Five Easy, Last-Minute Hallowe’en Costumes

It happens every year. You have an amazing costume planned, you work on it and get all excited, and it’s just not ready by the time Hallowe’en rolls around. You have an idea, but you can’t find the thing you need in time. You just entirely forget until two days before Hallowe’en. You could throw on that same lazy vampire costume you wear every year, or pull a “serial killer: they look just like everyone else” normal clothes ‘costume’. You don’t need to! You have a day or two, you can do one of these easy costumes that will still say “I planned this and I love costume parties” to everyone else.

 

One: A Sim

There are levels to this, and all you actually need to buy or make is a plumbob head piece– the green diamond that floats above a Sims head. Greet people with “sul sul!” and occasionally say nonsense or fail to interact with a chair and you’ll really sell it.

At the most basic level, you can wear literally whatever you like. By now, the Sims have near infinite clothing options. Plain tops, t-shirts with nonsense writing or generic images, and slightly odd outfits like pyjamas or a sports outfit are best for that Sims feel.

For a really top-level costume a knee-length strapless red dress, flat shoes and straight dark hair makes for a spot on Bella Goth outfit. Her look varies from game to game, so accuracy is flexible. If you have a little more time and craft skills, another impressive Sim costume is nude Sim. Make yourself a large board of skin-colour pixels and find a way to hang it or attach it to you, and leave your arms and legs bare.

Two: Beanie Baby, Build a Bear, etc

You’ve got an animal costume, but it’s a bit dull and overdone. Spice it up and give people a laugh by turning yourself into a Beanie Baby, a build a bear or other recognisable brand of toy! For the beanie baby costume, just throw on your lazy cat costume or penguin onesie and make your label. Take thick card or cardboard and cut it in a heart shape, colour it red with a big white “ty”. An optional bonus to the label is the yellow “ORIGINAL BEANIE BABY” part, whether the star shape or the bubble text version. Tie it round your neck or to your costume ear with red ribbon and you’ve turned a cliché costume into a funny pop culture reference.

If your costume isn’t a full animal, opt for Build a Bear! Those toys come with clothing and costumes, so the possibilities are nearly endless. Whether you have a full bear costume or cat ears and tail with a princess dress, as long as you have a paw-like glove and a BAB heart-print on it you’re a Build a Bear. The hand logo is a heart shaped red paw print with “BAB” on it in white.

Other brands you can impersonate include Steiff, who have a distinctive yellow label in the bear’s ear, or Hamleys, who have a red ribbon with their name on tied in a bow around the bear’s neck. If you can recreate the label, you can dress as the cuddly toy.

Three: Easy Film/TV Characters

Raid your wardrobe and get your cosplay thinking hat on. A black dress and plaited pigtails equals Wednesday Addams; a shirt and a moustache equals Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation; a little black dress and some nice accessories equals Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Got a leather jacket and some hair styling products? White tshirt and jeans and you’re Danny from Grease or the Fonz. Black leggings and some blonde curls and you’re Sandy from Grease. Some sunglasses (if you’re muscular) and you’re the terminator. The list goes on, Marlon Brando in Wild Ones, Charlie Sheen in the Breakfast Club, Mad Max…

There are incredibly easy group costumes in this category. Three friends in red, blue and green plain dresses are the Powerpuff Girls. A green t shirt is a rubbish costume unless you have a friend in a purple dress, a friend in an orange sweater and a friend in a white top with a red scarf, and suddenly you’re the Scooby Doo team!

You could even be as lazy as possible and turn up to the party in a dressing gown. If you grab a towel, you’re Arthur Dent from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and if you grab some milk you’re the Dude from the Big Lebowski.

Four: Tourist

All you really need for this one is a camera or a map, but there are some nice tourist stereotypes to wear if you have them. The most obvious is a Hawaiian shirt and beige shorts, but you can swap those out with I heart NY t-shirts or a top with a landmark on it. Just pop down to your local tourist area and grab one of the t-shirts there, or even dig out one you bought on your own holiday and never wore again.

Accessories are what takes costumes like this from half-baked to last minute winner. With socks and sandals, a sun hat and a bumbag (fanny pack to Americans) it’s obvious what you are. Give yourself a sunburn or some tan lines with make up and take a selfie with a selfie stick and you’ll impress people.

To really sell it, stay in character just like with the Sims costume. Pose for photos, take selfies, maintain a general feeling of confusion and awe. If there’s more than one of you dressed as tourists, go on a tour of the party!

