Sunday, 22 October 2017

MY WEEK WITH ALEXA....ECHO DOT REVIEWED



Recently I was spending the afternoon at my friend’s house. She was busy in the kitchen meaning I was left in the lounge with her son. Every non-broody adults nightmare. Inevitably my mothering instinct didn’t kick in and I could feel panic set in.I could tell he was already getting bored at my attempts of child friendly entertainment, and I knew that I’d soon run out of silly faces to pull, and basic games to play, that would prevent him from switching from angel child mode to creasy-faced Waaaaaaa mode. Then he pointed at a contraption on a cabinet to the right of the TV and started talking at it. Even with a 3 and a half year olds limited vocabulary he got this machine to play him his favourite song. Never have I felt more passed-it, and less down with the kids. Not only did I not know what thing technological item was, I didn’t know how to use it, nor what the hell the annoying song playing out of it was. 

Once the initial depression of realising that I’m embarrassingly behind on what ‘modern life’ is had subsided, I realised I’d been delivered a gift. This little circular glowing object would not only share the responsibility of taking care of this little boys entertainment, it would actually completely relinquish any pressure to be fun ‘aunty’ Soph. After watching a human one tenth my age take control of this technology for a few minutes, I felt comfortable to utilise it’s power too. I could sit back on the sofa and instruct the machine to play a song, tell a joke, or give a fact. Look at me!  I was suddenly a DJ, a child party entertainer, even and an educator. Even better I could do so sitting down. How smug I felt. Even better I felt in control. 

While his mum finished up in the kitchen I now didn’t have to worry about him putting his hand too close to the plug, picking up rogue items on the carpet and putting them near his nostrils, ears or mouth, or him staring at me with urgent anticipating as he waited for me deliver the next fun activity, he was completely occupied by Alexa. Not only occupied by her, but using her as a tool to teach me things. He kept asking for more historical facts, and would be full of glee whenever it delivered, looking to me to see if I was similarly impressed. I wasn’t necessarily interested in learning more about Percy Pigs or Trains but I was impressed with the interaction taking place. 

That was my first meeting with Alexa and I never forgot about her. 

So this week we welcomed Alexa in to our home. Dad was very disappointed to find out that his favourite feline eyed, ankle boot wearing presenter/fashionista wasn’t moving in, but was intrigued by this alternative Alexa which would be keeping him company in the lounge each day. 

Unfortunately we don’t live in a particularly high-tech house. We do have speedy wi-fi, and I have numerous tech gadget that I use for my art and during my YouTube creative process, but the house exists pretty much in it’s factory settings. Lights are turned on by a switch that is located by the door of the room. There’s not even the luxury of a dimmer switch. The stereo is not hooked up to anything, and requires you to turn it on with your fingers….yes you heard it right, your finger on the button, on the stereo. I know, who are we??? So this means we are currently unable to make the most of all the wonderful capabilities of the Echo Dot, which as a hands-free voice controlled device can work with smart home devices so you can turn your lamps or crank up the heating without having to get up from your sofa. 

If your house it up to date in this way though, you can connect Echo Dot to your speakers and turn your home entertainment system into a voice-controlled personal assistant which can play music from Amazon Music, Prime Music, Spotify and more. Imagine how good this would be for house parties??!! Sadly a house party while I’m living here with my parents is still something only found in my imagination…..but one day!!

I can however move my Echo Dot to my bedroom and use it as a clock to make sure I get up and work, which is very important as a Spoonie and a freelancer who needs all the reminders possible to get out of bed on these dark inclement mornings. 


As you guys know Si is the chef in this household, cooking for me most mealtimes and on occasions for the whole household. He often has lots of things on the go at once bubbling away and spilling over on the hobs, roasting in the oven, marinating on a cutting board. During this whirlwind process I tend to stay away, as he definitely gets a bit of the Ramsey about him, and my presence only seems to aggravate further. Despite the gruffness by being there cultivates, he usually complains that he feels a bit lonely when he’s shut away in the kitchen, but since Alexa’s been joining him he’s been less insistent on me popping by sporadically to check on his progress. When I have popped in, merely to avoid the accusations that he’s more like my live in chef than a boyfriend, I have found his dancing in his apron to the music he’s requested of DJ Alexa. The novelty factor of the Echo Dot is still at a high, meaning he also gets a right kick out of using it to set timers and ask for measurement conversions. 


