Thursday, 31 March 2016

10 Signs You Know You're a Blogger

You Know You're a Blogger When...

Clare over at Emmy's Mummy has started a new blogging meme. Regular readers - who might remember the epic list of memes I posted a while ago - will know that I can never resist such temptation. So, without further ado, here are my ten signs you know you're a blogger:

1. You can't open anything without taking a photograph of it in its box first.
2. You find waiting for domain authority updates almost as nail biting as waiting for exam results.
3. You know what domain authority is.
4. You spend more time working on your 'pinnable image' than you do on writing the actual post.
5. You always wanted to learn a new language, you just didn't think it would be markup.
6. Checking your blog email turns into three hours glued to your laptop.
7. You have profiles on social media networks you can't even pronounce - every backlink counts!
8. You have nightmares about Canva going down.
9. Your friends and family glaze over at the first mention of the word 'blog'.
10. People say 'I know' when you tell them something new - 'I read it on your blog!'





10 signs you know you're a blogger








Wednesday, 30 March 2016

What I Read in March + Giveaway

What I've Read This Month

The Rotherham Trunk Murder: Uncovering An 80 Year Old Miscarriage of JusticeThe Rotherham Trunk Murder: Uncovering An 80 Year Old Miscarriage of Justice by Jeannette Hensby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2016. Well researched and detailed account of the so called 'Tin Trunk Murder'. The twist about the murderer is intriguing, and I hope there will be an updated version if any more information comes to light!



Dead SecretDead Secret by Ava McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this fast paced thriller - so much so I couldn't put it down! Well written, superbly plotted, and enough twists and turns to keep anyone page turning. Highly recommended.




A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden By DaylightA Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden By Daylight by Victoria Lincoln
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 1967. Some interesting information from a woman who grew up just a few doors away from Lizzie Borden, and could comment knowledgeably on the local personages, the layout of the house, quirks of dress and language, etc. But, and for me it was a big but, the writing style is so dull.

Lincoln makes much of Borden lacking imagination, and being completely unable to interest a court room with her version of event, yet the same could be said of her writing! It put me to sleep three nights in a row.


All-American Ads 1900-1919 (Midi S.)All-American Ads 1900-1919 by Jim Heimann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2005. Awesome reference book - a great addition to any pop culture collection!




The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic MysteryThe Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery by Catherine Bailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2012. Fascinating account of eccentric personalities, life, loss, tragedy, upper class clout, and family secrets. I found the archival mystery angle a real page turner and, though the end result was not as gothic and mysterious as I might have hoped for, it was a testament to Bailey's diligent research that she managed to fill those gaps in. All in all, a great read!


The Golden Age of Advertising - The 70sThe Golden Age of Advertising - The 70s by Jim Heimann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic peek into another time!




Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American FortuneEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2013. This is a fab read exploring the life of Huguette Clark, an elusive heiress with more money than most of us can even imagine. Shying away from the limelight, Huguette lived over a 100 years - yet most of her employees and extended family had never seen her, and for the last decades of her life couldn't even be sure if she were alive or dead...

I had never heard of W.A. or Huguette Clark before reading this, but the book does a great job of covering the family history - and outlining how W.A. became so fabulously wealthy. Huguette's life comes across as equal parts mysterious and tragic and, I suppose, just goes to show that money really can't buy you everything.



I still have more copies of Chris Holm's The Killing Kind to shift - you can read how I came to possess so many HERE. So you can get up to 5 entries to win a copy by filling out the Gleam form below.

The Killing Kind Giveaway


Cuddle FairyLet's Talk MommyWafflemama.Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Giveaway: Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Some new research conducted by npower has uncovered some truly shocking statistics. Although 95% of people in the UK know what Carbon Monoxide is, only 5.5% can identify the most common symptoms. I've written about the dangers of Carbon Monoxide before, and I was really keen to work with npower on this campaign. I've put some of those findings into an infographic:

carbon monoxide awareness infographic

Particularly worrying was how low understanding of CO was among those in the private rental sector. Social landlords, of course, are highly regulated and closely inspected while private landlords, to put it bluntly, are not. It became a legal requirement in October 2015 for private landlords to fit a CO alarm in rooms that are used as living accommodation which also contain an appliance that burns, or is capable of burning solid fuel, and best practice states that a CO alarm should be fitted near a gas boiler.

