Thursday, 28 February 2013

Today's Review: Steelbooks

With the amount of regular releases, limited edition releases, re-releases, director's cuts, anniversary collections, best selling releases, and whatever else people want to use to make more money from their games or films, there always has to be something new to offer. Downloadable content for games, that's fair. Extra bonus features and commentaries for films, I can get down with that, but it probably won't make me fork out for the same thing twice. You can probably watch it all on YouTube anyway. But there is one DVD case gimmick that I love, and it's a nice hard steelbook.

Steelbooks are exactly that, versions of the case made from cold hard steel. Why they're called steelbooks and not steelcases I have no idea. But steelbooks are the ultimate form of DVD/game case. Plastic is fine, it's the standard, but quite easily broken when stepped on or dropped. People who make cardboard cases have a special section of hell reserved for them. But if you make your cases out of steel, there's nothing that can stop them apart from some scratching from a sharp object.

Not only are they more durable, they often have some nice alternate cover art, more often than not cutting out all the certification and the blurbs on the back, shoving it onto a removable cardboard cover instead. That leaves this nice slab of metal full of nice artwork, perhaps with some bumpy letters. Steelbook cases are definitely my favourite, especially as they're always cold when I rub them on my face. Other people do that, right?

My rating: 5/5

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Today's Review: Sugar Free Relentless

You may have noticed a distinct lack of snack food review over the last week or two. There's a reason for that, and it's a very sad one, for I can no longer eat snack foods. Yes, I am on a diet, and a ketogenic one at that, meaning I have pretty much cut out carbohydrates completely. So no more chocolates, biscuits, fancy drinks, pretty much no more anything apart from meat, cheese and leafy greens. But since I've started I have found the odd exception, especially in the form of diet drinks.

While perhaps not the healthiest option for someone on a regular diet, Sugar Free Relentless contains no carbs whatsoever, and that's all I need to hear to get me to chug it down. Basically it's your regular old Relentless, but with sweetener instead of sugar. As such it's a different kind of sweet, and while it does taste somewhat like the original, it's not perfect.

Still, the levels of caffeine and taurine are the same, so you'll probably still get a kick out of it, though probably a lesser one due to the lack of sugar. But hey, it doesn't taste too bad, and seeing as I've had to cut most foods out of my diet, it's a welcome addition to the line up of what I can ingest.

My rating: 4/5

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Today's Review: Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment

Bet you thought I'd forgotten this one, didn't you? Actually, I just had to watch it a second time to really form my opinion on it. So yes, here we have the last episode in the second series of Black Mirror, and it seems as though Charlie Brooker has created a mirror himself thematically speaking. In the first series we had episodes about the effect of modern technology on politics, an unsettling dystopian future, and the dangers of our addiction to and excessive use of social media, respectively. This series, it was the other way round. Perhaps not intentional, but I thought it was interesting.

Anyway, The Waldo Moment stars Daniel Rigby as Jamie, a down on his luck comedian who has found relative success on a late night comedy show voicing the offensive animated bear Waldo. After an interview between Waldo and an MP up for election goes viral, Jamie's team persuade him to go after the politician some more, and to stand in the election as the vulgar blue bear in order to gain publicity. But as Jamie gets drawn more into a world he doesn't quite understand, he finds himself snapping at the other nominees, labelling them as "fake", and inadvertently sparking something of a revolution in some citizens.

Of course, it's not all that straightforward. Charlie Brooker has made very sure to explore both sides of the coin in this episode. While he clearly displays the out of touch and precision engineered methods of politicians, he also warn of the dangers of going against the established system and voting based on character alone. Waldo has nothing to offer apart from going against the status quo, and the ramifications of that are clearly outlined in a scene with a Washington agent, and the results hinted at in the closing credits.It's very cleverly done, hence why I needed to watch it a second time to really wrap my head around the message it provides.

Daniel Rigby is fantastic as the Jamie/Waldo, and the scene in which he delivers his scathing speech against politics is fantastically written and performed, almost on par with the one delivered by Bing in last series' Fifteen Million Merits. But despite the somewhat disturbing message behind the episode it just didn't seem too Black Mirror-like compared to other episodes. A clear reason for this is because it was based on a plot written for a Nathan Barley episode, but I think it could have been easily saved with less of the build up at the beginning, and more explanation of the aftermath. The end credits scenes are probably the most interesting of the episode, but they're so short that it's quite ambiguous as to what has occurred. Perhaps that's intentional, but what's made other episodes great is that you can clearly see what is happening by the end, and the realisation that it could easily happen in our society is chilling. The Waldo Moment was a good episode, well written with acknowledgement of both sides of the debate. But with a little more length and clarity, this could have been fantastic.

