Happy New Year! Here are my film, book and music discoveries of 2016


img_20170104_100937I like making lists. I thought I would have a look back over the films, books and music I enjoyed in 2016 so here are my top 5 of each:


View my year in books on Goodreads

  1. The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley – a great gothic novel, creepy and affecting.
  2. Different Class – Joanne Harris – an evocative book about scandal in a boys’ school.
  3. Enders Game – Orson Scott Card – this was recommended to me by a friend ages ago. It’s a great science fiction story – you can see how much it has influenced subsequent books and films.
  4. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn – best thriller I read all year – really worth a read. The film is also a great adaptation – but read the book first!
  5. Conclave – Robert Harris – really enjoyed this detailed look inside the Vatican and a fun story.


  1. Arrival – my film of the year. A long time since I’ve seen such an intelligent film, an alien invasion which is a really clever thought experiment.
  2. The Martian – a good solid science fiction film, very entertaining.
  3. I Daniel Blake – a must watch about the current state of affairs in the UK and what this government is doing to oppress people.
  4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – I really enjoyed this return to the wizarding universe.
  5. Rogue One – a fab prequel for Star Wars.


I consume music so differently these days. I have a subscription to Spotify – the streaming service – and have enjoyed their weekly discover playlist – which is a list of music that they think I’ll like based on my listening history (old and new tracks). I have also enjoyed buying second hand vinyl to play on my record player. Most of my new discoveries have come from listening to BBC 6 Music in my car. I often use the Shazam app to find out what the track is and this automatically creates a playlist in Spotify for me.

To get an idea of what I’ve been listening to this year, here is my most listened to playlist:

My top 5 songs of 2016 (which are a mixture of vinyl discoveries and others) are:

  1. The Pusher – Steppenwolf (from the Easy Rider soundtrack – sounds amazing on vinyl)
  2. This Year – The Mountain Goats (the refrain ‘I’m going to make it through this year if it kills me’ was very 2016!)
  3. Trouble – Girl Ray (great new band discovery)
  4. Lo, the full final sacrifice – Gerald Finzi (I heard this on Radio 3, a beautiful piece of sacred music)
  5. Heroes – David Bowie (obviously listened to a lot of Bowie this year and I think this is my favourite of his!)

Do you have any recommendations for me for 2017?


My 5 favourite websites/tools


Quite a few of my colleagues keep asking me a) ‘how do you find out about all these things’ (A: mainly through Twitter) and b) ‘can you give me a list of these tools and what they do’? So, to keep it short and sweet (as these lists can get ridiculously long) here are some of my favourite websites and what you can use them for:

1. Twitter Times

People often ask me how I can keep up with the information flow on Twitter. The Twitter Times is a really nifty little site which creates an online ‘newspaper’ of all the links that are currently being shared by the people you follow. The beauty of this site is that you don’t even need to be a member of Twitter to use it – you can read someone else’s newspaper instead.

To view mine visit: http://twittertim.es/vahva

You can also use their media feature which enables you to see the most tweeted news stories on different news sites. For example, here’s The Guardian on Twitter Times: http://twittertim.es/media/guardian

And yet another great feature is the ability to view news based on Twitter lists. On the site, click on the tab ‘based on Twitter lists’.

2. Issuu

Issuu is a site that enables you to publish pdf documents in a really attractive format. It will automatically create a library of your documents as if you’re looking at them on a bookshelf. Gone are the days when your website had to be a list of boring links to pdf downloads. This site also enables you to ’embed’ your uploaded pdfs in Issuu-format on your own website. See how I did this with the Learning 3.0 report on Lifelong Learning UK’s website: http://www.lluk.org/learning3.htm

I still can’t believe it’s a free application, it makes pdfs look amazing!

3. Slideshare

Best described simply as ‘youtube’ for powerpoint presentations this website is a great place to put your presentations. What’s more, if you are giving a presentation at an event, upload it to slideshare before the event and then you can give the delegates the link to it actually at the event. No more need to arrange for it to be emailed to people! You can also ’embed’ your presentations into your website/blog or even put them on your Linkedin profile. Also, it’s a great place to find presentations on any topic at all.

