Geek alert: Mystery Box ME

Do you like sci-fi (books, movies, everything)? Anime? ‘Verses like Star Wars, Star Trek (yes you can like both – look at me!), Firefly and more? Comics? Gaming? OK, well you’re going to want to know about Mystery Box ME, if you don’t already!

I’m not sure how I came across the geek-themed Mystery Box ME, but I’m really glad I did. If I had to hazard a guess though, I’d say it was something I found via the geek-in-the-know, @theregos.

Anyway, the premise is simple. You sign up to receive a… well, a mystery box every month. You don’t know what’s in the box, other than that it will arouse the interest of all geeks.

Here’s an example of just one month:

Other months have included a Batman-themed fidget spinner, a Baby Groot bobble-head, a t-shirt with Futurama’s Bender, a Deadpool chef figurine, a t-shirt with Serenity (the ship) on it, a variety of comics, and so much more.

The website lists all the subscription opportunities; you can buy a one-off box for AED 199, or take monthly plans, ranging from a three-month plan to a one year plan, with prices obviously dropping with the volume that you purchase. I find that it’s always worth it…opening that box has never disappointed.

This month, the website released a “themed” box – Star Wars. The website also currently lists a video game-themed box. These do list what you’re getting when you order the boxes. Definitely looking forward to more of these!

Check out the official website for more information and to order your own box!

Want to see more? I’ll end with one of my (many) unboxing videos… 

Literaturhaus at Nadi – an ode to literature at Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue

Literaturhaus at Nadi – an ode to literature at Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue

Earlier this month, I attended the launch of Literaturhaus at Nadi, which is a literary event that will continue to be hosted at Nadi Al Quoz every Saturday until September 30. The first Saturday was helmed by Afra Atiq, an Emirati spoken word poet. She was mesmerising, to say the least. This was my first time attending a poetry slam performance, and I really enjoyed it.

Afra used themes she identified with personally, and certainly themes a lot of people in the audience identified with as well, considering the applause she got in response! Starting off with an ode to true love (food, and its fickle nature), to schoolyard bullying, to being labelled ‘different’, to dealing with heartbreak, Afra used the power of words to really bring a sense of energy and empathy in the room… I know I was nearly in tears at some points.

I love the vibe Dubai’s culture and literary scene has right now, and Literaturhaus at Nadi seems like an amazing opportunity for people to sample what the city’s literary artists have to offer. It’s not just poetry, the programming offers up authors, historians, musicians and much more.

The events are free to attend, but there is limited space to do RSVP.

All info on the link here

Want to try Zumba in Dubai? Here’s where I go!

Note: I will update this list as I keep trying Zumba classes around town!

A few years ago, I discovered Zumba, and oddly enough, through work. My company regularly hosts “Wellness Weeks” every few months, and during one of these weeks, a Zumba dance studio (now unfortunately defunct) was offering classes. Since then I’ve been hooked.

After that dance studio shut down, I have been more experimental, trying different classes across Dubai. Right now, I’m exploring exercise classes in Dubai via GuavaPass (click here to get AED 100 off your first month through my referral link btw), and I figured I might as well share my favourite Zumba classes across the city – and to tell you it’s not necessarily about the studio, but it’s definitely ALL about the teacher. So even if the studio isn’t your favourite, if the teacher is, then you *will* return.

I’ve grouped these into the studios I have frequented, and mentioned who the instructors are. Happy dancing!!!

Iconic Fitness (previously known as CoreFit)

One of the earliest places I tried was CoreFit (now called Iconic Fitness), and while the instructors have changed from years ago, I’ve never been happier. One of the instructors is Jed (or @masterjedai as he is on social media) and the other regular is Leonardo (@zumbaleonardo on Instagram). Every now and then, the venue hosts Zumba parties, with not just Jed and Leo, but also Enzo Maglaque (see GFX, below) and Joseph DeLeon – I’d highly recommend these parties. High energy, full of fun, and great music and dancing.

CoreFit has Zumba classes every day, so take your pick! It’s located in Dubai Marina, right next to the tram station in front of Horizon Tower, and there’s usually quite a bit of parking – especially for the weekend classes! The studio is very large, so it’s great to spread out and dance without worrying about walking on someone else’s foot!