My rating: 4/5

Monday, 25 February 2013

Today's Review: Losing Tiny Things

I'm sure we've all lost a tiny thing at some point. Styluses, screws, single keys, these are things that can easily be dropped and never found again. It's bad enough losing something sizeable like a TV remote or an entire set of keys, they always seem impossible to find. But once you start getting down to the really small stuff, the number of places it can be hidden increase from boxes and drawers to crevices and gaps. As soon as I drop a tiny thing, I know that it will be nearly impossible for me to find straight away. Tiny things just have a way of getting lost as soon as they're out of your sight, and they're damn good at it. Perhaps one day I'll find a secret hideout that all my tiny things have gathered in, but for now I have to make do with my depleted stores of styluses, tiny toy balls, and who knows what else.

My rating: 0/5

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Today's Review: Lego The Lord Of The Rings

When will these Lego games end? Never, apparently, but why would we want them to? The Lego games, despite being quite similar in execution, have been a constant force in casual block smashing, stud collecting, franchise cashing-in fun. There's not one I've played that I haven't enjoyed, and Lego The Lord Of The Rings is no exception.

The game, obviously, follows the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, with the fairly well established six story levels per film. The game does a pretty good job of covering most of the main events during the trilogy, covering both the epic battle scenes and the quieter sneaky bits, such as the hobbits escaping the black riders near the beginning, or creeping around with Gollum later on. There are even levels where you can switch between two sets of characters doing different things, which may eventually join up once progress is made and puzzles are solved. Each level is a fair length, and while some are more drawn out than others, it never feels boring. As with the other Lego games, everything you smash and build along the way unleashes a cascade of Lego studs that can be used as currency, and it never gets boring smashing up everything in sight.

Of course, in the true Lego game spirit, even once the story has been played through, you're not even half done. Each level has a Free Play mode, in which you can go back and uncover secrets that you couldn't get the first time round due to the limitations of the given characters. With over 80 characters that you can unlock, it's fair to say that there's a sizeable selection, and Lego The Lord Of The Rings has a new character selection mode that lets you choose from any character at any time in order to solve different puzzles or use different items. Perhaps one of the best new features is the introduction of an inventory. This lets you hold several items that you may be collecting for a puzzle at once, but also lets you access the treasure trove, a chest containing items you have forged that bestow the abilities once reserved for a single character onto anyone who holds it. This sometimes makes solving puzzles a lot simpler than having to change between rows of characters.

Exploration is the name of the game, especially with the expansive open world that you can explore even after the main levels are done. You can wander around the entirety of the journey you went through during the story, visiting places like The Shire, Isengard and Mount Doom. There are plenty of collectible objects hidden around the place, such as extra characters you can buy, blacksmith designs that let you build new inventory items, and mithril Lego bricks that provide the currency to build said items. Each item normally required solving an item based puzzle, using a character's special skill, or simply defeating a certain number of enemies in a time limit, and the challenges are varied enough to spur you on to collect everything. Red bricks make an appearance again, allowing you access to "cheat codes" that can pinpoint hidden objects, multiply your stud count or simply put some funny faces on your characters.

It's fair to say that Lego The Lord Of The Rings is the most expansive Lego game yet, with some great new features and a whole lot of stuff to unlock. But with these new features come a few problems. When sorting shapes with Gandalf's staff, for example, it's often difficult to accurately target the blocks you want to put them into position. The main problem I found, however, was with the new character selection system. In the previous games, you could change between the two on-screen characters with a press of the Y button, while the LB and RB buttons let you switch between any other character from the roster. With the implementation of the new character system, you must hold down Y and then select the character from the entirety of the board. But quite a few times my button press was registered as just a tap, instantly transporting me to the other character on screen, who was more often than not at the very bottom of the precarious path I had just climbed with my initial character. Rage ensued. In the same way, you can access your inventory by holding down B, but tapping B also drops the item you're holding, and you can also place items with the same button. This led to several occasions where I dropped items when I didn't want to, and at some points caused glitches where items disappeared and I could no longer complete the level. Having all these commands assigned to a single button seems a lot more trouble than it's worth, and is certainly something that should be worked on in later instalments.

