Thursday, 31 January 2013

"Who's On Heart" for 2013 (2)

I've found a clip for 2013's "Who's On Heart" competition:

It's nearly a month into the contest and no one has guessed any of the names yet; among the most common wrong guesses are Jo Brand, Tom Daley, Mariella Frostrup, Dannii Minogue and Kylie Minogue. I don't listen to the competition every day and I've lost count how many times I've heard these five people come up!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The ugliest cake ever

My brother and I made a cake with the breadmaker this afternoon (it can make cakes). We attempted to make a chocolate and mincemeat cake. The result? The ugliest cake ever:

This is the cake after it had been removed from the pan. It looks okay from this angle, other than a couple of holes from where the mixers were; however, that is the bottom of the cake — the top looks worse:

That is one hideous cake, and I'm not even going to provide any description of what it resembles because it's obvious. As for how it got this way in the first place, we added way too much water to the mixture, and when the machine had finished its work the cake itself was squishy and obviously not fully baked. It was then mixed and baked a second time, and this mess ensued.

Despite how unappetising the cake appears, it is delicious!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Food photography tips

Do you enjoy taking pictures of food? Here are some tips from this article on the BBC, in its Magazine section; there's also a link at the bottom if you want to send any creative (or terrible) pictures of food:

Here's another link, one from the above page, warning about the disruption sometimes caused when people photograph food at restaurants. Try to be discreet!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Melted snow

The heavy snow we've had recently has come to an end. It rained two nights ago, melting the vast majority of the snow that had settled on the ground; with the exception of a few heavy snow piles and some thick ice, it's all gone. The combination of snow melting and the rain did put several areas of the United Kingdom on standby for flooding.

As for today, there's been a cold breeze for much of the day but in the past hour that breeze has transformed into a strong wind and it's been raining again. I expect the rain to melt what little remains of the snow. The snow was fun while it lasted; I'm glad I took pictures and videos.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

"Joints & Jam" - Black Eyed Peas

I've long been a fan of the Black Eyed Peas; the first song of theirs I ever heard was "Let's Get It Started", from their 2003 album Elephunk, but I didn't really get into them until "Don't Lie" and "My Humps, from Monkey Business in 2005, were released (I'd always been a fan of Fergie, though). Until this afternoon, I had never heard any of their pre-Elephunk work, and so I decided to listen to "Joints & Jam", one of their earliest singles, from their debut album Behind the Front:

"Joints and Jam" was released in late 1998 and is a vastly different style of music to the more dance-oriented tracks from the Black Eyed Peas' recent two albums, The E.N.D. and The Beginning. Fergie isn't present in the song since she was in the band Wild Orchid back then; Kim Hill is the lady featured, and she left the Black Eyed Peas in 2000. "Joints & Jam" was also featured on the soundtrack for the film Bulworth.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Short Stories: The Demotion - Part 2

With the past week having been one of the worst in his adult life, Todd was relieved that the weekend had arrived and felt that sleeping in until midday was the best way to recover from the last few days; he could be registering as unemployed next week, so why not relax? He'd have ample opportunity to start searching for a new job then.

When Todd finally extracted himself from his bed, he ate a late breakfast and then went on his routine Saturday walk, which would allow him to clear his head and contemplate how to proceed. A part of Todd was tempted to stroll to his workplace, crash open the doors and announce his resignation by bellowing at the company president; fortunately, the idea exited his mind as quickly as it had entered because such a course of action would undoubtedly harm his prospects of obtaining another job. He also cared too deeply about the company and the work he'd done for it to resort to such an overreaction.

After walking for half an hour, Todd sat down to rest on a bench by a fountain. He mulled over the pros and cons of leaving his job versus staying: if he left, he'd be free to work somewhere else — with an unblemished record — and develop a new circle of friends. However, job-seeking was often a long and arduous process...not at all something that warmed him to the idea of quitting; if he stayed, he wouldn't have to worry about that, but the problem of rejection by former colleagues and an unhealthy work environment would remain.