Couple of videos… One from Jed’s YouTube!

Another one from Leonardo’s YouTube:

Tempo Dance Center

So, Jed really is one of my favourite instructors and when I discovered he also taught at Tempo Dance Center in JLT’s Red Diamond building, I had to try it out. As I said, it’s in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, but not within the clusters. It’s towards the back on the road between JLT and Emirates Hills. Google Maps will definitely show you the exact way! Tempo Dance Center is on the first floor of the building and has three rooms for dance classes. I’d say about 10-15 people can fit comfortably, so do book in advance. There is parking below, but on some evenings it can get crowded, so bear that in mind before heading out there.

Dream Master Studio, Al Quoz

The first time I did Zumba was with Monica Pulgarin, and it’s really down to her that I’ve stuck it out so long. She now has her classes at the Dream Master Studio in Al Quoz, and these are a mix of Zumba Fitness and Zumba Toning. Often, she and another amazing instructor, Maira Lorena, team up for the “14 Day Zumba Challenge” which they share on their Facebook pages, so keep an eye out for these events, and don’t hesitate to sign up if you can commit to all 14 days. So, the challenge is two hours every night for 14 days, except for Friday. And it’s one of my most favourite things to do when it comes around!

GFX

There are two GFX branches in Dubai, one in Business Bay and the other in Mirdiff. I haven’t been to the latter, but have to the former. Every class I’ve done at this studio has had Enzo, and I will guarantee that he’s always going to put you through an intense workout. The studio is located on the first floor of the Bay Avenue Mall, and is compact, but can fit in a good number of dancers. He offers a regular Fitness class, and a Toning version, so you have a few options. I haven’t tried Mirdiff’s studio, but if anyone tries it out, do let me know!

So, which Zumba classes have you tried out? Let me know if there’s something I have missed and should try out.

Reading Discworld Books 16-20

Welcome to the next installment of my Discworld adventure… 

Earlier installments: Books 1-4, Books 5-10, Books 11-15

Soul Music: Discworld #16

The third in the Death series, Susan remembers the grandfather she forgot: Death. Upset after his daughter and son-in-law die, Death disappears (again). This time, instead of zombies, his granddaughter takes on the mantle. But during her work, something strange happens. One human doesn’t die. Music takes him over at the time he was meant to die. And then Music With Rocks In is born. This music is alive, and it’s determined to make its way. In a way, this book reminds me of Moving Pictures, which annoyed me ever so slightly. However, the book manages to hold its own.

Troll Bridge: Discworld #16.5

This short story with Cohen the Barbarian is a lovely little treat! Cohen wants to fight a troll to the death, just like the old days. But what he finds is that trolls are dealing with the passing of time, much like himself. The bridge troll and Cohen have a bit of a chat and find out they have more in common than they realise… a quick read, one for Discworld fans.

Interesting Times: Discworld #17

I first read this book in 2012, and gave it three stars on Goodreads. And you know what? I enjoyed it much more the second time around – four stars,if not 4.5. In fact, I’m not sure I remember the book as much as I did this time… The fifth in the Rincewind series, this one follows the hapless wizard (or wizzard, as it were) in his next adventure, where he is reunited with a friend from the past, along with a few barbarians. Maybe even Luggage. Sent to the Counterweight Continent, he’s thrown into a situation where people assume he’s the “great wizard” and barbarians are trying to take over. Guest appearance by Death at one point, wahey! Genuinely enjoyed this one, it really helped to have read the other books in the Rincewind sub-series, to really get into the zone with this one.

Maskerade: Discworld #18

The fifth in the Witches sub-series, this book is the first one where Magrat Garlick (last seen in Lords and Ladies) is absent. Having become Queen, she’s busy ruling Lancre, and the coven of three is now two. Sensing Granny Weatherwax is dipping into depression (and potentially turning bad), Nanny Ogg is keen to get that number back to three – picking Agnes Nitts (or Perdita) as a successor. But Agnes/Perdita has run off to Ankh-Morpork to become an opera singer, and she’s been thrown in the midst of a Phantom of the Opera-style murder mystery. The witches, naturally, arrive to get Agnes back … and then they have to figure out who the phantom really is… I’m really liking the murder mystery style of Discworld books, definitely a good read.