The figure show that at least 35% of private rentals are lacking a CO alarm, and tenants in a further 11% are unsure whether they have an alarm or not. One in seven tenants incorrectly thought you would be able to smell carbon monoxide - highlighting the need for those alarms! Find out how aware you are of the dangers with npower's 'Spot the Hazards' quiz.

If you need a CO alarm, check out npower's new Protect and Fix April 2018 tariff which, in addition to fixing your energy prices until April 2018, also comes with two Nest carbon monoxide alarms (RRP £89.99 each) for free. Or, you can get up to five entries in my carbon monoxide alarm giveaway by filling out the Gleam form below.


Win a Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Please note that the prize is a regular CO alarm, not a Nest alarm.


Monday, 28 March 2016

Basic HTML For Bloggers

Basic HTML for Bloggers

Everything is so automated these days it can seem like you have no reason to learn any HTML. Blogger, Wordpress and all the other platforms have nice clean interfaces for uploading pictures, formatting your text, and anything else you might want to do in your day-to-day blogging. But sometimes they're not working, or perhaps they just seem to be messing up for no apparent reason. That's when a little HTML comes in handy.


What is HTML?


HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, which is the standard markup language for creating web pages. As Wikipedia puts it: web browsers use HTML to interpret and compose text, images, and other material into visual or audible web pages.

It started life way back in 1989 when Tim Berners Lee, computer scientist extraordinaire, had the idea of conjoining hypertext and the internet. The result was the World Wide Web! HTML is still constantly evolving; we're currently on the fifth version of the language, HTML5.


How does HTML work?


HTML uses tags to create elements, which come together to form a document.

Or, to put it another way, HTML uses commands written in angle brackets to create an individual component of a web page. Put together, these components will form a - hopefully! - aesthetically pleasing web page when viewed via your web browser.

To give you a quick example of how it works in practice, here are a couple of sentences I wrote using HTML:

Check out this AWESOME guide to Pinterest.

- a blogging guide by Babi a Fi.

And here they are without any:

Check out this AWESOME guide to interest. - a blogging guide by Babi a Fi.

Big difference, huh?


What HTML should I know?


As a blogger you won't really use any structural tags - commands which tell the browser about the basics of the page - with, perhaps, the exception of meta tags. They're the ones aimed at search engines, and so are often used for SEO (search engine optimisation) purposes.

This post will focus on giving you a grounding in three areas: Text Formatting, Links and Images.

Text Formatting


There are lots of cool things you can do to your text with HTML. You can make it bold, you can make it italicised, and you can underline it. You can make it subscript, superscript, or strike it through. You can change the font size, colour and even the actual font itself.

Basic guide to text formatting with HTML

To make your text a specific colour, you can use hex codes. Black is #000000, for example, while red is #FF0000. Wiki has a great article on web colours HERE. When you're choosing a font, you can select a back up in case the browser can't display it. Read more about it - and the fonts available - HERE.


Images


Blogging and pretty pictures tend to go hand in hand - and HTML can have almost as big an impact as the effort you took in creating the image in the first place.

HTML for IMAGES
Please note that this uses the CSS (cascading style sheets) based 'style' property. CSS helps user interfaces with the presentation of documents in markup language and, although pure HTML attributes are simpler, HTML5 no longer supports them.


Links


We all know how important they are! Here are some of the extra things you can do with them:

HTML for Links




For more like this, please click the image below:
Blogging Guides


Sunday, 27 March 2016

This Week #28

Don't ruin a good today because of a bad yesterday.
Life this Week

I was so low at the beginning of this week - my mobile phone contract was suspended on Monday because I hadn't been able to pay the bill, and it just felt like I was drowning in overdrawn notifications and demands for payment. But. I had a good cry, sucked it up, and asked my parents if I could borrow some money, and went back to see the doctor. 