Still, despite the control niggles, Lego The Lord Of The Rings is an excellent game. It follows the story of the trilogy pretty religiously, complete with the music and snippets of lines from the movies. It's an exercise in exploration, puzzle solving, and most of all smashing, with plenty of stuff to unlock. If you're a fan of the previous Lego games (why wouldn't you be?) this is definitely one of the best.

My rating: 4/5

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Today's Review: Apple's AssistiveTouch

Yes, despite keeping my iPhone in a Griffin case since the day after I got it, it has still managed to break in some way. Namely, the lock button on top has become stuck, and I can't push it no matter how hard I try. Like most things, you don't know how much you need it until it's gone, and I was suddenly faced with the inability to turn off the damn screen, which in turn could lead to all sorts of unfortunate situations like app opening or pocket dialling.

Still, Apple have programmed in a workaround, albeit for disabled accessibility purposes. It's called AssistiveTouch, which when activated gives you a relatively unobtrusive circle no matter which app you're on. While it may get in the way sometimes, it's easily moved with a drag. Touching said circle opens up a menu displaying a variety of options normally associated with the physical buttons on the iPhone. You can activate Siri, lock the screen, take a screenshot, you can even rotate the screen or pinch zoom, all with just one finger. It's pretty good stuff for me, so I can only imagine what relief it gives those who lack the motor capacity to push the buttons or turn the phone. It's a great set of options that is intuitively applied, and it's certainly made my life easier until I can find my way to an Apple Store to get the phone looked at.

My rating: 5/5

Friday, 22 February 2013

Today's Review: Not Pacman

Ah, it's just a normal game of Pacman...

Holy crap, no it's not! Yes, indeed, it's Not Pacman. From the people who brought you Portal/Super Mario Bros. mashup Mari0 and the awkward physics based Not Tetris, comes an awkward physics based Pacman. It's like a normal game of Pacman really, the aim is to eat all the pelletsand avoid the ghosts. But the way it's controlled is completely new. You rotate the maze with your mouse and Pacman and co. tumble around falling down every possible avenue.

It really changes the way you play the game, in that the ghosts don't come after you, you are the one who is sending them rolling to your possible demise. The big power pellets still let you eat the bad guys up, but it's now a choice of whether you'll be able to manoeuvre yourself into them in time. The whole physics element really brings a brand new challenge, and while your preconceptions about how to play Pacman are in place you're probably not going to do too well. Still, the music, visuals and sound effects remain intact, so it really feels like you're transcending to a new Paclevel. Not Pacman is an interesting take on a classic that has produced a simple, effective, fun to play game.

My rating: 5/5

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Today's Review: Waiting Rooms

With the impending baby arrival, I have had the privilege of spending a fair amount of time in GP and hospital waiting rooms. Almost all of them are boring as hell.

Of course I don't expect them to be the epitome of fun, they're waiting rooms, you go there to wait, and waiting is boring. It's the often lame attempted to provide sole sort of entertainment that really baffle me. Occasionally you'll get the good waiting room, with some recent, easily digestible magazines, some newspapers, maybe even a TV. That kind of thing is normally reserved for hairdressers and the like. With the NHS you get things like half ripped up children's books or this months copy of Caravan Magazine (I actually had that one a couple of weeks ago).

Fortunately the room I'm in now is slightly better than average. There's a sizeable stack of reading material, including a newspaper from Saturday and some life story magazines (you know, the ones about children being abused and terriying miscarriages, probably not what you want to read when you're expecting). So yes, I have managed to keep myself occupied for the 2 hours I have been here. But waiting rooms are still boring, and most of them suck balls.

My rating: 1/5

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Today's Review: My Periodically Twitching Eye

My eye started twitching a few weeks ago. Not constantly, but several times a day, my eyelid goes into spasm mode and makes me seem like a madman (but only if you look really closely). It's annoying in its randomness, and I have no idea why it's happening.

A quick Google has informed me that it's a normal kind of thing, often caused by stress, but I don't think so. Perhaps a couple of weeks ago when I worked a lot of overtime, but recently I haven't been stressed at all, so I guess I just have to wait for it to stop, if it ever decides to. But while it's going on it's really annoying. It makes my vision a bit weird and my face kind of achey.

My rating: 0/5

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Today's Review: The Estate Agent Business Cards I Keep Getting Through My Door

It happens once every few weeks or so. A stealthy estate ninja comes up to my doorway and sticks a business card through. It has the standard estate agent info on the front, address, contact numbers and whatnot, but when flipped over it used to have a personal message, "Please call me". In time this has advanced to "Please call me about the marketing of your property", which makes me realise that they don't want me for me, they only want me for my flat.