Feet of Clay: Discworld #19

A wonderful City Watch series book, this is third in the story of Captai Vimes and his band of merry men. This is a murder mystery, and Vimes and his team has to figure out whodunit – and who’s also poisoning Lord Vetinari! Throw in a few characters like dwarf Cheery Littlebottom, and you have a winner. We also learn more about Golems, made of clay, and their standing in the social confusion that is Ankh-Morpork – a lot through the eyes of Dorfl. A few places in this book made me want to tear up, but that’s just the nature of something written by Pratchett.

Hogfather: Discworld #20

I first read this in 2012, and picked it up again for my Discworld journey. It’s the fourth in the Death series, and so marks the return of my favourite character (Death FYI). This one marks the return of Death’s granddaughter, Susan. She’s trying to live a ‘normal’ life – as much as a Duchess and the granddaughter of Death can live a normal life – as a governess. But some things are trying to kill the Hogfather, the merry figure who appears on Hogswatch, and they’re nearly succeeding. And Death has stepped in… HO HO HO. The wizards make an appearance too, and what a merry bunch they are. All in time for the season.

Discworld Books 11-15

Welcome to the next installment of my Discworld adventure… 

Earlier installments: Books 1-4, Books 5-10

Reaper Man: Discworld #11

So, if you’ve been reading my Discworld series of posts, you will know Death is my favourite character. For me personally, this wasn’t my favourite book – which was a disappointment. The second in the Death series after Mort, the book explores what would happen if Death just wasn’t there. Death has been fired, and isn’t picking up the dead witches, wizards and others. Instead, he’s become Bill Door and is working on a farm. And … he makes friends, and shows, believe-it-or-not, empathy. In Ankh-Morpork, a wizard has died, and he’s tired of waiting for Death to pick him up. And so…he becomes undead and joins a society of the undead. Both stories are intertwined – the fate of Death and the fate of Ankh Morpork. A good read, but not my favourite.

Witches Abroad: Discworld #12

The third in the Witches series… the trio of Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax and Magrat Garlick are slowly gaining ground as some of my favourite characters (Death, don’t let them beat you!). In this book, the three witches take a trip to Genua on a fairy godmother mission, when Desiderata passed away and left her wand to Magrat. And obviously Granny and Nanny had to come along, especially when they find out they weren’t meant to. Their mission is to prevent a young girl, Emberella, from marrying a prince, and thwarting a power-hungry witch in the process. Throw in voodoo, coachmen and pumpkins, and  a whole lot of sarcasm and common sense, and it’s a fairy tale for all!

Small Gods: Discworld #13

I first read this book in 2013 and gave it five stars. I read it again, and gave it five stars…again! In this book, the Great God Om has woken up as a turtle – and he just wanted to be a bull again. The Discworld is peppered with many gods, all competing for believers. He needs to find someone to believe in him, and make him great again. In comes Brutha, a novice, who believes. Imagine his surprise when he finds Om the turtle. Om’s challenge, should he choose to accept it: make Brutha make everyone believe in him again. Really believe. Or else he’ll become a “small god”… perish the thought.

Lords and Ladies: Discworld #14

Okay, this was a massive surprise – I fell in love with this book! The Witches Series is really fantastic. Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Eve is here! After the three witches have been out and about seeing the world (see book 12!), they are back. In Magrat Garlick’s absence, her wedding seems to have been planned with the King of Lancre. But something is afoot…elves? Fairy lights and twinkly beings? No. Dangerous elements. Evil. Mischief. And only Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax remember there’s more to the beautiful creatures… But the lords and ladies are trying to re-enter the Discworld… there’s a way to stop them. Will they? Absolutely intelligent and superb writing.

Theatre of Cruelty: Discworld #14.5

Short online read, a play on Punch and Judy, with Carrot and Death thrown in. Not my favourite, but Discword fans should read it. You can read it for free here.