Todd was still thinking about his options when he moved his eyes away from the fountain towards a patch of dirt near the bench, where he noticed an ant nest. He gazed blankly at the ants as they marched in their usual ant style until one of them caught his eye: it was trying to carry an insect larger than itself...without success. All the other ants walked past it, too busy with their own work to lend a hand, but the ant refused to yield, continuing to try to lift the bigger insect over its own head. Several minutes passed, and the ant succeeded in raising the large load over itself, allowing it to return it to the colony — the persistence paid off.

Something in Todd's mind clicked and he sprang up from the bench in an instant. He thought to himself why the current troubles in his job were nothing he couldn't overcome: he did have a chance for redemption. He remembered how at the time of his demotion he had been labelled a "valuable member"; if his superiors had believed he could not contribute to the company any further he would have been terminated. As for the attitude of his former colleagues, the new project which Todd was now assigned to would allow him to develop a different circle of friends. His decision was made.

When Monday morning came, Todd walked into work with renewed energy and determination. A small yet defiant smile formed on his face as he entered the building. Could his situation deteriorate further? Possibly, but provided that he worked hard and persisted — just as the ant did — the only direction he could travel in the company was up.


I hope this was a satisfying conclusion to The Demotion. I'm not completely pleased with it myself because I don't think it quite has the momentum of the first part, and I'm worried that I ended up adding the clutter I wanted to keep out, but as I said before, this writing is experimental, and if my readers are satisfied I'll be happy. It was a challenge writing this without speech or written thoughts!

I also hope that the ant analogy worked; it might seem ludicrous, but in my experience, a small thing — even something as tiny as an ant — can influence a decision, and so I thought that it would be worthwhile using it to push Todd into making his choice. I needed something to act as a tiebreaker for Todd's decision that wasn't speech or thoughts. I think it makes an interesting twist.

Let me know what you think; constructive crticism will be appreciated if provided!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Fieldfare, and a note

A few days ago, I made this capture of a fieldfare perched in one of the trees in our back garden; it was one member of a large flock that was passing through our neighbourhood:

I'm still writing part two of The Demotion; it's nearly complete, but I have a few finishing touches to make and I don't have the time to do them tonight. I'm in one of those situations where I've written the beginning and the end of something, but I need to reconcile it with the middle.

Sorry for the delay; it will be done tomorrow. I hope it'll be worth the wait.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

"The Demotion" follow-up

I'm warmed by the positive response to The Demotion. From the feedback I've received, the only criticism with the piece is the lack of resolution. I had intended to end the story with Todd coming to a decision but changed my mind in favour of an "up to the reader" finish; in retrospect, the current ending does come across as evasive. The demand for a second part is acknowledged and will be satisfied soon; I am currently in the process of writing it but it will not be completed tonight.

The hard part now will be ensuring that the second chapter of The Demotion is as engaging as the first, especially considering where part one ended. Cutting down on extra plot elements, as I've done here, does give a writer less to work with, but it creates a better story and is more rewarding in the long run; I'll also have to face the deliberate lack of speech in the first part — I often find that writing speech provides you with more freedom, but for consistency's sake I will not be including any in the second part. This is a small but worthwhile challenge!

Thanks for the comments! I'm working on part two!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Short Stories: The Demotion

A mere week ago, Todd Robison held an important position within the company; he had been the assistant director of a major project, with responsibilities, respect and the ability to contribute in a greater capacity than most of his colleagues. Now, thanks to one mistake, Todd had been demoted to a regular employee and moved to a less significant project.

Todd's benefits had been slashed immediately: his pay was halved, his security clearance reduced to the lowest tier, his company tools revoked and he was banned from any company parties for the remainder of the year. Only his awards and list of achievements remained intact, although the latter was amended to include his recent failure. He was still regarded as a "valuable member of the company", hence the demotion rather than termination.

Neither the loss of privileges nor the reduction in pay was the worst part of Todd's newfound troubles. What he despaired of the most was being regarded as a persona non grata amongst his former colleagues, many of whom he worked with on a daily basis and often for hours on end. They all knew him to be a decent, hardworking and reliable person, and they had deep respect and appreciation for him, but almost overnight they had transformed from enthusiastically greeting Todd whenever he walked into a room to ignoring him. He understood their new attitude, since his error had reflected poorly on them, but it upset him nonetheless.