Which is a shame, because I don't even own my flat. You'd think an estate agent would know which properties are rented or privately owned, although maybe they don't, I don't know, I barely know anything on the subject. But I haven't called, maybe they should take the hint. Do they have to keep dropping this business card through my door, hoping that would be the catalyst for me to start selling my flat? "Well, I was pretty happy here, but now this card has been jammed through my letterbox I suddenly want to pack up and leave", said no one ever.

Perhaps it's my fault for not calling to clarify that I don't own this place and maybe they should cross me off their list, but it's not quite annoying enough for me to make that effort. It's still annoying though. Although maybe I should start keeping all these cards and building them up into a tower.

My rating: 1/5

Monday, 18 February 2013

Today's Review: Black Mirror: White Bear

Yeah, I'll probably end up reviewing all three of these. Tonight we got the answers behind that mysterious symbol flashing up in the ad breaks of last week's episode. In White Bear, Lenora Crichlow plays Toni, a woman who wakes up in an empty house with no memory. Upon leaving she finds herself being filmed by everyone around her, and soon finds herself chased by a guy with a shotgun and a strange symbol on his balaclava.

Sound confusing? Well, it is. For at least the first three quarters. We're dragged along behind Toni with only fragments of story and random flashes of memory, and the confusion only builds up as more twists and turns occur. With no real explanation given for what's going on, and only around 20 minutes until the end, I was starting to worry that Charlie Brooker would not deliver in this episode. Of course, I was wrong, and it all comes to a head with a very succinct few scenes that certainly leave a lasting impression. The last part of this episode truly captures what Black Mirror is all about, a very uneasy near future scenario that we can probably imagine happening.

It just takes a hell of a long time to get to that point. All the other episodes have pretty firmly established the uncomfortable scenarios that they will play out quite early on, but White Bear concerns itself with being more like a horror movie at the beginning. It's certainly well shot, with some great performances, but while other episodes have held my interest and had me thinking within the first few minutes, this one left me confused and begging for answers most of the way through, and looking back a lot of the stuff that was never explained in the beginning didn't really end up mattering anyway. White Bear was certainly a good watch, but it's not quite up to the standard that has been set by earlier episodes. Thankfully next week's looks pretty good.

 My rating: 3/5

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Today's Review: Tumble Dryers

Our tumble dryer broke some time ago, and since we didn't have much money we put off buying one for a while. Instead, we invested in a couple of clothes horses, and resorted to draping our clothes over them and on radiators. Clothes took longer to dry, but hey, they dried, and without spending out on energy for tumbling.

But with a baby on the way it was time to buy ourselves a tumble dryer again, and by this time our washing had piled up quite dramatically, because clothes don't dry too well in winter. We were reasonably excited to be able to get wash loads dried quickly, and since the tumble dryer has arrived we haven't been disappointed.

You know what takes the longest to dry when hung up? Towels. They're created to soak up water, so trying to get it out by leaving it alone is a nightmare. But since we've been tumbling those towels they've been ready to use again in a matter of hours, I've never seen so many clean towels in my bathroom. Tumble dryers are magnificent in that respect. Shove some clothes in, turn the dial, and enjoy dry and toasty warm clothing in an hour or so. There's hardly any work required past that, except for emptying the lint tary and sticking the hose out of the window.

Of course, tumble dryers are not all perfect. There's the obvious power consumption that I mentioned earlier, but there's also the fact that not all clothes can go in a tumble dryer, and if you do end up putting the wrong thing in it could end up shrunk. So really there is some attention to detail required when selecting clothes, but the benefits of the tumble dryer far outweigh any negative points. But of course I would say that, with my mountains of fluffy warm towels.

My rating: 4/5

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Today's Review: KFC's 2 Hot 4 U Dip

What a crappy picture. Apparently my iPhone is not good at focusing anymore. Anyway, KFC have changed the layout of their buckets, which really threw me off. Instead of Popcorn Chicken with the variety bucket, you get hot wings. Crazy. But one addition is their line of dips that they're very proud about, seeing as there's some form of dip menu on every surface. I've never been offered dips with my variety bucket before, but this time I was. After choosing a bland selection, I realised my mistake when I saw that they were offering a "2 Hot 4 U" option, and since they used shorthand it really appealed to me as a young person. So I asked if I could swap one of my dips, and as if to challenge me the lady gave me two. Joke's on her, I love the hot sauce.