 

Five: Fruit

It’s not spooky, it’s not pop culture, and it’s not funny, but it is a costume and it will pleasantly surprise people. Get as accurate or stylised as you like, and stick to the most visually obvious fruit. You can wear it again at a non-Hallowe’en party, too.

Solid colour outfits are best here, with a hat or headpiece turning it from clothes to costume. Make a green leaf hat and you can mix and match for multiple fruits! A yellow dress is now a pineapple costume, pink or red with polka dots is a strawberry, and wearing all orange makes you a carrot.

Give yourself a round shape and any colour is a fruit. Red apples, orange well, oranges, yellow lemons, green limes, blue blueberry or purple grape. Get a pear shape to your costume for a pear, and get the sharpie out to dot yourself a pink watermelon top. A little fabric paint and you can make a group citrus slice costume, with orange, lemon and lime.

For top notch fun, a bunch or purple or green balloons makes you into a whole bunch of grapes, or a tall yellow hat with a long yellow dress makes you into a banana.

Just Fab, or Just a Scam?

JustFab is yet another online shop, offering discounted shoes and other clothing items. They’ve been advertising on television as well as on YouTube, really making themselves known. The screaming women are excited about the shoes (SHOES!) and excited that they’re just so cheap. The adverts state that you can get shoes from as little as £7 and that they have VIP memberships. That seems great, but is it too good to be true?

The first issue I had with JustFab was delivery. The estimated delivery days came and went, and no tracking information; bear in mind that shipping is not free. When I chased up my order I just got excuses; they’re pretty backed up, and they’re sending it out today. Why not update the delivery details? Who knows. Hermes, the courier company JustFab use, eventually marked the parcel as “delivered to neighbour” on their tracking website. No note was put through my door to tell me about it and I had no way to know which neighbour had it. Knocking on every door in the neighbourhood is unrealistic, so I chased it up with JustFab again.

As I paid through PayPal, I requested a refund. It was immediately marked as having a response from JustFab, but there did not appear to be any message. I waited a day, but it wasn’t delayed. It would appear they have an automatic blank reply to all PayPal disputes, meaning that you can either escalate it, keep trying in vain, or mark it as solved. I escalated it. With no response from JustFab in the two-week period, PayPal gave me my money back.

Ironically, not long after that, a neighbour I had never met before brought the parcel round once she realised that she still had it. We thanked her and apologised, explaining that we hadn’t been told where it went. I thought this concluded my annoying experience and wouldn’t have done anything more than simply avoid using JustFab in future.

And then a £35 charge was taken out of my PayPal.

Despite the fact that I did not consent to this payment (having simply signed up for a basic account) the fact that I had paid for one pair of shoes apparently qualified me, and auto-upgraded me, to a “VIP” account which costs £35 a month. This charge was the first I know of the supposed upgrade. On checking the website, I found that there is no way to edit my payment details or change the level of status of my account. In fact, aside from thanking me for becoming a VIP member in a small text box, there was no way to view the cost of my unwanted VIP membership!

What’s more, there’s no way to cancel or delete a VIP account on the website at all. There’s just a very difficult to navigate series of FAQs along with mention of a “live chat” with zero links to access it. The only information is that, to cancel, call their cancellation phone number between 8am to 8pm. On calling 6:05pm I was met with answer; it rang but then just beeped. Call rejected?

I queried the payment on PayPal; I received another automatic blank response, so I just escalated it immediately. I messaged JustFab on Facebook and phoned again the next day. While Googling for their live chat at the same time, I found a lot of blog posts and some article links calling out JustFab for their shady charges. I eventually found the live chat. Although I had now had my call answered, I was on hold, so hung up as soon as I got a response on the live chat.

Despite claims that it is a live chat with a staff member, it felt an awful lot like a bot. After giving my account number, I asked to cancel my account. I was told I was a VIP member and had VIP points, am I sure I want to cancel? If I just want to skip a month I can just go to such-and-such a page and click “skip”. For an already convoluted process, this script was like pulling teeth. Yes, I told the ‘not-a-bot’. I double checked that it was done, and as soon as it allowed me to I cancelled my whole account.

Apparently, without a VIP account and paying £35 each month, the price offers are not available to you and you instead pay “retail prices”, the unadvertised £20+ prices the entire point of the site is to get a discount on. This is not made clear in their advertisements and is not made clear at any point during shopping, purchase or at all; I did not realise this until the live chat was trying to talk me out of cancelling.

This high monthly fee is not only already the price of buying a pair of shoes each month, but also means that to actually be saving more money overall you would need to be buying at least three pairs of shoes a month. Even the most extreme of shoe fanatic would be hard pushed to be buying a new pair of shoes almost every week. The kind of person that is, is probably not that concerned about saving money and is going to be spending well over £500 on each pair of Louboutin’s, Jimmy Choo’s and Steiger’s.