After a particularly difficult day at work, Todd returned home to consider his options. He was sorely tempted to quit, because if he were to be permanently be held in contempt it would be impossible for him to function effectively at the company; it would also be unhealthful for him to work in a hostile environment. Alternatively, if Todd remained he could regain his former prestige, but that would require a considerable amount of hard work, which would be in vain if there were no hope of redemption.

For now, the decision would have to wait. It was a Friday and Todd did not have to return to work the next day. Not in the mood to make any tough choices, he prepared himself a small meal and retired for the evening.


My objective for The Demotion was to write something without unnecessary plot elements or "clutter", such as the Todd's project, the name of the company he worked for, the exact reason he was demoted and his decision whether to quit or remain (which is meant for the reader to decide).  This piece is purely experimental and supposed to be short.

In regards to the name "Todd Robison", I intended to call the character "Todd Robinson" but I misspelled it and preferred the new name.

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The icicle on the pipe

When walking up the main street by our house I noticed an icicle hanging from an outside pipe. It's the most prominent icicle I've seen in a long time:

I would estimate that the icicle was around eight inches in length, given that it was longer that two layers of the brickwork, which are shorter. I've seen icicles that measured well over one foot in length, but this one is impressive in its own right, and is the longest standalone icicle I've seen in person.

Monday, 21 January 2013


The pager (also known as a "beeper") was an early text-messaging/notification device, filling a role similar to today's mobile/cell phones. In the late 90s, my Dad had a pager for work which I was fascinated by: I thought it was a novel idea for a device to send short messages, and I liked that they had clocks installed in them.

I wanted to have my own pager once I was older, but after a couple of years my desire for one faded, and there was a time when my opinion towards devices similar to them was hostile. When I owned my first phone several years later both of those feelings had been absent for a long time.

Now, as I have written about on a few occasions, I own a phone; depending on how you view it, I did end up with my own pager, only the phone I have has greater functionality than the old pagers. In the long run, I received something better, as has everyone else with a phone!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

White field

The field I photographed and wrote about for yesterday's post? Here it is from two days ago, which is how it looked again today - significant snowfall:

Any melting that took place yesterday has been reversed from the weather throughout the night and all of today. It's now nighttime and it's still snowing, albeit not at the level it was this afternoon.

As an aside, I hope no one minds the sudden rush of winter-related posts. The amount of snowfall we've had has been too good to not write about and post pictures.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Pictures of the snowfall

I went on a walk this afternoon; given the current abundance of snow, I took several pictures while out:

One of the many bridleway signs located around my town.

A local field, located near one of the major roads in this part of Northamptonshire. When I took some pictures of this field yesterday I had to shield my camera from being snowed upon, but I didn't have that problem today.

A snow-covered footpath. Despite this being a popular path, the snow here wasn't packed down and slippery like most other paths were. There's a Narnia-esque quality to this image!

Located on the aforementioned path, this "pond" is deceptive: it looks as though it is fairly substantial, but it's really little more than a huge puddle. I had to crouch down in some bushes to make this capture.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Resisting temptaton update

Two weeks ago, I began my quest to not eat my three most important pieces of Christmas candy - Celebrations, Thorntons and Ferrero Rocher - for a minimum of one month. I promised to provide updates of my progress.

How have I done? Without wanting to boast, I would grade myself "perfect". This past couple of weeks I've learnt that it is not difficult, at least for me, to resist eating easily-accessible chocolates. They are in my room and under my bed yet in my sight: all I need to do is reach down to get them, but because I want to reach this simple goal I won't.

My brother opened his own box of Thorntons this afternoon. I had briefly wondered what to do if he had offered me a chocolate, but he knows I'm limiting myself and thus never did. I did rapidly come to my senses and decided that, if he had, my answer would have been no! The whole point of this exercise is restraint.