In short, though, it was not too hot for me. I certainly started to feel the burn after emptying both pots, but it was nothing unbearable. I am quite accustomed to hot stuff though, so maybe my body is a bit biased. What I can say is that it's actually quite delicious. It manages to be quite sweet while retaining the heat, and has quite a distinct flavour. The closest thing I could compare it to was eating a Taco Bell. So yes, this dip is not too hot for me, and it's probably not too hot for a lot of people, but it certainly is nice.

My rating: 4/5

Friday, 15 February 2013

Today's Review: Limericks

Limerick is a poetic treat,
In anapest or amphibrach feet,
The lines three and four,
(Yet one, two, five more),
Form rhymes altogether so sweet.

While easy to sit down and write,
You must take care when you recite,
For while they are crude,
They are mostly quite rude,
And could well result in a fight.

Sex innuendos abound,
But word play is quite often found,
While sometimes quite clever,
They don't last forever,
Rarely leave an impression profound.

So if you decide to ask me,
I will confidently decree,
Other forms are sublime,
But limerick's fine,
So out of a five I give three.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Today's Review: 4 Pics 1 Word

Forget your Songpops and Draw Somethings, this appears to be the new game spreading its way round Facebook. The quite aptly titles 4 Pics 1 Word is an app that does just that, gives you four pictures and requires the one word answer that links them all.

Most are quite straightforward, others are somewhat cryptic or not particularly well done. Seeing as all the images seem to be taken from stock photo websites they seem to have done quite a good job of putting them together, but some of the links between the images are tenuous at best. But to help you along the way you can choose your answer from a variety of provided letters.

The letter choices are presented along the bottom, much like Draw Something. You also have the opportunity to get rid of some of your choices, much like Draw Something, or to place one of the correct letters in the answer for you. Either option costs coins, which are accumulated by guessing questions correctly, or by emptying your wallet like an impatient idiot.

Yes, like most smartphone apps nowadays, the aim is to coerce you into spending real life money in order to progress farther into the game. But before you start paying, there's the option to share the picture on Facebook and get some hints from your friends, although the real reason this button exists is to promote the game among your friends and potentially draw in a less than frugal sucker who will sink their wages into some fake alphabet explosions.

But despite all that, it's not a bad little game. Like most of its type it can be somewhat addictive, but it is very limited at the moment. When the game starts up there's a "Play" button which takes you to your latest unsolved puzzle. There's no way to look back at ones you've done, or any kind of tiered level system where you can try something new if you're stuck. I guess this just promotes the idea of spending money to get further in the game, but even that notion is a bit messed up here. Most of these types of games will have friends battling it out to get ahead, but from what I've seen the level placements are completely random between different people. So if I tell someone I'm on level 56, they might only be on level 35, but with a fair few cryptic and difficult levels under their belt that I'll surely get stuck on later. The sense of competition should be a major factor in driving up the sales of coins for letter bombing purposes, but it just seems like it's gone a bit wrong here.

4 Pics 1 Word is a nice little picture game that can inspire a fair bit of thought from the player. In its current incarnation though, it's quite bland. The linear pathway through the levels with no backtracking option, the skewed competitive element and the underdeveloped rewards system just make the overall experience not very exciting. Still, it's obviously becoming popular, so I imagine updates will be made at some point. Probably not for the best, but still, it's something.

My rating: 2/5

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Today's Review: Yawning

If there's one unexplained thing that's annoying about the human body, it's yawning. Sure, there are some theories as to why we yawn, the physical process has been figured out, but no one knows exactly why we do it. You yawn if you're tired, certainly, but I've found myself yawning even when I'm quite awake. If someone else yawns Im liable to as well, and vice versa. It's a totally involuntary thing that really carries a lot of meaning in some people's eyes. 

If someone is talking to me and I yawn, I can guarantee that they're going to think that they're boring me. But do people ever really yawn if they're bored? Probably if they're tired as well, but the two don't necessarily go hand in hand. But we've had a lifetime of being exposed to people on TV yawning when they're bored, and now it's a stigma attached to this bodily function that I can't really control. Sure, I can go for the closed mouth yawn, but that makes my face twist into expressions that would probably be taken in an even worse way. 

Don't even get me started on the times when you need to yawn, but can't. It's almost as annoying as needing to sneeze but not being able to. It's enough that my body is making me think I need to do this unexplained and contagious thing with my face and lungs, but not letting me do it just enhances my rage. Even if I do manage to yawn, there's no real benefit to it. I'm still tired, people I'm with are probably thinking I'm rude, and then they start yawning too and they end up blaming me. Yawning sucks. At least with a sneeze it feels nice.