I paid the gas bill, and the phone bill, and sent off the form to re-set up the direct debit for the Labour Party the bank cancelled for me. (It would be kind of awkward if I get in real arrears with that and get suspended from the group at work!) I felt so much less stressed after that, and I spent the rest of the week building on that by spring cleaning the house. 

There is a big pile earmarked for eBay now, and black bags full of stuff for the Cash4Clothes place. Hopefully I'll manage to make enough to pay my parents back so we can just stay on top of things then. Anthony has already sold off most of his Dr Who collection, so we have a replacement fridge-freezer coming in a fortnight. The heating is even working again too - everything is looking up!

The blog really came into its own this week. I was asked to review our local Table Table restaurant so we all (Anthony, Marianna, my mum and me) went for lunch there on Thursday, and it was so nice to be able to thank my mum for helping me out with money / cleaning / everything else this week in some small way.

This Week, I 'Ave Been Mostly...

☆ READING: The Little Girl Who Lost Her Voice. It's part of a really exciting new range of language learning resources for children, by One Third Stories.

☆ WRITING: Guide to British Music.

WATCHING: The Aliens on Channel 4. I'm really enjoying it!

☆ LISTENING: Fast Car - Jonas Blue ft Dakota.

☆ WEARING: My Athena bangle from Lucas Jack,

☆ EATING: Ice cream. :)

☆ REVIEWING: The Ashbridge Inn.

On the Blog

On Monday I posted a guide to the difference between follow and nofollow links, and my meme for the week was the Blogger Confessions tag. I also had a couple of guest posts go live this week; How Do You Do It? for Sons, Sand and Sauvignon, and a post for Occupation: Mother's Creative Mothers Series.





Saturday, 26 March 2016

History of Photography

snapshot in time - a brief history of photography

It's amazing to think that photography - something so familiar and integral to our lives - has only been around for 200 years! Read on for a whistle stop tour of its history; from its labour intensive beginnings in home laboratories to the super swanky Lumix Super Zoom cameras of today. Photography is one medium which really has come a very long way...

Camera Obscura

camera obscura
18th century illustration of a camera obscura.

The earliest written references to the camera obscura date back to the fifth century BC, and they were probably in use well before that. Not really a camera as we would understand it, they are, nevertheless, the granddaddy of modern photography. Consisting of a box (or room) with a small hole, often fitted with a lens since the seventeenth century, they work like so: Light passes through the hole, hits a surface, and reproduces the view in front of the hole - in colour and with the perspective intact.

That view can then be traced to produce realistic drawings or paintings. To better understand how it all works, check out this great article from the BBC on the likelihood of Dutch artist Vermeer having made extensive use of a camera obscura.

But what if you didn't want to spend hours making the camera obscura image permanent? What if you could make that image 'fix' itself? In the late 1700s, these are the questions people began to ask themselves.


Nicéphore Niépce and the First Photograph

camera of Nicéphore Niépce

Niépce was the first to succeed in this quest, temporarily fixing negative images to paper coated with silver chloride way back in 1816. In 1822 he succeeded in creating a permanent image using heliography, a process using plates of glass or metal coated in Bitumen of Judea. The oldest surviving camera photograph is the view from Niépce's window in 1826, a picture which required several days exposure.

What a view!

In 1829 Niépce began to work with Louis Daguerre. After Niépce's death in 1833, Daguerre carried on alone, going on to create the daguerreotype.


Daguerreotype

The Daguerreotype Process - By This image has been created during "DensityDesign Integrated Course Final Synthesis Studio" at Polytechnic University of Milan, organized by DensityDesign Research Lab in 2015. Image is released under CC-BY-SA licence. Attribution goes to "Susanna Celeste Castelli, DensityDesign Research Lab". - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37081386

The above infographic by Susanna Castelli describes the somewhat arduous process of fixing an image to a thin sheet of silver plated copper, by producing a coating of silver iodide which made the plate light sensitive. The image was then fixed by exposure to mercury vapour, and a wash in heated salt water or sodium thiosulfate to remove any remaining silver iodide.