The earliest date for me to eat any of my remaining chocolates without breaking my self-imposed restriction  is the 4th of February, so I still have well over two more weeks to go. As I said in my first post on this subject, every following day without eating the delicious goods will be a bonus.

For the record, I'm not doing this because of any self-control issues that I need to improve upon. It is merely a test of willpower, a personal challenge and a morsel of fun!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

"Party in the U.S.A." - Miley Cyrus

This hardly seems like an appropriate song for the winter, but this afternoon I thought of "Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus. The track was a hit in the late summer of 2009:

It should be noted that the song was co-written by then-publicly unknown British singer Jessie J; she thought that "Party in the U.S.A." would be an amazing song, but did not think it would be suitable for her own album. Given the success the song had, I think Cyrus must have been glad it was passed to her!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The ice webs redux

Remember those ice webs from last month? With the return of the freezing weather the ice webs are back. Here are some new pictures:

In that last picture, the central pole for our washing line/net isn't straight, hence why it looks as though I didn't hold the camera even.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The evil cookie

In a Christmas-special box of Crawford's "Family Circle" biscuits was this evil-looking and somewhat creepy "smiley face" cookie:

I think it's a combination of the jam and inner icing in the left eye with the unusually thin smile that gives this cookie an "evil" look. The smile is normally slightly wider and more cheerful in this type of cookie. Regardless of the look, it was delicious!

Monday, 14 January 2013

January snow

Our winter has finally delivered us some snow. We had between 1 and 2 inches of it last night; I'm glad for the low amount because I know people who need to travel soon and I don't want to weather to affect them too much. Here are some pictures of the snow:

I promised my friend and fellow blogger Stephanie that I'd send her some snow if the United Kingdom's weather provided us with any. When I figure out how to pack and ship snow without it melting I'll send it to her right away!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Alice Pyne

I'm saddened to say that Alice Pyne, the girl with the "bucket list", has died at the age of 17. She was diagnosed with Hodgin's lymphoma when she was 13. In June of 2011, she set up a blog with a bucket list of goals she wanted to reach before she died.

Looking at Pyne's blog, she managed to achieve several of the items on her list, such as meeting Take That and swimming with sharks. Through her blog and list she raised awareness for her condition and for bone marrow donations; some 40,000 people became donors because of her efforts.

I was aware of her blog upon its creation. Learning about Pyne's death now makes me wish that I'd followed her progress more often.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Building the Death Star redux

Back in February of last year I wrote a short piece about a study that had been conducted to determine the real-life costs of building the Death Star from Star Wars. A petition on the website for the White House calling for the construction of a Death Star recently attained the necessary 25,000 signatures for a response from the Oval Office. A response was given, as is required; both it and the original petition can be found here.

I must say that I didn't expect to see the "price" of the Death Star to get mentioned again anywhere, let alone on a petition to the White House! I thought it would be a one-time issue to write about and that would be it.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Brooke Greenberg

This article was brought to my attention. It's about Brooke Greenberg, a 20-year-old woman who has a condition that has prevented her from growing and maturing, trapping her in the body and mind of a toddler:

Doctors are unsure what the causes of her condition, which has been labelled Syndrome X, are. I hope that, whatever those causes might be, doctors will be able to cure Greenberg one day.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Spotting errors

I love receiving feedback, as everyone does: I have always been open to people posting comments and sending me e-mails when they have something to say to me. It's a wonderful feeling to have someone say something nice or provide a valuable opinion; this includes being corrected if I've made an error.

After I wrote my previous post I reviewed it, as I always do with my writing prior to pressing "Publish", and discovered that I had made an unusually high amount of grammatical errors. I then spent half an hour fixing the grammar and rewriting parts of the post; I wasn't completely satisfied with the post even after it had been published, and so I spent a few more minutes working on it. When I was finished I was surprised at how badly I had written the piece before I had made all the corrections. I put it down to rushing and fatigue.

If you ever spot an error in one of my posts, be it grammatical, style, factual, etc., do not hesitate to let me know. While I don't expect my readers to proofread my posts for me, I am happy to be informed if there is a mistake in need of correction. I have updated my FAQ to let readers know what to do if they see a mistake.