My rating: 0/5

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Today's Review: Not Making Pancakes On Pancake Day

Today was Pancake Day, and I knew this because of the stacks of pancake mix and abundance of extra lemons in the supermarkets, and the endless Facebook updates informing me that today was the day to eat pancakes. But you know what I didn't do today? Make pancakes.

I made some pancakes last week though. They were quite nice. Really I can take or leave pancakes, but apparently so can everyone else, because they only seem to eat them one day a year, but on that one day they get really excited about it. But guess what? You can make pancakes any day of the year. Really, try it. You don't need that pre-made batter stuff that's only around in February, you can make your own, out of cheap ingredients, and cook them whenever you want. Even in the summer. How crazy is that?

Okay, I can't really fault people for following well established seasonal days of the year, because then I'd have to hate on Christmas and Easter too. I probably would have made pancakes today if I had the time, but it's no big loss that I didn't, I can just do it tomorrow. Just like I could eat an Easter egg tomorrow too. But I won't, because I'm on a diet. Maybe that's the real reason I'm so bitter. No, it's definitely a lack of understanding of our constant ability to create pancakes.

My rating: 4/5 

Monday, 11 February 2013

Today's Review: Black Mirror: Be Right Back

Black Mirror has returned for another series, and while I respect pretty much everything Charlie Brooker has ever done, I was a little skeptical about whether three more episodes could keep up the perfect feeling of unease that was created by the first series. Thankfully tonight proved me wrong.

Be Right Back follows Martha, a woman who loses her boyfriend Ash in a car crash. While she struggles to help with her sudden loss, a friend signs her up for a new software program that can pull all the public information Ash has posted online and create an online avatar for her to speak to in order to gain some closure. At first Martha is skeptical, but as she starts to communicate she finds herself more attached, and finds herself quickly moving up to the next stages of the program.

Be Right Back is a very striking look at sudden loss, and really makes us ask the question of whether we would take advantage of the same program if the technology were available. As Martha progresses through the different stages, the whole endeavour is portrayed as a romantic, sentimental journey, and it is left to us as the audience to really think about how unsettling the whole thing really is. This is what Black Mirror does so well, leaving us with a lot to think about and how plausible these situations really are.

So yes, the essence of Black Mirror is firmly in place, but Be Right Back also succeeds in its direction and casting. Some of the shots are beautifully done, and while the majority of screen time goes to Hayley Atwell as Martha and Domhnall Gleeson as Ash, they really carry the whole thing nicely, shifting through all the stages that their relationship goes through with a couple of great performances. I'm pleased to say that my skepticisms about this new series have so far been unfounded, and with Charlie Brooker writing all three episodes this time, I have nothing but high hopes for the rest.

My rating: 5/5

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Today's Review: Skirting Boards

On the tail of my IKEA assembling adventure, I would like to introduce you all to my new nemesis: the skirting board.

Skirting boards, or baseboards, as Wikipedia informs me, serve the purpose of covering the joint between the wall and the floor. They also serve the purpose of not letting you put anything flush to the wall anywhere in the entire house. Hence the problem I come across with my IKEA instructions telling me to attach their units to the wall, I just can't. There's a prominent gap between the wall and where the skirting board ends that is completely useless, and just invited things to drop down behind the furniture, and I don't like it.

But I'm stuck with them. From what I've seen they come as standard in most places. But why? I don't understand the purpose. If they are really only for covering up the joint between wall and floor, surely there is now just a joint between skirting board and floor on show. Any carpet or laminate flooring I lay  only serves to accentuate that joint. So what is the point? Why do I need this useless hunk of wood running along every wall? They get in the way, get dusty, they are just annoying.

My rating: 0/5

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Today's Review: Flat Pack Furniture

There seems to be a certain stigma attached to flat pack furniture, especially where men are involved. If you search for "flat pack furniture" on Google Images, you get these two pictures in the first two rows:

One is clearly unorganised and confused, while one is completely disregarding the instructions, because apparently that's what men do to assert their manliness, throw caution to the wind and leave themselves vulnerable to hammer blows, splinters and shitty looking furniture.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Men don't have to perpetuate this embarrassing furniture related stereotype. We can be just like those happy people in the IKEA adverts, good looking furniture and all. Because really, flat pack furniture isn't too difficult to assemble.