Using an unreliable courier is one thing, but this monetary practise is shady at best, and has all the ‘red flags’ of a scam. To advertise as a discount store and then sneak in exorbitant background ‘fees’ for access is disingenuous. To hide the details about the fees and force the customer to jump through hoops to cancel or even change that paid account at all? Deliberately nefarious.

Save your time, money and piece of mind, and avoid JustFab like the plague.

Roger Deakins Needs to Get an Oscar for Blade Runner 2049 because it’s About Time He Got One

Roger Deakins is a prolific and obviously amazing cinematographer and Director of Photographer. His IMDb page is a long, long list of films that are visually stunning and effective. He’s won 3 BAFTAs and been nominated for 5 more, won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers and 4 Best Cinematography awards from the British Society of Cinematographers, and won countless more awards (see them all on his IMDb). He’s been nominated for a whopping twelve Oscars, all for his outstanding cinematography, and not won a single one.

Shawshank Redemption was beaten by Legends of the Fall in 1995, Fargo to The English Patient in 1997, No Country For Old Men to There Will Be Blood in 2008. Okay, so he also lost out to the visually brilliant and still praised Titanic, Inception and Life of Pi, but we’re talking about a career full of masterpieces and no Oscar statuette on his mantelpiece.

The films he was a part of are all a treat for the eye, including the gritty, old feeling True Grit, the bright and somehow simultaneously muted The Big Lebowski, and the above mentioned Shawshank Redemption, who’s visuals cemented the sheer reverence it commands.

His latest offering to our eyes is the worth-it sequel to paradoxically massively popular cult classic Blade Runner. Keeping its predecessor’s rainy neon city scenes, there is a real feeling that this is the same place, many years later. Deakins not only makes the film feel visually matched to the first, which he was not involved with, but brings his own touches. The rainy, high tech city contrasts but compliments the dusty, abandoned opulence in the desert.

Now, the Oscars are all decided individually; not only are the nominees’ awards histories not supposed to be a factor in the award decisions, but the other award categories are not supposed to be a factor. Whilst a cinematography Oscar is going to depend purely on comparing this film to whatever other ones are nominated, public opinion does take everything into account. Remember when Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar?

Of course, Directors of Photography are not as visible to the average moviegoer. You see the actors’ faces in each film. The Director is the big name in the credits, too. The DoP, however, might be making the huge visual decisions but isn’t a role that non-filmmakers are as aware of. It’s easy to think through all the films you’ve seen Harrison Ford’s face in, and directors with multiple hit films under their belts are well known as mini-genres; Tarantino, Spielberg, the Wachowskis… But, if it isn’t the kind of thing you’re specifically interested in, you probably can’t name another director of photography.

Remember, a quick run-through of Deakin’s resume includes Barton Fink, The Secret Garden, The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, A Beautiful Mind, The Ladykillers, The Village, Jarhead, No Country For Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, True Grit, Rango, Skyfall, Sicario and Hail Caesar!. There are seventy-seven films under his cinematography section on IMDb. And he hasn’t won a single Oscar.

With its October release, Blade Runner 2049 has missed the 2017 Oscars, so there’s a wait for the next nominations. Hopefully, it won’t be too far off to include it. Regardless of how many amazing films come out before then, and how many other Oscars it gets nominated for, this film should get cinematography. Deakins ought to have at least one Oscar on his mantelpiece

The Mysterious Tiny Pocket in Your Jeans

Every single pair of jeans in the world has this tiny pocket inside the front right pocket. It’s just a fact of fashion, like jogging bottoms don’t have flies or that socks have heels and toes. We all know that it’s there, and while we mostly just ignore its entire existence, we’ve all had that moment of confusion. Why is it there? What is it for? Why is it so small?

Most people have never used it, but some have tried to come up with uses. Some are attempted answers to the origin with various success, and some are simply trying to find any good use. There is a clear reason for it to be there, one revealed in the pockets name, but first let’s look at the guesses and ideas.

Some people call it a condom pocket, and there a numerous reasons that this cannot be the origin and it a terrible idea. For one thing, jeans were invented in the 1800s and while condoms as we know them were beginning to be invented, latex condoms weren’t invented until the 1920s and condom use wasn’t socially acceptable or well known until the 1980s. As well as the likelihood of the pocket being for condoms being practically zero, keeping a condom in a trouser pocket is going to damage it and make it unsafe to use. Just like in a wallet as you open and close it, a condom in your jeans pocket is being subjected to repeated friction as you move your legs, wearing the thin latex even thinner and making it far more likely to tear when used.

