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reviews

Hogfather & All She Was Worth

A couple of mini-reviews of the books I’ve read lately:

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

The 20th book in the Discworld series (and yes, I’m reading them in order – I find they tend to make a little more sense that way), about average Discworld length, possibly a bit longer than that, and focuses on Death (and his granddaughter, Susan). I tend to prefer the books involving Death, so that automatically makes it interesting for me, but I found Hogfather to actually be a bit creepier than most of the Discworld novels I’ve read. I can’t quite pinpoint why (although it might’ve been Teatime). Reading it now gave an additional “Christmas in July” feel so I’m not sure if it would have seemed less strange and/or more appropriate if I’d read it in December XD;

All She Was Worth – Miyuki Miyabe

This book was written by an author I’d never heard of previously, but happened to pick during a particularly ambitious book-buying spree on amazon. (I have two more books by completely new authors still waiting for me.) I don’t quite remember how it got recommended to me, I imagine it was through a (Haruki) Murakami page. ASWW is a fairly straightforward detective novel, in the sense that the protagonist is a detective and spends the entire time trying to unravel What Happened. Naturally there are some additional scenes, giving background on the protagonist and his life, but that’s generally overshadowed by the investigation and the information learned about the subject’s life and personality. I was a little disappointed that there was no shown confrontation at the end, as it felt a bit like things were left hanging. I suppose you can come to the conclusion that everything unfolded just as the detective had discovered it, and I suppose the motive for the actions was clear enough… but I somehow still prefer to hear it straight from the character’s mouth. It wasn’t a bad ending, just not my preferred one. (Also, the fact that there were at least three or four blank pages at the back of the book didn’t help any, but that’s a publishing/printing choice, I believe.)

I should note that I read these two books in quick succession, as I seem to always do. Hogfather at least took a couple nights to work through, but All She Was Worth was read from beginning to end last night XD; That was unintentional, but not unprecedented. I’m wondering whether to wait a bit before starting on In the Miso Soup or Out (I’ve also got Kinki Lullaby and Jingo but I’m saving those, one because KL’s the last Billy Chaka book and Jingo because, well, I just read a Discworld book.)

I always welcome book recommendations and questions about books that I’ve read! Feel free to leave a comment here, or on my 2010 book list page :hee:

Laser-cut Acrylic Jewelry (CBT’s Closet review)

I stumbled upon CBT’s Closet’s etsy page a long time ago, back when they were taking custom word necklace orders. I filed the link away for later use.

When I came back to it, custom orders had closed down!
But a whole bunch of new creative designs had surfaced.

Well, it’s only sensible to check out the true colors of the acrylic before spending more on a custom design, isn’t it?

And so I ordered two necklaces – the “kawaii bow” in bubblegum pink and the crown in mirror pink.

I ordered on February 20th, it shipped on the 24th and arrived March 3rd.

かわいいbow:
かわいいリボン

かわいいリボン3
(even the holes for hanging the chain are hearts! how cute! ♥)

かわいいリボン4

crown:
crown

crown 2

crown 3
I don’t like mirror pink as much as I thought I would – it has too much blue in it, although it’s very shiny. The crown design and the necklace itself are very nice, however. Incredibly shiny.

and! In my package, I found one more item!

pixel heart ring
a pixel heart ring!
I don’t know what size the ring is, although I’d guess 7/8 based on the fact it fits on my right ring finger pretty perfectly. It’s pretty adorable ♥
I was really surprised! I know smaller crafting stores often throw in free items for larger orders, but a ring for purchasing two necklaces seems like a better ratio than most give. (If it’s to encourage people to order more, then it’s working! I want a pixel heart in a pink shade ♥)

CBT’s Closet has a great selection of designs and colors to choose from, I highly recommend them!

brownies with 2x as many edges!

I’m the kind of person who likes their bread always toasted, and my hot dogs basically black.

Essentially, the crispier the better.

I’m also the kind of person who prefers edge brownies to middle brownies – the mushy crumbly center pieces get left in the container for as long as I can stand it. As M said, if there’s a brownie craving, then I’ll give, but if I can avoid it (i.e. push them off onto someone who will appreciate them) then I will.

Enter the All Edges Brownie Pan by Baker’s Edge
all-edges brownie pan
baker's edge

Shaped in a unique way that reminds me of a maze, the pan ensures that every brownie will have at least one edge, if not two or three! Ideally this sounds great! No wasted – or at least required to be passed off to other people – brownies.
However it’s not uncommon for innovative-seeming items to fail in the execution – great idea, not so great product. Would this one match expectations?

After reading the instructions (wash before use with hot soapy water, towel dry), I set about making my first batch of edge-full brownies.

First off, I should mention that the pan is much heavier than I thought it would be. Picking up the box, when I received it, I thought to myself “cast iron?!”
but in reality it’s not quite that heavy.
I suppose the increase in weight is at least partially due to it containing at least 40% more metal than typical baking pans, but I think the overall material is different, and not as lightweight as I’m used to. Hopefully this means higher levels of durability.

