention some days my creative juices are running low and I can’t think of anything. Instead of feeling like art or writing is an outlet, it becomes some kind of pursuit for perfection. Ironically, this whole struggle of seeing a project through from beginning to end is so rewarding.

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It’s funny how art can teach you so much about life, isn’t it?

I spent a whole day making this video and would love to hear what you guys think. I tried my best to keep it not more than 13 minutes so many of the clips are 4 or 8 times the original speed. I’m wondering if there’s anything else I should edit if I’m to make any more of these.

So without further rambling, hope you enjoy it :)

Note: I got a message about the video not being playable in some countries so I apologize if it doesn’t work. I’m assuming it has something to do with the audio. I wonder where people get their background music from then :/ 

Soup in a Mug

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The weather has been pleasantly changing the past couple of weeks but that also makes headway for cooler than usual ACs and a plethora of eager ambushing seasonal flu bugs. Sadly I’ve contracted a nasty chest cold after the dust storm we encountered and have been bound to my bed for a few days now. On the one hand, it forces you to slow down and appreciate the simple things in life but at the same time it consumes so much of your energy. Not to mention, I’m not sure whether the strain of flu bugs have gotten dramatically stronger (too much Helix, perhaps?) or I’m becoming weaker as I age because these colds I’ve been getting really wear me out.

Aside from gaming and leveling up my characters to an obsessive point, there’s more time now to chill and blog. Plus work on my art journaling, read and catch up on some other stuff. It’s been a bumpy ride for me all year long but I am so looking forward to winter. It’s usually the time when I reflect and look back, review and start new.

Getting back to my cup of soup now but enjoy the week & stay bug free!

Marker Shading with MGE

I’m sick with a nasty chest cold at the moment (hence the frog voice). Spending the entire day indoors curled up in bed when the weather is beyond amazing is agonizing. I spent the late afternoon working on shading techniques. Recently I’ve enrolled in an online Copic Markers workshop, which I’ve been meaning to post about once I’m done. Since there was nothing to do though, I thought why not share what I’ve learned so far from week 1. I filmed this video explaining how basic Copic Markers shading works. I must be so overdosed on painkillers, I read some of the numbers incorrectly and in other parts I made no sense.

Hope you find it useful.

Anime Fall Season 2014

I downloaded the AnimeTrakr app last week and I’m very happy with it. For years I’ve been using MyAnimeList to keep track of the series I watch. Although I studied Japanese for a while, I still find it very hard to remember names and titles. The site keeps everything for me in one place along with reviews, recommendations and ratings. Over time, though, I felt the site’s interface was becoming drab. When I found out AnimeTrakr uses MyAnimeList accounts, I downloaded it in a heartbeat and upgraded it to Pro to enable full features. Just like most episode trackers, the app allows you to check-in your watched episodes, toggle to feeds & seasonal charts, customize your ratings and set reminders. It looks great and so far it’s doing a great job. There are times when it hangs a bit but I’m assuming it has to do with my iPhone. I really hope they get to upgrade their MyAnimeList site next and make it more contemporary with all the bells and whistles.

Now that I have the app on my phone it’s easier to keep track of this fall’s series. I’m not the type of person that likes to watch too many shows at the same time. I noticed I usually like to concentrate on one show (or a handful if I’m lucky), finish that then hop on to the next. Sometimes I don’t know what to pick because the selection is huge though. For this season I’m watching:

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Review: iOS-Hate.

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I went ahead and downloaded the iOS8 as soon as it came out despite my inclination to bide time until the anticipated salad bar of bugs settle down.

The first thing I noticed was that iTunes stopped syncing properly. I receive error messages everytime I hook my phone or ipad. Instagram’s audio went corrupt as well. It keeps thinking my phone is on silent so I need to turn the silent mode on then off for every single video on my timeline. Whatsapp’s messages stopped appearing on my notification center too. The phone heats up within a very short time of use and the battery drainage is just ridiculous. And let’s not talk about how much it has slowed down the phone in general. With my iPhone 5s, opening apps takes about 2 or 3 seconds before they launch, as for my iPad 2, it’s almost inactive.

The other thing I seriously hate is the predictive keyboard. The developers endorsement of instant gratification at this point is ludicrous. Obviously you can’t completely remove it but you can hide it, which I still feel is rendering my typing a bit slower than usual.

I finally had hopes when they came out with the 8.0.2 system update, only it would have been nice if Apple actually made it downlodable. After googling this, it seems I’m not the only one who can’t download the update.

I’ve been an Apple supporter for a while but I seriously don’t like the direction they’re heading at. I didn’t have plans to buy the iPhone 6 or a new iPad for that matter but now it seems that’s the only thing to do. I’m not sure if it’s a crafty strategem to make people purchase new devices or their products are becoming shady.

I really miss iOS7.

Journal Flip Through 2014

I’m starting a new Moleskine this week and have uploaded the pages from the previous notebooks I worked on during the summer. I changed from a regular Moleskine notebook to a Sketchbook Moleskine and it made a huge difference. The paper from the sketchbook is thicker and even though I usually glue two pages together to withstand all the layering, the regular notebook results in a lot of ink bleeding. You can find the entire 2014 collection on my Smug page.

Note: None of these works is obviously intended for purchase. I’m still trying to figure out how to remove the “buy” button from the Smug page.

Graduate School, The Curse?

Whenever I meet and talk to our old students, they always tell me something similar. After graduating, they feel a little lost. Once the excitement wears off, they begin to wonder what it is that they’re supposed to be doing with their lives. Between their definition of student and whatever it is that they later settle in there’s a gap because change entails crossing over without a bridge and that’s when it gets scary- in the gap, in the space between.

I seriously never thought I was going to experience that gap again in graduate school. I figured the first time I went through it after my bachelors, it had more to do with being in my twenties than anything else but I was wrong. School can be seriously addicting which explains why many people stay in academia for life. You’re always surrounded by young people, ambition, and constant anticipation for the future but once you’re out of that zone, you arrive at a place that brings you face to face with your fears as soon as you ask yourself, “ok, what am I going to do now?”. At the risk of sounding like a cynic, I’ll also say that being a single woman in this part of the world means you’re always a fresh graduate, perhaps for life because there are very scarce vocations (figuratiely speaking) tailored for solitaries that can actually ensure a full and healthy existence.

Having said that, being single is not a curse but it takes immense guts to accept and settle into and the good thing is that overtime you get good at it but I noticed that going back to graduate school can reignite your lack of certainty. It might not be the case with everyone but for me, I noticed it completely shut me off. What’s more is that now I find it so hard to pick a pencil and begin a sketch, read for leisure, write or play my piano. When I look back at my old posts here or my journal entries, it stings hard. I miss those simple things in life because technically they’re all you have to keep you going.

I mentioned to my writing instructor the other day that I was unable to produce anything for the longest time and she suggested to just write. Write without the result in mind. Write to put it out there. Write to make it flow and that’s exactly what I’m doing right now. It’s not one the most thoughtful  posts to read and maybe I wouldn’t approve of posting this even on any other given day but for the time being I’ll consider it progress.

And now I’m hitting “publish” before I change my mind and erase yet another potential blog post :P