A lot of people call it a coin pocket, and say it’s for keeping small change. One problem with this is that coin purses have existed for much longer than trousers, let alone jeans, so it’s a bizarre reason to design a tiny pocket. The other problem is the size and placement of the pocket makes it really hard to get said money out. People who claim this as the truth don’t tend to use it, as it’s just impractical. It is, however, also known as a coin pocket, and it has developed a coin usage.

There is, in the USA, a tradition of challenge coins; coins issued by mostly military organisations to prove membership. The challenge is presented at a bar, when one person with a challenge coin gets it from their pocket and taps it on the bar. All others present must produce their own coins, if they have them, and tap them too. If one person doesn’t have a coin, they buy everyone else a drink, but if everyone has a coin the challenger buys everyone else a drink. The usefulness of this small pocket to hold challenge coins has been officially recognised, but this still isn’t its original name and function.

Of course, for people who don’t care what its purpose is, it can still be a useful pocket. While keeping condoms in there is a bad idea, there are plenty of other small things people like to have on hand that fit nicely in this tiny pocket. Some small pocket knives and flashlights are specifically designed for it, and it’s a good size to keep other tools and trinkets like bottle openers or a ring you’ve had to take off for a while. It’s also perfect for keeping your keys, maybe with the keychain or fob hanging out for easy access if you have the same problem as you would with money. Things like chapsticks also sit nicely and easy to access in them too.

But what is it actually called, and what is it actually for? It’s simply called a watch pocket. Before we had wristwatches and long before we carried the time around on our phones, people wore pocket watches and had loose watches to tell the time. Jeans were invented for cowboys and frontiersmen, and keep their watches safe and close to hand they were designed with a small pocket to keep their pocket watch in. Searching for “tiny jeans pockets” brings up countless articles that point this out, all referencing back to the Levi Strauss blog entry explaining the name. Doing an image search for the same even brings up pictures of pocket watches in watch pockets. It’s all so simple, and the fact we don’t use pocket watches in day to day life is probably also why it’s not a well known fact.

Cauliflower Popcorn Recipe

A popcorn-style snack tried and tested by yours truly; the photo is of my cauliflower popcorn. It might not taste exactly like popcorn, but it has a nice crunch and a moreish flavour.

Ingredients

  • One standard sized head of cauliflower
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Half teaspoon salt or garlic salt

Equipment

  • Mixing bowl
  • Baking tray

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C or 400°F
  2. Cut the cauliflower into popcorn sized pieces – you won’t need the stem
  3. Mix the oil and salt together in the bowl
  4. Add the cauliflower to the bowl and make sure it’s all coated in oil
  5. Spread the cauliflower on a baking tray, all in one flat layer
  6. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, giving the tray a shake at 15 minutes to turn the pieces slightly
  7. Serve and enjoy

Working From Home: Routine

[Related – “Working From Home: Workspace“]

The difference between working from home becoming a distracted, lazy waste of time and becoming the most productive way you’ve ever worked is often routine. It’s easy to fall into a habit of procrastinating or flipping between unfinished tasks without getting any closer to finishing them. A routine can stop that before it even begins. In the same way you need a good physical workspace to get to work in, you need a good mental headspace for work.

The most basic aspect of a routine is times. Set aside a fixed amount of time every day for work, and don’t do anything unrelated to work in that time. If it’s as short as an hour, set a timer and give yourself a small reward afterwards; do it before lunch and have your lunch as a reward, or mid-afternoon and then play videogames when you’re finished.

If you’re working all day, for example starting at nine am and finishing at five pm, give yourself set breaks to stretch your legs and rest your mind. If you’re working at the computer, the recommended screen/break balance is an hour on the computer then 15 minute doing something else. It’s a good time balance for many things, as it’s not healthy to sit all day if you can avoid it. Remember to have meal breaks!

If you have trouble feeling focussed, a tighter or stricter routine might be helpful. Just as offices and work environments have dress codes, it can help to get dressed in a work-appropriate outfit before sitting down to work. It doesn’t have to be a full suit if you don’t want to, but rolling from bed to work in your pyjamas is not a motivating set up. Getting washed and dressed and putting on a polo shirt can be a big part of feeling motivated and ‘at work’.

The real secret to working at home successfully is finding your own balance – some articles will tell you that you must recreate a typical office environment as closely as physically possible, but the main appeal of working from home is the comfort and ease of working in your pyjamas on the sofa. Only you can find the balance between the two that works for you. Maybe you need to allocate tasks to a timetable and work to a strict list on the clock, but you can sit around in your onesie and eat snacks. Maybe you can come and go on work and don’t need reminders, but only if you wake up and put on a shirt and trousers. Maybe you need a little of each.