A few months ago, I slightly misremembered a particular moment of a social gathering, and the blog post I'd written about it had a minute error in the real-life sequence of events. Someone I know in person was kind enough to text to inform me about my minor mistake!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Writing about mundane topics

Sometimes I write about seemingly mundane or trivial topics. On this blog I have written pieces on phone storage expansion, a board game, the way Ohio votes and ice cream trucks, all of which are subjects that are either ordinary or that people rarely think or care about. "Phone storage? A tech-lover's obsession. An out-of-date board game? Big deal. Ohio's voting record? Meh...not election season anymore! An ice cream truck? Those are for kids!" For what reason would I or anyone else want to write about unimportant issues?

The answer is that we enjoy writing, no matter the topic. It is both challenging and fun for a writer to take a boring subject such as phone storage and turn it into an interesting piece of creative writing. What better way to exercise the mind and improve one's writing skills than by converting boring items into something someone would want to read, and have fun while doing it? Anything can and should be written about.

There is also the chance that writing about the mundane or trivia could give some people useful information. After all, two definitions of mundane are "commonplace" and "everyday": you'll not only improve your skills, but perhaps you'll share a unique perspective or knowledge about something people experience each day. Regarding trivia, "trivial" is not synonymous with "boring", and people often enjoy the occasional useless but fascinating fact. Ohio's voting record, for example, is unimportant to most people, but to those who follow elections or political history it's a worthwhile morsel of knowledge.

This doesn't mean you potentially bore your audience by writing solely about mundane or trivial items and ignoring the important issues. If it's necessary, there's nothing wrong with keeping your work for your eyes and review only, but if you have a loyal readership and are a good writer, then your writing will be appreciated, regardless of whether or not it's about the appearance of well-kept lawns. Keep writing!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Phone storage expansion

Back in November I wrote about why I consider user-replaceable batteries to be a necessary aspect of a phone. I'd now like to cover expandable storage (a microSD slot) on phones. My inspiration for this piece comes from seeing some people considering storage expansion to be a must-have feature on a phone, regardless of how much space the device already has on board.

I recently saw an upcoming smartphone with new and powerful hardware on board; however, there was no information about a microSD slot, although the device was stated to have at least 32 gigabytes of built-in storage. The response to this? Angry comments from people stating that they'd "never buy the phone" unless it had expandable storage, dismissing its other qualities and the large amount of space already inside. While I would have agreed with them if the phone had inadequate onboard storage, that wasn't an issue.

When I was choosing a new phone the ability to expand its storage was important, but not an absolute requirement; what mattered more was the overall amount of available space on the phone if it wasn't fitted with a microSD slot. The device I ultimately bought has 4 gigabytes of built-in storage and 32 more gigabytes via microSD; the freedom to expand overwhelmingly makes up for the small amount of space on the phone, and I consider this a more than reasonable amount: I would have been happy with 4 gigabytes on board with 16 in expansion, or 16 of onboard space with no expansion.

People have their individual standards. I'll always consider a microSD slot to be a welcome addition, especially if the phone already has a large amount of storage inside, but unlike the issue of battery replaceability, under certain circumstances a lack of a microSD slot is not a nonstarter for me.

Monday, 7 January 2013

"Who's On Heart" for 2013

The Heart radio stations are again running the "Who's On Heart" contest. For the past couple of weeks the presenters have been saying that the new "Who's On Heart" was coming, and I'm pleased about it: last year, the competition went on for six months and, in my opinion, it was surprisingly exciting.

The rewards for this year are: £10,000 for the first correct name, £20,000 for the second and £125,000 for all three. No correct answers have been given yet, as the game only began today. I wasn't able to find an online clip of the three voices for the purposes of this post, either.