Men at Arms: Discworld #15

The City Watch series is in its second outing after Guards! Guards!, and what an outing it is. Carrot is back, but so are some new recruits. While no one really knows what Nobby is, the Night Watch now has recruited a dwarf (Cuddy; a real one, no offence Carrot), a troll (Detritus), and a woman (and a werewolf, sorry for outing you Angua). And Sam Vimes is retiring! To become a gentleman and get married. In the midst of angst within the Night Watch, the royalists are coming back… and they seem to think a citizen of Ankh-Morpork may be the real heir. The Patrician is not amused. Neither is the Watch, especially when there are a serious of mysterious deaths. And a new and missing weapon called a gonne. Is this a murder mystery? Yes. Read it. Brilliance.

Travel tips: New York

Travel tips: New York

I visited New York, Boston and Washington DC for the first time through March-April 2016, and here’s a few things I picked up during my two weeks there – if you haven’t been before, hopefully this might help!

Before I forget: if you’re interested in purchasing a mobile SIM while you’re there, I bought a T-Mobile SIM card with a data plan included for $43.

In general, travelling in New York is quite easy because of the subway station and the ability to walk or use an Uber, which is quite affordable. Plus, if you’re in Manhattan, your life is made easier by the grid system – you’ll always know where you are!

The subway system was great, and I used Google Maps for most part to map my journeys. Buying a week subway pass costs $32, and you can purchase these either on a manned counter or one of the kiosks. Pay attention to weekend service announcements for subway lines; they do change a bit, so you should keep a perked ear out for alternative methods of transport.

Always figure out whether you can walk, it might actually be faster.

I arrived at JFK airport, and from there wanted to get to West 30th. You can, for this journey, take the subway, but if you’re not keen on trying a new mode of public transport with luggage… I used a shuttle bus service called NYC Airporter. PSA: They don’t give you change at the counter, you have to pay by card. I paid $17 and got off at Penn Station. Anyway, at general traffic levels, this should take about 1-1.5 hours. It took me approximately that amount of time; it was pretty comfortable. I just relaxed and peered out the window until I arrived at Penn Station, then walked it up 10 minutes to where I needed to go. If you do need to take the train though, you’ll want to get on the AirTrain JFK Red to Jamaica, and then transfer to another line.

I mentioned Uber at the beginning of this post. Just to give you an idea of how much it costs there – we mostly used UberX and UberPool – journeying from W 48th to W 30th (approx 2.22km) with an UberX cost $9.39 with tax.

And if you’re heading from New York to Boston at any point and don’t want to take a flight, I used LimoLiner, which I found quite convenient. I paid $99 and got picked up at the Midtown Hilton on 53rd street at 6th Ave. I settled down, had some food and drink…and there was even a movie. A comfortable ride, it took about 4 hours to get to Boston Back Bay. The bus drops you off at 39 Dalton Street, which is in front of the Sheraton Back Bay and across from the Hilton Hotel Back Bay.

BONUS TIPS: In Boston, if you’re sticking to public transport, just FYI you can get a “Charlie Card” or a “Charlie ticket” at most stations and use the tram system, which is pretty efficient. And one more: in Washington DC, I mostly used Uber, and when I did use the metro, I purchased a “SmarTrip” card at the vending machine at one of the stations.

Do you have any travel tips for either New York, Boston, or Washington DC? Let me know – I’m hoping to go back for another visit!

#Reading Discworld books 5-10

Welcome to the next installment of my Discworld adventure… 

Sourcery: Discworld #5

The third Rincewind. Not the biggest fan of him, though he’s slightly growing on me. In this book, the eighth son of the eighth son of an eighth son has arrived. He’s a sourcerer. And he’s out to wreak a little havoc on the world. Other characters include the Librarian (remember, ape not monkey), and Conina (daughter of Cohen the Barbarian), Nijel the Destroyer, and Cresosote. Not sure I liked these three very much – the narrative that included the wizards, Coin the sourcerer, Death and *shock* Rincewind was more interesting than these three. Easy to read, not the most engaging.