Once you’ve got some sort of routine down, working will become habit. You won’t have to focus on going along with your routine when you’re used to it, and you won’t have any trouble getting down to work and being productive when you’re in the habit of working and being motivated. Without the time taken up by a commute and with the fine balance you’ve worked out, you might even be far more productive and create far better finished products at home than you ever did before.

Working From Home: Workspace

[Related – “Working From Home: Routine“]

Setting up a good workspace is a vital part of working from home. For one thing, having a dedicated workspace that you avoid doing non-work activities in helps you feel like you’re at work and be focused when you want to get work done. It doesn’t have to be an entire room or a fancy set up. In fact, you can easily set up a great home workspace without spending a penny!

Choose a table space you can spare in a room that won’t be distracting. A desk in your bedroom or a table in your living room are good places, as is a corner of the kitchen/dining room table if you can spare it. Try to choose a table at a good height for working. You don’t want to be bent over, so make sure you can rest your arms on the table and have your back straight comfortably. There should also be plenty of room for your computer and/or other equipment, a drink in case you need one, and space around the table for you to move easily.

Most people find it easier to work sitting on a chair, but it can be good for your posture and productivity to work standing up. If you prefer this or just like the idea, you’ll need a higher desk and might have to buy or make one specially. On the other hand, you won’t have to worry about a chair!

An office chair is the best option, because they’re designed to be good chairs to sit in while you work, but if you don’t have one you don’t need one. As long as your chair means you’re sitting at the right height for the table and doesn’t make you slouch it’s a good enough chair. If possible, get a chair that you find comfortable to sit on with your feet under it somewhat, as this leg position makes sitting up straight easier.

Really, the table and chair, and that the room isn’t distracting is most of a good workspace. A distracting room is one where there are things that might distract you, obviously. If you need quiet, choose a quiet room, if you prefer to listen to music, choose a room you can play music in, and don’t pick the kitchen if you snack to put work off. Try to choose a place you’ll be alone in, or at least where the other people won’t affect you.

All that’s left is the actual table space. The typical advice of avoiding clutter applies, but it can be good to have things you often need.

The top of a computer screen should be level with your eyes, and everything you need such as a mouse should be within easy reach without moving your shoulders. A mouse is preferable to a mousepad if you have one, and all kinds of keyboard with various degrees of ergonomics exist if you want to splash out.

Art or craft tables should have a clear space in the middle big enough for a typical piece of work, and at least enough space for both your hands to comfortably rest. A nice little desk organiser, or even old mugs, should be within reach so you can easily find and use things.

With an appropriate table and (possibly) chair, and a neat space on it, you’re finished; that’s all you need for a working at home workspace. Get to work!

Ian Watkins Pleads Guilty

In December 2012, Ian Watkins, lead singer of the band Lostprophets, was charged with conspiracy to sexually assault a one-year old child, possession and distribution of child sexual abuse images, and possession of “extreme animal pornography”. At the time, he denied the charges.

He continued to deny the charges until November 2013, as the band went on hiatus and fans split between those either believing Watkins or supporting the other Lostprophets’ members, and those denouncing the band. However, when he went to court, he plead guilty to the attempted rape of a child, three counts of sexual assault on children, six counts of possessing or making images of child sexual abuse images, and one count of extreme pornographic images of an animal.

Lostprophets’ have now split up, and the other members have posted a message on the band’s official website, stating that they were “in a state of shock” and have been “learning about the details of the investigation along with you”. In October, all members of the band except Ian Watkins had signed a facebook post stating that they would “no longer make or perform music as Lostprophets”.

The two women who faced trial with him plead guilty to various child sexual abuse counts, and evidence from text messages showed that they had abused their own children and made the children available to Watkins for his abuse.

It has also been revealed that drugs were a major part of the abuse, with meth, cocaine and GHB found by the police, and plans between the three to “teach the babies to take drugs”.

Watkins had previously claimed that he was the victim of a malicious campaign, and that a ‘crazed fan’ had been stalking him and had access to his computer. In 2006 and 2008, he met up with separate Lostprophets fans, both aged 16 at the time, and filmed himself having sex with them.

Once all three had changed their pleas to guilty, the judge, Mr Justice Royce, called the Jury into the court to inform them, where he told them the guilty plea had spared them from having to “watch extremely graphic and distressing material.”

Sentencing will take place on 18th December 2013.