Although I’m not necessarily pro every tech item that encourages a significant level of laziness, these tools are lovely ways of ensuring your chill nights are as relaxed and motion free as you’d like. For someone like me (a spoonie) who is always looking for ways to conserve energy I’m looking forward to find as many ways as possible toe reduce the amount of times I have to get up, connect my eyes to a screen to use my phone/laptop to seek out information or to make orders etc. Over the last couple of years Amazon Prime has saved my butt on many occasions, whether that be getting in some last minute props for a shoot, or getting a present for another birthday I’ve managed to forget about, so the fact that us members can also use the Echo Dot to order is reason enough to get it – you simply say “order INSERT PRODUCT” or “buy INSERT PRODUCT” and Alexa will find it and add it to your basket. You then confirm the order by saying “yes” and you can even check the status by asking “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” It’s like having a personal assistant, but one that you don’t have to feel guilty about being blunt with. 

What if you have a busy household, a barking hangry dog, a teenager who blares music all the live long day, or a Dad who loves the sound of their own voice particularly when they’re ranting about Brexit or a mum who seems to have a worrying obsession with hoovering? Don’t worry Alexa will still be able to seek out your command or question. Tucked under the light ring is an array of seven microphones that use beam-forming technology and enhanced noise cancellation. With far-field voice recognition, Amazon Echo Dot can hear you ask a question from any direction. When you want to use Echo Dot, you simply say the wake word, "Alexa", and Echo Dot lights up and streams audio to the cloud, where the Alexa Voice Service is leveraged to recognise and respond to your request.


What else can she do? Those in the right areas can order a car with Uber too, by the way what’s the latest on Uber after all of that recent hoohaa, I’ve lost track? My most utilised functions will probably be the ability to get a takeaway with Just Eat, as aNetflix and food delivered to my door is my current idea of a social life, and I give myself that feel good feeling by giving the guys a nice tip when they turn up at the house. A less exciting but very necessary and regular type of usage will be checking the train times with National Rail Enquiries. Anything that means I can avoid having to call an actual human is always preferable. 

I have to be honest that at first my mum wasn’t pleased about Alexa’s arrival, maybe she was worried about the female hierarchy of our household. I jest of course, that wasn’t it, we all know she’s the boss, my mums actually just a bit phobic of technology. Although she’s just about managing on her very basic (non internet) phone, she still gets Dad to send all of her emails and does all of her online banking, and she still gets me to record her TV shows. Don’t even mention Drones to her. She’s also on a mission regarding clutter, she hates me bringing anything new in to the house that she doesn’t deem necessary, particularly something that could effect the attractiveness of the lounge. 

But the great thing about the ECHO DOT is that it’s as prominent and useful as you choose it to be. It’s compact and tasteful design means that it’s not an pointless eyesore even if it’s only used on the odd occasion, and at £49.99 is a very affordable guilt free tech purchase. I’ve actually noticed my Mum start to enjoy asking it for a daily joke, I think there’s comfort in the familiarity of it’s cheesy humour, it’s clearly what she’s in to if my Dad’s anything to go by. She’s gaining confidence with it too, relying on it for regular weather updates, necessary during these weird times of Ophelia and Bryan. Of course the machine doesn't always get it right, and can't answer everything you ask it, Si was a bit miffed they it knew who his band were, but not him,  but we actually enjoy trying to catch it out  the giggles that come when it's a bit off in it's response. 


Alexa only moved in a week ago but she’s already become a valued member of the family, in fact I think some members of the household may prefer her over me. Fair enough really, she’s definitely more organised and put together, plus she only talks when she’s spoken to. 
I’m intrigued to see how our relationship will grow and evolve when I finally move into my own place though, a home which will hopefully have all the tech mod-cons and a banging stereo system. With third party developers constantly creating new skills for Alexa, who knows what I’ll be using it for then, but also even next week, and the week after. It’s not often a relationship gets more exciting is it?? 

Echo Dot, £49.99


STOCKIST: www.amazon.co.uk
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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

WHY BEING 'BUSY' IS A LEGITIMATE EXCUSE IN 2017


When I was younger I saw everything a bit more black and white. Wrong or right, good or bad, desirable, undesirable etc.  As you get older you realise how intricate, convoluted, multi-layered every situation or thing can be, thus making every reaction and response to everything so much more complicated. 