Pouring my box mix in (I’m lazy, forgive me!), I found it relatively easy to navigate the winding path without spilling batter all over the place.
all-edges raw brownie mix
When I did get bits on the middle/sides, I simply pushed it down with my spatula. The coating seemed very slick and the batter did not stick much.
I did have to take some time to even out the distribution, since I figured it wouldn’t settle naturally in the oven. (I do this also with regular brownie pans – I had a disaster one time where half came out burnt, the other uncooked (-_-; ))

The instructions warned me that the pan might cook brownies faster than normal pans, so I set my timer for 22 minutes (the box said 24-26).

22 minutes later, my center brownies were still not cooked.
4 more minutes after that, not quite perfect.
An unspecified amount of time sitting in the no longer actively heating oven, and I determined them cooked.
all-edges cooked brownies

What I most had to get used to with this pan was not knowing how to cut the brownies. I’m used to doing two longway cuts and three perpendicular cuts to that, but the center metal makes this more difficult. I cut each section individually, to varying degrees of success. I think further practice will result in more equally sized brownies. (I ended up with some very small and some very large ones.)

Fresh after cooling, the first piece I took was the three-edged brownie from the top left corner.
Three edges! Impossible in normal pans <3 It was quite nice~ Sadly brownies are not quite as good a couple days later, even if reheated. Not bad, mind you, just not the special crispy goodness that my first piece was. I wish there was a better way to preserve it. For $30, it's a bit steep for a brownie pan, but if you love edges it might be worth it. (I bought mine with the geek points I'd saved up, so for me it feels like it was "free", and therefore seems more than worth the price XD)

Eeeeeeeeeeee!

No, I’m not screaming.
I mean, Eee.
Just three Es.
Surely you know what that means?

Eee!

Do you know now?

Ai (甘苺)

New computer! Well, netbook.

She’s an Eee PC 1005ha-v, in pink, naturally.
Right now she’s a replacement for a normal laptop (mine had a major meltdown about two weeks ago now) and is holding up pretty well. Video is the only aspect that really falters – watching 480i on crunchyroll is painful, but standard definition is fine. I do plan on buying a new fullsize laptop (13-15″, haven’t decided what yet) but I’m holding out until at least October when Windows 7 will be released. This also gives a chance for hardware to change up a little more – the way things are now, components aren’t much better than my laptop from two years ago.

Ai (甘苺) &amp; friends

Ai (甘苺) &amp; friends (lid closed)

Here she is with some of her friends, a pink Western Digital external hdd and pink wireless mouse with tiny receiver.

indicator lights

Closeup on the indicator lights: (L-R) power, battery, hdd, wireless, capslock

gradient fade

side view

This small detail is something I love about the design – look closely – the pink gradually turns to white rather than abruptly changing. <3 bumpy touchpad

The touchpad has little bumps all over it, which took a little getting used to.

fake sd card

sd card slot

The SD card slot doesn’t spring-eject, so I’m not a big fan of it edit: it appears it does spring-eject! but at the beginning it certainly didn’t. So I’m not sure what caused it to suddenly start working XD;
It came with this cute little white fake SD card in the slot XD

Alima Pure review

{ As a disclaimer, this post is going to be moderately photo-heavy, so please wait for the images to load! }

For a few years now I’d been using Jane Iredale’s mineral foundation, which was a response to Bare Minerals not having a shade light enough for my skin despite my interest in loose powder foundations (and at the time they were the most well-known company for this). At some point along the way, the neutral shade I’d chosen started to make me look sort of orange-y, which is not very flattering. I don’t know if my skin changed colors, or if they changed formulas, but the end result was the same – I had to find a new brand to use.

I was skimming livejournal’s paleskin community to find suggestions for companies that produced really pale foundations, and discovered Alima ( http://www.alimapure.com/ ) made a wide variety of shades, all the way down to something that barely had any color at all. The shade choices are actually so abundant it took me a long time to decide on a shade! Luckily Alima is very good about providing samples, and I spent a couple weeks using different shades before I finally settled on the one I would buy a full size of.

Last week I placed the order for the full size, along with a bunch of samples.

Alima Pure order 01
The order was shipped in a Priority mail box, wrapped in this cardboard netting.

Alima Pure order 03
Alima is very meticulous in making sure everything is packaged neatly – this is the overall tissue paper wrapped parcel, closed with a green sticker featuring Alima’s bird mascot.

Alima Pure order 05
Unwrapping the tissue paper reveals even more meticulous packaging. Visible here are the box for the foundation, a free (!) lip balm, and a brown paper bag containing my samples. Not visible was the small package of free samples.

Alima Pure order 06
Yet more organization! The white pouch contains little ziploc baggies of free samples.

Alima Pure order 07
Three baggies of samples: some shimmer eyeliner, shimmer eyeshadow and shimmer power (for face). Holly Berry shade of lip balm.

Alima Pure order 08
Alima Pure order 09
Packaging of the foundation

Alima Pure order 10
Alima Pure order 11
Alima Pure order 12
Alima Pure order 13
Foundation container, complete with cute bird mascot on the cover. Very classy.