Daguerre was ready to go public with his invention in 1839, when it was purchased by the French government and given free to the world as a gift. Except the British Empire, where you needed to buy a license. (To be fair to the French, this was Daguerre's doing by taking out a UK patent.) The novelty of owning a perfect likeness ensured the system's success, and throughout the 1840s and 50s lords and paupers alike sat for a daguerreotype.

Robert Cornelius, 1839
Robert Cornelius taking a daguerreotype selfie in 1839.

But the daguerreotype still had plenty of problems. The image was fragile, needing to be protected by a case or glass fronted frame, and copies could not be made, other than by photographing the original plate. This, along with the amount of light needed and the long exposure times, meant that experimentation for a better process was constantly ongoing. (Ambrotypes, for instance, were created using less expensive glass plates.) These efforts ensured that daguerreotypes had largely fallen out of use by 1860.


Calotypes and the Collodion Process

Cameras were changing too; the bellows camera arrived in 1847, making focusing easier.

In 1841 William Henry Fox Talbot introduced the calotype, a process using paper coated with silver iodide to create a negative. Multiple images could be produced from this single image, which should have given it the edge over the daguerreotype in spite of the fact the image was not as sharp. But Talbot's patenting of the process limited its development, and it wasn't until it was adapted to a glass negative in the early 1850s that it really proved its worth.

This new 'collodion process' combined the clear definition of the daguerreotype with the reproductive abilities of the calotype, improving on both with its cheapness and the durability of its negative. It was chiefly used to create tintypes (images on thin sheets of metal coated in lacquer or enamel) and albumen paper prints.

hidden mother tintype
Longer exposure times meant sitting still was a necessity - resulting in poor mothers, like the one in this tintype image, having a blanket draped over their heads and holding their wriggly offspring, assured by the photographer that they would blend seamlessly into the background...

The collodion process could be done dry (with long exposure times) or wet (requiring a portable darkroom to complete everything in around ten minutes before the plate dried). Both methods had obvious pitfalls. Still, another breakthrough was just around the corner...


Kodak and the Roll Film

Kodak Box Brownie - CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=222433
The iconic Box Brownie.

George Eastman patented the first practical roll film in 1884, perfected the first camera designed to use it in 1888, and began producing the kind of film we're familiar with today in 1889. The Eastman Kodak Company was established in 1892, and set about revolutionising what photography was all about.

For the first time you didn't need any experience to take a photograph. You didn't need vials of chemicals, or piles of expensive equipment. All you had to do was point the camera, press the button, and let somebody else transform your film into photographs. The Box Brownie, introduced in 1900, shifted 150,000 units in its first year of production alone.

Kodak advert, 1901
So simple, even a child could operate it.

Photography had come to the masses.


Size Really Does Matter

By © Kameraprojekt Graz 2015 / Wikimedia Commons /, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42238256

Film was now the way forward, but there was no consensus on what size that film ought to be. 35 mm film - later known as 135 film after Kodak started producing it - was largely the result of the fledgling motion picture industry. Thomas Edison was using 70 mm Kodak film, cutting it in half and splicing it together. This newly standard 35 mm film then found its way into still cameras.

A number of cameras were produced with the 35 mm format specifically in mind, like the Tourist Multiple in 1913 and the Furet in 1923, but it was Leica which really became associated with it. Although a prototype had been completed in 1913, the Leica I only went into full production in 1925. Good things come to those who wait - the camera proved so successful that Ernst Leitz GmbH, then known for microscopes, binoculars and optical equipment, today bears the Leica name. 35 mm film became ever more popular too, becoming the best selling format by the 1960s.