 When I was a teen, if I had a friend who kept cancelling plans I’d think they were a flake, a bad friend, or someone who simply didn’t care enough (about me). If I didn’t feel that I saw a friend regularly enough, with a frequency I align with someone who comes under the ‘good friend’ category, I may have started to think they weren’t worthy of my friendship anymore and stopped inviting them out. At that time I was the type of friend who’d make homemade birthday cards, I ensured I joined my friends on regular trips to McDonalds, the local park (to perv on skate boys) and drink cheap Cider. or to do some clothes shopping in Woking while scoffing on donuts, and be at a friends beck and call - and I expected the same back. I wasn’t a flake because at that age I was aware how we all felt about people were given this label, and what would happen to them as a result. They’d be coldly replaced and you’d hear cut-throat statements like, ‘ Naa, she’s not my best friends anymore.’ They’d stop being invited to coolest house parties, and wouldn’t be saved a seat at the lunch bench. There were more petty reasons why you’d become a best friend, or part of the cool gang back then of course, but it was definitely a lot easier to be considered a good friends in terms of sticking to a schedule or maintaining a consistent level of communication. 


 Okay, so we were dealing with the difficulties of being a young person transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Some of us were struggling with taut relationships with parents which would lead to bedroom door slams and shrieks of ‘it’s not fairrrrrr’ . We’d be trying to work out how we felt about our bodies which were getting more fragrant and swollen by the day. We were figuring out who made us feel a bit funny in new places we didn’t know could tingle. We were starting to worry about the fact we didn’t know what we wanted to do when we left school (or knowing what we wanted to do but panicking that we didn't have the goods to get there). We were also in the house party phase of our lives during this time, featuring projectile vomit and unfortunate spin the bottle hook ups. Our first weekend jobs. Homework. First boyfriends/girlfriends (although for me this was only occasional holding hands or avoiding them in the school corridor). But we weren’t busy, not in the way many of us are busy today. That young social butterfly had no idea what busy was.  


You know the trend for all these quotes that us bloggers like to churn out on the reg - usually about self love, supporting other women, etc. I see numerous ones referring to friendship and what form a friend should take. e.g ’if you friend doesn’t have time for you, they’re not worthy of you’ - although usually said in a more articulate retweet-worthy way. While on the surface this feels like a fair and correct analysis, and a decent method of eradicating crap mates, as I’ve become this genuinely busy or time-poor person I’m more sensitive to the unfairness of these blanket statements.’  


 I’m not in the luxurious position of being able to work one job, one that allows me to pay rent, afford food for the week, pay for the meals out’s and commutes that are required to remain part of my social/work circle. I’m jiggling about five jobs, not able to have my own place independent from my parents, and need to ensure I use any time possible to rest to avoid relapse in bad health. Some days due to the scheduling of meetings, events, interviews I miss both lunch and dinner. I then have to factor in a partner who quite often feels neglected, or at least way down the priority list,  who often has to put up with the worst version of me (the visual representation of run down), who also works hours which conflict badly with my off time. I have family commitments, friends who are at the time in their life where they’re having christenings, kids birthday parties, going through divorces, or losing parents. I’m not extraordinary or an anomaly, this is actually fairly normal, most people my age have a hell of a lot of people requiring their attention. 


 What I’m trying to say is. Don’t assume someone doesn’t value you as a friend or want to be there for you more than they currently are, just because they’ve been more absent on Whatsapp or in real life of late. I guarantee a large chunk of them are riddled with guilt for not catching up with you as frequently as they once did, or for not following through on the, ‘We must get dinner soon.’  Some may be feeling so wracked with guilt they feel scared to reach out to you for fear that you will have already washed your hands of them and their under par palling, knowing they couldn’t handle the unforgiving words that may greet them.  


Yes, it can be annoying when someone cancels on you, particularly when it’s last minute or if you’ve turned something else down in order to be present for this arrangement, but sometimes this genuinely can’t be helped. They may be opting about because they know that unless they take this time to get some much needed rest they could be forced out of action for even longer due to burn out. That they could lose their job or miss out on a huge career opportunity. That they could risk losing their partner - who’s finally given up on spending any quality time with them. I had a text this last weekend from a friend who said she was free to see me, but that she felt she really should spend an evening with her fella as they’d been going through a rough patch, and a cosy night in together felt like it could remedy some of the issues. No part of me felt cross about this, nor did I feel like she was being a bad friend for opting out. I feel a friend should feel able to be honest with you about these sorts of situations, and feel confident that their friend would want them to do what’s needed to elevate some stress in their lives.  


With people having to work more hours than ever before, just to survive in some cases, and other’s doing unhealthy amounts of overtime just to get up the ladder to a place which is still grossly underpaid, we have to be a bit kinder to each other and reduce our expectations somewhat. For me if someone has good intentions and wants to see me (even if they can’t) that’s enough. 