Alima Pure order 14
All 9 of my shimmer eyeshadow samples ($1 each)

Alima Pure order 15
Face-related samples: some shimmer powder, finishing powder, primer powder.

The satin matte foundation is very light, like most loose mineral foundations, and won’t provide heavy coverage, but definitely helps create a smooth, airbrushed look. I have yet to try out the eyeshadows, but they look like they are fairly heavily pigmented. I love the shimmer powders (favorite shade so far is Whisper) for a little sparkly highlighting. The lip balm has a slight tint to it, almost no scent, and feels very creamy. I just put some on and within a minute or two I could already feel the difference on my dry lips. I might buy a different shade when I make another order (it’s inevitable!) since deep red isn’t a color I use much, but I am very appreciative of the free item! I don’t know if it was because I spent over a certain amount, or because I’ve been ordering kind of frequently lately…. XD

If you’re looking for a wide variety of shades in loose mineral foundation, Alima is definitely the place to go. Samples are $1 each, and max out at 2 per color per order, but the amount is pretty generous – I went at least a week on the foundation sample, if not more. You can pile as many samples as you like into your cart each order (I bought 16 samples in this order, so I can’t imagine there’s much of a limit!) so I should probably warn you that the sampling is a little addicting to do – it’s so tempting to just add one more, one more XD Also, there seems to be a slight discount the more samples you buy, doing some quick math it looks like for every four you order it’s $0.25 off (so one sample out of four would be $0.75 instead of $1).

Shipping is always fast, this last time I ordered July 10th, it shipped 13th, and arrived today. Everything was packaged marvelously as you can see above, and arrived with absolutely no problems.

I highly recommend Alima Pure!

美文字トレーニング & 大人の漢字練習

Let me start this post by first reminding any new readers of my Japanese language background: I have a BA in Japanese Language and I spent four months living in 千葉市, 千葉県, Japan. I have yet to take a JLPT, but if I had to guess I’d say I could probably pass 2級 without too much trouble right now, if I prepared for the test (as frequently knowing the format for such things is just as important as knowing the material). The main reason I haven’t taken one yet is mostly because I keep forgetting to register in time, and the closest test location to me is in NYC where I do not live.
However, I do plan on taking the JLPT 1級, the hardest level, in December 2009 for two reasons:

  • 1. My theory is, if I study all year, I can get up to 1級 proficiency
  • 2. Beginning in 2010, 1級 will be even harder than it is right now.

With this in mind, I’m making good use of the internet and am continually searching for resources to help me strengthen my weak spots, most notably, kanji literacy.

Today, I’d like to make a quick post about two DS software programs I’m trying out, and my impressions of them so far. The first relates to the image above – 美文字トレーニング | Bimoji Training produced by Nintendo. The purpose of this software is to teach you how to write kanji more beautifully, a side effect of which I hope to be remembering how to write various kanji. It does seem quite good so far, but it appears to fall along the same lines as Brain Age in the sense that this should be daily training – you can only try so many per day. I’d prefer an infinite training mode (and there may be one I haven’t discovered yet) although the feedback you get from writing characters is pretty thorough…. providing you can read the feedback. This is going to be something I will say again and again about using DS software to learn Japanese – most are not made for English speaking learners of Japanese. They are made for the Japanese speaking public to practice with. Beginners will not really benefit from this, and intermediates might need to pull out their dictionary for a while until they learn the general vocabulary used.

The second software has a slightly longer and less obvious name: なぞっておぼえる大人の漢字練習完全版 | Nazotte Oboeru Otona no Kanji Renshuu Kanzenhan, which, simply translated, means “Trace and remember – Adult’s Kanji Practice, Complete Version. This one is more immediately helpful for me, and for any intermediate-advanced learner who lacks kanji knowledge. The kanji are broken down into levels, and sub-levels, so you can test yourself in small chunks of either 読み方(readings) or 書き方(writing), and to graduate each level, you get tested on both, chosen randomly. Since, again, this program is not designed for non-native learners, there are no English definitions, the words and phrases used may not be immediately obvious to foreign learners, but a dictionary and some persistence will earn you both kanji proficiency and a more robust vocabulary.

I imagine the example words and phrases might be obvious and everyday to people living in Japan, but to me many are new. You may be wondering where the “trace” portion is incorporated, and in fact if you aren’t paying attention it might slip by you at first. During revision and initial learning, if you don’t already know how to write a kanji, you can choose to have it give you the answer. After you’ve done this, and before you give the now obvious answer, you can choose to have it show you how you should write the kanji, and, even beyond that, you are given the chance to write it a dozen times over. I think my favorite part of this software is that it allows you to review just the kanji you were unable to read and/or write. This way you can strengthen your weak spots without dragging through reviewing ones you already know!
I’d more highly recommend Otona no Kanji Renshuu to intermediate to advanced learners of Japanese for kanji practice, as readings are more prominent. Bimoji will become more useful after the kanji themselves have been learned.

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