SLR

Nikon F, 1959

The first SLR (single lens reflex) camera was actually invented by Thomas Sutton in 1861. The concept was tinkered with, improved upon, and finally emerged as a viable and attractive prospect. It really took off with the introduction of Nikon F in August 1959 - widely used by professional photographers, it offered plenty of optional add-ons and remained in production until 1973 when it was replaced by the Nikon F2.


Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture

*Don't shake a modern Polaroid picture, you'll only ruin your shot.

Polaroid
Model 1000, an export only version of the Polaroid OneStep. With that retro rainbow stripe, it's a thing of beauty.

Instant cameras first hit the scene in 1923, but didn't become commercially available until the invention of the Polaroid Model 95 in 1948. The idea didn't really take off until the swinging sixties when the Model 20 'Swinger' swung onto the scene. (Too much swinging?) Easy to use, and relatively inexpensive, the Swinger became one of the best selling cameras of all time. Since the 60s the instant camera has enjoyed periodic bursts of popularity, appealing particularly to the youth and novelty markets.

Andy Warhol Polaroid
Andy Warhol - the personification of pop art - was a big fan of the Polaroid.


Things Can Only Get Better


By Rriemann - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17638086
Example of a camera with an electronic flash unit - the 1993 Konica Hexar.

They say that a tool is only ever as good as the human (or future robot overlord) which wields it. To help overcome human fallibility, new technology was being introduced to cameras that made taking photographs easier than ever. The Konica C35 AF became the first mass-produced camera with autofocus in 1977, something which by the late 1980s was becoming standard.

Flash photography was improving too. The concept had been around since the 1850s, using magnesium ribbon or flash powder used in special lamps. Reducing the risk of singed hair and burns, the single use flashbulb first went into commercial production in the late 1920s - in the 1930s they became triggered by the shutter. By 1970 you could get multiple bulbs in the same unit, making the process less labour intensive. It was the 1970s, too, which saw the electronic flash unit start to become affordable; it wasn't too long before it became the norm.


The Digital World

Olympus 300
One of the most popular digital cameras of 2003 - the Olympus 300 boasted a resolution of 3.2 megapixels and a retail tag of almost $400.

Experiments with digital photography began in the 1960s: the first successful prototype digital camera took an image with a resolution of a whopping 0.01 megapixels in 1975. Analog electronic cameras trickled onto the market in the 1980s, and the first portable true digital camera to go into commercial production was the DS-X by Fuji - the year was 1989.

Hampered at first by low resolution, tiny storage space (relatively speaking!) and high costs, as technology improved during the 1990s so did sales of digital cameras. They outsold film cameras for the first time in 2003 - the same year that the sale of mobile phones equipped with digital cameras first outsold their standalone counterparts.

first digital photograph
The first digital photograph - a digital scan of engineer Russell Kirsch's baby son in 1957.


The Next Generation



Here we are in the present day, with the camera range which inspired this post - the Lumix Super Zoom Cameras. The pictured Lumix Communication Camera CM1 combines an android mobile phone with a 20 megapixel sensor and a Leica lens. It boasts LED flash, 16GB internal memory, 2.3GHz Quad-core processor, along with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. You can get it on Amazon for £379.

Just imagine what Niépce would have made of it, when he succeeded with those first temporary negatives 200 years ago!


Tune in next time for colour photography. :)


This is a collaborative post with Panasonic.



Friday, 25 March 2016

Review: The Ashbridge Inn

Reviewing The Ashbridge Inn in Cwmbran

I was so pleased this week to be asked to review The Ashbridge Inn in Pontrhydyrun, Cwmbran, part of the Table Table restaurant brand. I have lots of memories of visiting The Ashbridge growing up, back when it was part of a different chain - many moments of sibling rivalry were played out to their natural conclusion amidst the organised chaos that was Charlie Chalks' Fun Factory...

When you walk into The Ashbridge today it's like a different world. Gone is the acrid tang of sweaty feet emanating from said Fun Factory and the accompanying screeching, in its place is modern decor, comfy seating, and an atmosphere of cheerful calm.