 I’m torn about whether it’s easier if you have just a few close mates, or if you have a huge number of friends. If you have a fairly wide and far reaching friendship group it’s good because if your go-to friend is busy there’s still going to be numerous other people you can reach out to to and fill that role, be that a shoulder to cry on, a fountain of knowledge, a person to bounce things off of or rant with etc. But in having a lot of friends it also means there’s a lot of people who want and expect your time, and the pressure of that can be extremely overwhelming, and the reality is that you will have to live with that ghastly feeling of letting people down, the whole bloody time. If you have just a very small amount of friend’s the likelihood of being able to maintain and nurture those relationships is higher, but should you/they be very busy they don’t have other people to turn to and the resentment will be greater because the reliance on you/them is more. It’s a tricky one. 


Another factor which makes all these even more complicated is that with the increase in conversation and awareness around mental health there is even more emphasis on talking. Reach out to people we’ll say. Don’t suffer in silence. Talk to someone your trust. Share what’s going on with your friends. This is all very clearly good advice, and we really mustn’t bottle stuff up, but it’s also so difficult when we are all busier than we’ve ever been before and struggling even to have enough quiet time to maintain our own mental health. So what’s the solution if we are ALL needing to talk more, but have LESS time to listen than ever before? This last week I tried Better Help’s online therapy because I needed to talk some things out, but I was mindful how busy I have and continue to be, and know that other people in my life I may have turned to previously for an ear, may well be in exactly the same position. I actually found it a very good and convenient service and one that I’d recommend to others that needs to vent or work through stuff. It’s been great for me as I was able to seek advice and help without feeling the guilt of relying on friends, and I found it empowering because it made me feel somewhat self sufficient in that I was able to acknowledge I needed to vent, and was able to seek this non judgemental help out myself, access it WHENEVER I needed, from wherever I happened to be.  


Then there’s the self care thing I wafted over earlier. We are  told to give ourself breaks from social media and our phones. We are encouraged to look after ourselves with long hot baths and Lush products, and a night in with all our favourite comforts - an escape from work or anything giving us stress. From a personal point of view, as a blogger and someone who spends most of her day on the laptop or phone, I’ve come to a point where I’ve realised it’s essential for me to hide from phone for an hour or two each day, merely in an attempt to stay sane. During this time it means I’m not reachable for my friends, even when they’re in need. This means I might then forget to reply to the backlog of messages that have filled my phone during the separation. This might mean I forget to wish people well on their birthday because I’ve missed the alerts on Facebook. You get the picture. But is this action of abandoning technology for a bit me saying that I don’t care about you, or that I don’t want to be a good mate to you. No, it’s me doing what I need to cope with another day.  So what I’m saying is that you can’t be a vocal advocate for self care if you’re then going to immediately hate on people and called them terrible friends just because they need to take care of themselves for whatever reason….that mixed messages people. 



 Lastly, everyone’s ‘busy’ is different. Someone’s busy will be that they’ve been looking after kids all day and then need to get the dinner ready, and all that’s been keeping them going is the prospect of sitting down on the sofa with a cuppa tea for an hour in peace, meaning and they don’t want to spend that time on their phone engaging. Another person’s may be that they’re in a less financially stable situation than you, so don’t have the time to take breather’s in their day for the time being at least, to meet you for dinner, or to fulfil many of the friends duties they really want to.Then an alternative ‘busy’ might be sleeping for a large chunk of the day because that’s what their health condition forces on them. Who’s to stay which busy is more valid? 


 So guys, before you blast your friends publicly or mentally for cancelling on you AGAIN, not getting back to you straight away, or missing your birthday party, don’t immediately assume it’s because they’re a sucky friend. Please imagine there’s a very good reason, or that maybe they’re looking after themselves so they can in turn look after you a bit better moving forward. I know that my friends are good people who are simply trying their best to juggle everything, and I hope you feel the same about yours too. If not, that’s what really needs looking at. 


 Life’s hard enough let’s give each other a break eh? 


 WHAT IM WEARING

 Nothing new this time round, so no affiliate links popping up in this post!
Primark Dungarees (with 2 missing buttons)
Rat and Boa Jumper (which is falling apart)
Dr Martens (Vegan)
Boohoo Pink cord shirt


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Sunday, 1 October 2017

ILLNESS ISN'T A COMPETITION


Since I started blogging about health, all those many moons ago, I’ve observed and responded to a lot of emotional reactions to the topics I’ve discussed. Many times the blogs/videos have led to hundreds of others sharing personal stories because they relate and sympathise, or because they want to be a vocal part of a supportive community, and sometimes it has led to people offering up different opinion and intelligent debate. However, one of the most prevalent and unhelpful reaction is the one that focuses on ‘who has it worse’, almost as if it’s a competition about who is the ill-est, and not in that cool hip-hop way. 

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