I got a delivery from IKEA today. When I got round to putting it together, I worked through in a methodical way. Piled up the pieces that looked similar, followed the instructions, I even separated the screws and put them in separate zip-loc bags, because clearly I'm just too cool. But within a very reasonable space of time, I had a new shelving unit and chest of drawers, with no swearing or leakage of bodily fluids. Does that make me less of a man? I don't think so, at least now I've got somewhere to put my big boy pants.

So come on people, stop showing us how rage inducing flat pack furniture is. Sure, there are some problems to be had with the instructions only containing images (international audience, y'know?). There were a few times where I had to pause to figure out which type of screw corresponded to which number in the leaflet, but it's a minor problem that can be solved with a bit of observation and thought. So let's all build our own furniture, it's not that hard. It sure beats trying to squeeze and already assembled wardrobe through a tiny door. Believe me, that's even more rage inducing.

My rating: 4/5

Friday, 8 February 2013

Today's Review: Sultanas

Raisins are a staple of many foods nowadays, be it bagels, flapjacks or simply on their own as a snack. But while I do enjoy chomping on a nice portion of raisins, I much prefer sultanas.

What's the difference between a sultana and a raisin? Well, to start with, raisins are dried dark grapes, while sultanas are lighter grapes, and that makes it weird, because in terms of grapes, I prefer darker colours to lighter ones. But in my time of eating raisins I have found them to be more dried up and wrinkly than their lighter brethren, and the discovery of stalks and things has been somewhat high. With sultanas I've never had that problem. They are chewier and smoother than raisins, and it makes them much more pleasurable and juicy to eat. So if you like your raisins and have never tried sultanas, just do it. You may never go back.

My rating: 5/5

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Today's Review: Lindt Egg

It's time for Easter treats, and here's one I hadn't tried before, it's a Lindt egg shaped chocolate, and that sounds tasty because Lindt make awesome chocolate.

If you've ever had a Lindt truffle before, you know what to expect here, because it's exactly, the same, only egg shaped. But if you haven't had the truffle before, don't panic, it's not bad that it's exactly the same, because Lindt truffles are amazing. There's a fantastic milky chocolate shell, containing a creamy, smooth, melt in your mouth chunk of truffle that makes it worth the patience needed to actually let it melt in your mouth. It's a great chocolate experience, and now available in seasonal egg form. Can't go wrong with that.

My rating: 5/5

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Today's Review: People With Really Rough Hands

Working in retail, I have taken many coins and notes from many hands. Most are fine, some are dirty, but then there are those whose hands are just rough, really rough. I can't stand that.

I understand how people's hands can get so rough and calloused. Builders and other tradesmen use their hands for intensive, dirty jobs day after day, so it's only natural that the skin on their hands will become all dry and scratchy, and there's probably not much point doing anything about it because they're not planning on getting out of that career, plus expensive lotions and stuff are totally gay (I apologise for my stereotypical views about the stereotypical views of builders).

But personally, I absolutely hate the feel of rough skin. There have been days where my hands have dried out slightly and I've gone to wash and moisturise them a good number of times just to stop any feelings of scratchiness. I couldn't imagine living with hands that felt a rock with a skin condition. The scratchy feeling of dry skin against certain materials is enough to send shivers down my spine and make me physically cringe, so when I'm minding my own business handing out change and brush against a manly man's dry hands, it's not a good experience. I'm not saying people shouldn't have rough hands, nor am I passing judgement on those that do, I just really hate the feel of rough hands.

My rating: 1/5

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Today's Review: Peach And Apricot Fanta

Fanta has been good to me lately with their fancy flavours, although I wouldn't expect anything less from a Coca-Cola that has provided me with that fancy flavour machine I experimented with a couple of days ago. But for those of us who don't want to make the trip to a Burger King with a self serve machine, you can pick up the new peach and apricot flavour Fanta from Tesco.

As you can probably expect, this Fanta does indeed taste like apricot and peach. More so apricot, but it's a nice fruity flavour that blends in nicely with the fizz, not too overwhelming, and definitely smoother than the regular orange variety. It's certainly a nice addition to the range, but it's not quite up to the standard of the mango and passion fruit limited edition flavour (that's still around today...), or the almighty ruler of the Fanta flavour range, the classic Fruit Twist. So not quite perfect, but still very nice.

My rating: 4/5

Monday, 4 February 2013

Today's Review: Hitchcock

While I have watched many movies in recent years, there is a significant gap in my movie knowledge that starts around the early 90s and continues back through time. As such, the only Alfred Hitchcock movie I have watched os far is Rear Window, though I am eager to watch more, especially after watching Hitchcock, a wonderful little movie about Alfred's quest to make his classic movie Psycho.