4. Screencast-o-matic – alternative to Screentoaster

Update 1 July 2010 – Screentoaster now not available 😦

My thanks have to go to Phil Bradley for pointing me to Screencasting tools. Screentoaster sadly has fallen by the wayside. I have found, however, thanks to Phil again, this alternative which does the same thing: http://www.screencast-o-matic.com.

This site is free, you don’t need to download anything and yet it enables you to basically video yourself doing stuff on your computer, essentially capturing in video the moves you are making on screen. To do audio as well you do need one of those Britney Spears headsets with a mic to plug into your PC (I got one in a pound shop for, you’ve guessed it, a pound!) You might wonder what use you could have for such a thing but imagine this: you have a new form you need colleagues to complete in Excel in a particular way. You could use Screentoaster to talk the form through step by step, videoing yourself clicking on the different boxes and then simply send the link round to colleagues – wherever they are based they’ll be able to watch it! No more showing people over and over how to do something.

5. Delicious

I can remember how ridiculously excited I was when I first discovered Delicious (a bit sad but there you go!) Delicious is a bookmarking service.  Traditionally you have probably used the ‘save bookmark’ feature on your browser in order to save websites. This website enables you to do that but also to tag websites with key words (so you can easily find them again) and find other people’s tagged websites too. If you use the search bar on Delicious it is like a really intelligent version of Google – it will throw up websites that people have deliberately tagged with your search term, rather than sites that just contain that word (which is what Google does). It’s just a great place to keep all your favourite bookmarks, share them with other people and find new sites by looking at other people’s bookmarks. A social form of Google really. the great thing about it is that your bookmarks live on the Delicious website rather than on the PC you’re working on, so you can access them anywhere. You can look at my bookmarks here: http://delicious.com/vahva

I could add a lot more here but these sites are what I’ve chosen for now as my top 5. If you don’t understand anything I’ve mentioned above, please don’t hesitate to contact me, just add a comment below or send me a tweet at http://twitter.com/vahva.

My top 5 albums of 2009


I’ve been trying to work out if this has been a good year for music. I think it has been but there is little to ground us anymore. The world, or rather the internet, is the music lover’s oyster.

I realised, watching the X Factor the other week and seeing Paul McCartney and George Michael performing, that now there is no Top of the Pops, there is nothing to unite us in our love or dislike of music. I feel rather lonely with regard to music. I can share tracks with friends and find out what’s good but it’s not the same as sitting down each week and shouting ‘yay’ or ‘boo’ at the countdown of the top 10.

Anyway, that’s me wittering about the loss of a link between music lovers. Here is what you probably want to hear – my top 5 albums. In ‘no particular order’ as Dermot O’Leary pointlessly says every week he announces the X Factor result:

Oh my God, Charlie Darwin – The Low Anthem

This album made my top five because of its sheer variety. It really does bear repeating and is a great album for a road trip. You’ll like this if you like Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes and Mumford and Sons.

It’s Blitz – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Everyone was shocked when Yeah Yeah Yeahs moved away from their rocky sound and went all electro on us. The results were fantastic though. My love song of the year with Hysteric:

Does You Inspire You? – Chairlift

I bought this because I liked the slightly twee ‘Bruises’ song which I heard on a student youtube clip of a squirrel (random or what?!):

The rest of the album isn’t at all like that. This is a really accomplished record, full of twists and turns and interesting concepts, sometimes singing in French. I love it.

Mind Chaos – Hockey

This was such a great surprise. I saw the album advertised and listened to just one track, ‘Song Away’ and impulsively bought it.

A great poppy record, danceable tracks, influences of Talking Heads (whose Best of, incidentally, I’ve listened to loads of this year). Bit like MGMT, Vampire Weekend… cheery music in a depressing year. ‘Curse this city’ is perhaps my commuter’s anthem this year.

To Lose My Life – White Lies

Ok, I’m slightly embarrassed that this is in here but I love their melodrama – much in the same way as I like it in Muse. It fitted perfectly with my craze on the Twilight books earlier this year. Enough said!

(I’ve a feeling this came out in 2008 but it’s this year I’ve been listening to it and they won Best Newcomer at the Q awards).