I'll be sure to post the answers when they each come through. With any luck, a clip of each voice will also be available somewhere online at some stage.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

"T-Shirt" - Shontelle

2008 brought about its fair share of good artists and music; a particularly pleasant song from that year was "T-Shirt" by Barbadian singer Shontelle:

"T-Shirt" was released in the summer of 2008, from her debut album Shontelligence. I was reminded of the track recently because her hit single of 2010, "Impossible", was covered by the newest winner of the UK X Factor (I don't watch the show; the cover has been played on the radio a lot since their win). I remember feeling pleased about hearing the second single because it meant Shontelle was no longer at risk of becoming a one-hit wonder.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Down go the decorations

Our decorations for Christmas 2012 have now been put away for the year. Over the morning and part of the afternoon the lights came down, the baubles on the staircases were removed and our two trees were stripped of all their festive garments. Only one object remains: an angel:

It's a similar situation to last year when I left my snowman out. The snowman was re-united with his fellow Christmas decorations this time, but somehow this angel was missed and I'll have to keep her safe in my room all year as a result!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Resisting temptation

Inspired by both the final paragraph in my previous post and the forgotten chocolate bar I bought for my parents, I am waiting for a month before eating my remaining Christmas chocolates. I'm usually the quickest person in my family to have consumed all their Christmas foods, and I've already eaten more than half of my 2012 lot. Consequently, I've decided to not eat the rest until at least 4th February 2013; after that date, every subsequent day where I continue to deny myself from eating the chocolates will be considered a bonus.

What makes this test of willpower more interesting is that the chocolates I have left are among my favourites; they are a container of Celebrations, a box of Thorntons and a collection of Fererro Rocher:

Unlike the mint cake and the chocolate bar, this is a conscious decision to resist temptation rather than an accident. I also won't wait a year or more to eat these chocolates! (I'm keeping them in my room rather than the fridge; it'll become warm here in the spring and they'll melt.) I shall be writing updates on my progress.

Thursday, 3 January 2013


The 2012 presidential election in the United States and this recent Christmas reminded me of a gift I received in Christmas of 2010: a Romney's Kendal Mint Cake:

Kendal Mint Cakes are a confectionery originating from Kendal, a town in the North West England county of Cumbria. They are popular with mountaineers, trekkers and to a lesser extent cyclists because of their high energy content and portable size. Kendal Mint Cakes are essentially sweet, minty sugar (picture); some are coated in chocolate.

George Romney Limited are a sweet maker and one of three companies that continue to manufacture the mint cakes in Kendal. According to the company's history, it was named after George Romney, a portrait painter from the 1700s; it was also because the family that founded Romney's lived in a house located on a Romney Road.

Although it's not mentioned on that page, the aforementioned painter is a historical relation - although I am uncertain of whether or not he was a direct ancestor - of Mitt Romney. I don't think it's a stretch to say that a significant amount of people in the United Kingdom (especially those in North West England) would have been more familiar with Romney's Kendal Mint Cakes than the former governor prior to the 2012 United States presidential cycle. The Romney family aren't involved with the company, but given the rarity of the name there had to be a link somewhere.

As for what the mint cakes taste like, I have yet to try any: after two years I have not eaten the one I was given. It was placed in my travel bag and forgotten about; as of now, it is my longest-lasting piece of Christmas candy!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A post a day

One of my goals for 2012 was to write a blog post on every day of the year. Whether it was a sentence or a full article, I was successful in creating a piece of writing each day; there were some days when I thought I wasn't going to get a post in, but I always managed to pull through every time. As I am interested in writing and proofreading/copyediting, I am pleased about this and consider it significant.

This being said, for 2013 and beyond, do I think that a daily post will be sustainable? My answer is no. My posts will be frequent for the time being, but I will inevitably become more busy (hopefully with other writing and social activities) and my time for blogging will be cut down drastically. However, no matter what happens I will endeavour to write, at a minimum, a weekly post (which was my original goal for this blog), and writing something each day will always be important to me.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year 2013

2013 is here! I hope everyone isn't too tired from celebrating the new year into the early hours of the morning! My brother and I marked the occasion by listening to a new CD until 2:00am.

I can't expand upon yesterday's post without repeating myself, so for now I'll just wish you all a Happy New Year!