Anthony Hopkins plays Alfred Hitchcock, the eponymous director, while Helen Mirren portrays his wife, Alma. After creating many hit movies and gaining a significant amount of fame in the industry, Hitchcock is drawn to a book named Psycho, chronicling the crimes of serial killer Ed Gein. Hitchcock is determined to make this his next movie, but with little support from the studios, and some cracks beginning to show in his relationship with his wife, it could be easier said than done.

Yes, I know I've never watched Psycho, but I know enough about it to follow what was happening in Hitchcock. Perhaps if I were well versed in the original movie, I would have picked up and related to more in this one, but as it stands I certainly enjoyed it. It gives us an insight into the mind of Hitchcock, a man dedicated to his art, and while the movie is a bit slow in places, the outstanding performances of Hopkins and Mirren always save it from mediocrity. Hitchcock is a dramatic, interesting, and funny movie that provides some excellent insights into the movie industry, and of course the man himself (and his lady).

My rating: 4/5

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Today's Review: Coca-Cola Freestyle

I went to the Burger King on Leicester Square earlier today, to find out that they had undergone a soft drinks revolution. No longer were the four or five choices lined up behind the counter, because now there are Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, and they are amazing.

It's a self serve drinks machine at its heart, and it's actually the first time I've seen Dr. Pepper available as a choice of drink anywhere in the UK. That was exciting enough, but that's just the start.

You see, you don't just have the choice of which drink you'd like to dispense, each one comes in a variety of flavours, some that I've never even heard of in canned form before. Raspberry Coke, Grape Sprite, there were just too many possibilities to choose from. I went for a Raspberry Coke with a little bit of Lime Come mixed in, because yes, you can double dip as well. Just push the dispense button to the required amount, and you can simply touch another flavour and keep on pouring.

Despite its relatively high prices, Burger King has always remained a firm favourite of mine, but this new drinks machine just puts them way ahead in my book. I was tempted to buy another cup just so I could try out a few more combinations, and I can't wait to go back and try a bit of everything. The soft drinks industry is heading in an awesome direction.

My rating: 5/5

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Today's Review: Brie

I'd like to think I'm a cheese loving man, although most of the time I settle for the standard cheddar, because I don't really make enough money to regularly sample the cheeses of the world, and the rest of my family aren't too adventurous with new food. But if I'm feeling fancy, I might spring out for a bit of weird and wonderful cheese to satisfy my curiosity, or I might just settle for an old, oft neglected favourite. Which is what I did this week when I bought a nice chunk of brie.

Brie is good, strange, but good. It lies in between the realm of hard cheese and cream cheese, meaning it looks and feels like you can spread it, but in practice it's pretty difficult. Still, it's a really good cheese. Creamy, smooth, and has an excellent flavour, and it goes well with pretty much anything, especially grapes. If you've never tried brie, you're missing out, and are probably not very adventurous at all. So get back to me once you've had a taste and we'll move onto the more weird and wonderful.

My rating: 5/5

Friday, 1 February 2013

Today's Review: Andrex's "Scrunch Or Fold?" Campaign

Let's imagine you work in the toilet paper marketing department. For years you've created adverts about how soft and quilted your brand of paper feels when it's wiped on your corn hole, and how all those weird plant infusions are good for your anus. Things are getting a little bland and unoriginal. How do you put the pizzaz back in the loo roll advertising? Andrex clearly had that problem, so they've decided to set up a national campaign to find out just how people wipe their arses.

So this is the slogan adorning packets of toilet paper, the eternal question of whether you scrunch or fold your toilet paper before you use it to mop up excrement. I can only assume that once the results are in for this, they'll move onto asking which hand people wipe with, or whether they do it standing or sitting (yes, that is a divided issue). I mean, really, who thought of this? Who thought it would be a good idea? Can't we just market toilet paper purely on the fact that using it means you don't get skidmarks in your underwear? That's enough to make me buy it.

To be honest, it has gotten me talking about it, but only in the way that I sarcastically pointed the slogan out to my coworkers before engaging in a brief conversation that ended with, I assume, both of us feeling awkward and wishing we knew less about each other's toilet habits. But hey, any publicity is good publicity, even if a company wants to know which form your waste-covered tissues are. But I certainly don't like it. It's creepy and weird. Sure, it's charming if the Andrex puppy asks, but I'd probably be arrested if I went around asking people of my own volition.

My rating: 1/5