We - my Mum, Anthony, Marianna and I - went for a late lunch, with the table booked for 1:30pm. As soon as we arrived we were shown to our table, a swanky leather half-moon booth with a view out to the bar, and provided with a highchair for Marianna. She was grouchy and clingy, whingy and loud, but there were lots of other families eating, and the layout of the restaurant gives each table enough privacy that you don't feel as stressed as you otherwise might with a screaming baby.

There were Easter activities available: some awesome looking face painting (which sadly I knew Marianna would not keep still for), and some easter egg colouring sheets with little packs of crayons. We went for the latter which kept her amused while we ordered our drinks and looked through the menu.

Marianna playing with crayons
No colouring, but the crayons were fascinating enough...

There was such a fab choice of food though, in the end, my Mum and I still opted for our usual gammon steak and chips (£8.79). Anthony had the cauliflower and asparagus macaroni cheese (£7.99). Our food arrived really quickly, and tasted absolutely gorgeous. I find gammon can often be a bit dry when eating out but this wasn't dry at all, something my Mum commented on too. Even Anthony cleared his plate!

I knew Marianna wouldn't eat much, but we decided to order her something from the kids menu and see how she went. I was so impressed with it! You can get two courses from the main kids' menu for £1.99 before 5pm, Mon - Sat, or £3.99 in the evening - even better you can pick and choose from a selection of mains and sides. We settled on poppin' chicken nuggets, skinny cut fries and baked beans. True to form she just picked at it (and threw some chips on the floor *sigh*), but for that value I didn't really mind!

The kids' menu - awesome value for money, and on the back they have a selection of junior meals, smaller versions of adult meals, perfect for youngsters (or oldsters) who can't manage an adult sized portion but feel too grown up for the main kids' range.  You can check the menus out online HERE.

After the main course the staff were around really quickly to clear the plates, and refill the drinks. They were wearing bunny ears in readiness for Easter, and some had gone the full hog and sat for a face painting session. Marianna was most impressed with a minion on one waiter's forehead! The staff were so friendly throughout our entire visit, and I never once felt like Marianna's fussing and grouching was an imposition.

For dessert I chose vanilla dairy ice cream with raspberry sauce (£3.59), Anthony had a scrummy looking chocolate and caramel tart (£4.99), while my mum went for apple and blueberry crumble (£4.49). Marianna had the best dessert of all: the scary face sundae! All the kids' desserts are really cool; my favourite was the 'Graveyard Horror', a wafer coffin filled with chocolate mousse soil, gummy bones and skulls! Other options include a design your own iced biscuit, and lime slime jelly.

Scary Face Sundae
I had way too much fun making the face for Marianna.

Again, the desserts were gorgeous, and Marianna forgot her fussiness as soon as ice cream was involved...


It was so lovely to go out for lunch - it's been months since the last time we did - and, although it's a much different experience with a baby than without, the restaurant is so family friendly. The laid back atmosphere, cheerful staff, and the Easter activities going on combined to make us feel really welcome and at ease.

Eating at The Ashbridge Inn in Cwmbran

I've been writing about visiting as a family, but the restaurant covers a lot of floor space, and has plenty of private booths - if you visited as a couple, or a group of adults,  I definitely don't think you would feel overwhelmed by children and families, even in the day. There is a nice bar area too, if you're waiting to be seated, or just want a drink, and picnic style benches outside for when the weather is fine. Plus, if you're visiting from further afield, there's a very handy Premier Inn which is literally right next door.

A quick mention of the other amenities: the car park is large and doesn't require any walking, a bus stop on the main route through Torfaen (X24) is situated almost directly opposite, and it's only about a 25 minute walk from Cwmbran Shopping. The loos were spotless, and the dining area itself was really clean too. The value for money was fab. I really couldn't find anything to nitpick about.

In short, I'd recommend The Ashbridge Inn to anyone. Why not book a table for Easter? I'm sure we'll be making many more visits over the next few years!




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