Wyrd Sisters: Discworld #6

This marks the return of Granny Weatherwax, last seen in ‘Equal Rites’, making this the second of the Witches sub-series. I really enjoyed this one – Granny Weatherwax forms a non-social coven with two other witches, Nanny Ogg and Margat Garlick, and during the course of their reluctant socialising, help save the kingdom of Lancre from the clutches of an evil Duke. Throw in ghosts, supernatural occurrences, and a healthy dose of Shakespeare satire, and you’ve got Wyrd Sisters. I quite enjoyed the down-to-earth nature of these witches, who aren’t what you’d expect from “witches” – as Nanny Ogg said in the book, as witches get used to magic, it’s a special kind of magic to not use any! One of Pratchett’s more enjoyable books.

Pyramids: Discworld #7

This is the first time I’ve read this book in the series, and absolutely loved it. I’ve always enjoyed history in general, and this book references Egyptian pharaohs and mummies and pyramids, and takes readers for a fun ride. Teppic has trained to be an assassin in Ankh-Morpork. But his father passes away – and he’s the new king! Teppic goes back home to rule and to build the biggest pyramid ever seen. But pyramids have power, and this developments leads to a series of hilarious incidents. This book has mummies, camel-mathematicians, and nubile handmaidens. Along with a few gods thrown in. It’s a standalone book, so doesn’t necessarily need to be read in the order that it was written.

Guards! Guards!: Discworld #8

The eighth in the Discworld series, the first in the City Watch – this book was absolutely fantastic in setting up the story of Captain Vimes and the Night Watch. We are introduced to Carrot, Nobby and Colon, all of whom are beloved characters in the series. Lady Sybil is also introduced, and her relationship with Vimes is wonderfully set up in the book. In this novel, Ankh-Morpork is subjected to a few dragons, one of whom decides it wants to take over the city and rule. How will the Ankh-Morporkians deal with this? And how does Vimes turn from a bottle-hugger to a hero? How does Carrot turn from thinking he’s a dwarf to transforming the Night Watch? One of the best books I’ve read so far in the Discworld series – I give it five stars.

Eric: Discworld #9

Rincewind returns in his fourth outing! While trying to summon a demon to make his teenage wishes come true, Eric somehow manages to end up with Rincewind the wizard (who picks up from where we left him at the end of Discworld #5, Sourcery). Join the pair as they embark on an adventure to the beginning of the universe, a war over a woman whose appearance may or may not have launched a 1,000 ships, a sacrificial empire, and perhaps even…Hell. It was quick reading, but I didn’t like it as much as I thought I might. Good moments, but I’ve never been the biggest Rincewind fan to begin with, so perhaps that contributed to me not loving it as much as I could.

Moving Pictures: Discworld #10

A standalone novel, Moving Pictures is a straight parody of Hollywood culture, with the Discworld version Holy Wood. In this book, alchemists discover how to create moving pictures, with the help of imps. But is this magic, or science? And why are people being drawn to Holy Wood, and who or what is putting mysterious dreams in their heads? We join failed wizard Victor and milkmaid hating Ginger on their adventures in tinsel town. I struggled with the beginning of this book, it felt like it was dragging on. About halfway through it got a bit more interesting, although the ending felt rushed/contrived. Even so, it’s a decent Pratchett book, but not one to read first if you’re not a Pratchett/Discworld fan already.

ADDENDUM: Death and What Comes Next: Discworld #10.5

So I cheated a little bit. I found this novella listed on Goodreads as Discworld 10.5, with my favourite character in the series – Death. Some of the reviewers shared where it could be read (here you go): all I will say is, it’s very short, but filled with the wit and sarcasm you would have grown to expect from Pratchett by this point.

Some autism movies on my to-watch list

In the last few weeks, I’ve come across two movie trailers, where the main protagonist is autistic. I’m always curious to see how people with autism spectrum disorders are portrayed in the cinema. So I’ll definitely try and watch them. I’ll post reviews if I get to see them!

Here are the trailers, let me know what you think:

  1. Jack of the Red Hearts
  1. Janes Wants a Boyfriend

Jane Wants a Boyfriend | Official Trailer from William Sullivan on Vimeo.

 

#Reading Discworld books 1-4

The Color of Magic: Discworld #1

The introduction to the Discworld is nothing short of fantastic. Terry Pratchett combines humour with outright impossible fantasy to create a world where you are asked to believe in trolls, magic, a giant turtle (male or female unknown), and heroes.

Rincewind, a failed (sort of) wizard, has come into the dubious employ of a tourist, Twoflower, and keeps him alive in the face of extreme circumstances, and against all odds. Twoflower is determined to see the wonders of the world which is equally determined to kill him. And then there’s Luggage – a mysterious box with thousands of feet doggedly following its master Twoflower. And there’s also Death, who isn’t amused by Rincewind escaping him more than once. Throw in a few Gods, dragons, and Heroes… and the first Discworld novel was born.

I first read this book in 2013, and it’s a madcap intro to a world with no rules. The book ends with a cliffhanger, and would definitely push people to pick up the second.

The Light Fantastic: Discworld #2

This is my first time reading this book, which is the second in the Rincewind series. We pick up right where The Color of Magic left off. Rincewind has [SPOILER!] fallen off the edge of the Rim, but there are a lot of forces keen to keep him on the Discworld. Twoflower, the irrepressible tourist, is still around, and as optimistic (or foolish, call him what you will) as ever.

In this book, matters move ahead. The Spell that has lodged itself in Rincewind’s mind is aching to get out. Twoflower just wants to see the world, while the wizard just wants to go back to Ankh-Morpork. Will the intrepid duo (and The Luggage) make it back to safety? They are joined by a geriatric Hero Cohen, and a nubile young woman Bethan. Throw a few trolls in, and we’re all set.

The humour is something I’ll keep coming back to, again and again. The puns, one-liners, and jokes are littered across this book, as the first. When I’d read Terry Pratchett books earlier, with no order in mind, Rincewind’s character thoroughly irritated me. Having been given a chance to read the first novel followed by this one, I’ve found that I’m growing to tolerate the wizard who’s fairly useless at…being a wizard.

The book ties it up neatly at the end, leaving Pratchett to further explore other Discworld elements from the third book.

Equal Rites: Discworld #3

I first read this book in 2013 (so says Goodreads anyway), and at the time I gave it a 3/5 rating. With my second time, it bumped up to a 4. The third in the Discworld series, and the first in the Witches sub-series, it introduces Granny Weatherwax, a witch, who is thrown into a situation that was without precedent: a female wizard has been born. Everyone knows (in Discworld), that men are wizards, women are witches. But the eighth daughter of the eighth son, Esk, has arrived to shake things up a bit. Join them for a journey to The Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork, and watch both characters come into their own. The book even throws in a special appearance from possibly my favourite Discworld character, Death.

By no means his best work, I bumped up this book from 3 points to 4 because I really appreciated the nuances of his world-building, and humour on the second read.

Mort: Discworld #4

The fourth Discworld book (and the first in the Death series) contains who is possibly my favourite Discworld character – Death. In this book, Death takes on an apprentice, appropriately named Mort (short for Mortimer). We get the feeling Death is a littel bored out of his skull (he he he) and needs company, needs variety, needs a bit of a shake-up before falling back in love with his job again. The book is, wonderfully, all about Death’s and Mort’s journey together. We also learn Death likes cats. And curry.

I’ve got to say, I’m probably biased giving it a 5/5 on my second read, but I genuinely love Death’s character, and he never fails to make me laugh. Yes, the book is silly, but so are many of the Discworld novels.

* * * * *

Right, four novels down. 37 to go.

 

Entering Discworld – again

My first Discworld novel was “The Truth” and I fell in love. I kept reading. And I always wanted more.

After him “leaving early to avoid the rush” last year, I wanted nothing more than to read the entire Discword series from start to finish, in the right order. I never got time.

But enough is enough.

Here’s what I’ll be doing. I’m going to read the entire series this year (that’s 41 of them; I’m not looking at The Science of Discworld range yet) and every 4-5 books, will write a round-up. Most are available in my local library, and the rest I’ll borrow or buy. Even if I’ve read a book before, I will read it again.

I’m not only going to be reading these though! As with every year for a while now, I’ve been aiming and mostly succeeding in reading 100 books a year. In 2015, due to a variety of reasons, I only managed 63. But I’m back to 100 this year, and I’m pretty sure I’ll make it.

So my Discworld journey begins.