My PhD takes me to one of the last truly wild places on earth

The idea of embarking on a PhD held absolutely no appeal to me at first. I feared it wouldn’t represent who I was, or wouldn’t satisfy me.

Computer screens can’t keep me captive for long and I am liable to abandon routine in search of adventure. Being born in what I suspected was the wrong era for exploration, I’d often begrudge the absence of true adventure. Reading exotic accounts of past expeditions, I’d lament the loss of wilderness to the encroaching modern world: now littered with plastic bags, bustling bars, wifi hotspots and worse – people just like me.

When committing to a PhD in science, I thought I might be hapless slave, hunched over a microscope or chained to a desk muddling through mind-numbing calculations. Would I be destined to play up to a stereotype; to be an eccentric, hermitic boffin with a beard? (That last one would be difficult with two X chromosomes.)

The best person to challenge my misconceptions of science came in the form of my future supervisor; beard-free, charismatic, down-to-earth and yet successful. With a long-standing association with polar research she opened a door that allowed me to work in some of the last truly wild places on earth: Antarctica and the subantarctic islands.

Together we have been developing a new proxy for climate change. Our theory is that polar moss could, through its chemical signatures, contain an accurate record of centuries’ worth of climate information.

My first expedition south to find out if this is possible was to the subantarcticMacquarie Island, a tiny rock stranded in the middle of one of the stormiest areas of the Southern Ocean. It was described by early Australian geologist Captain Douglas Mawson as “the most wretched place of involuntary and slavish exilium… nothing could warrant any civilised creature living on such a spot”.

Our voyage on the icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, reinforced those sentiments. A ten-metre swell pitched our ship to extreme angles, forcing us to leave footprints on the walls in an effort to stay upright. After three days of being buffeted, I understood the necessity for belts on the bunk beds and I longed for land.

The land, when it came, was like nothing I’d ever seen. Draped in a sea fret, the steep tussock-clad cliffs converged with black-sanded beaches, covered almost entirely with wildlife. Penguins and seals jostled for space by the shoreline showing complete disregard for us, though they always had one eye fixed on the predatory birds that hovered above the hordes, anticipating a misstep.

My first night on the island was sleepless as I lay listening to belching snores – not the fault of the five men in the room I was sharing – but of elephant seals which had set up camp by my window. I couldn’t have been happier though, at last I had found my adventure.

There’s always an air of the ridiculousness when living in such small outposts – the intimate and isolated living conditions mean you can’t take things too seriously, especially yourself.

In the machinery shed there was an entire room dedicated to dressing-up costumes, but this didn’t stop people bringing their own. The image of our six-foot-five diesel mechanic dressed as Miss Piggy with custom-made pink high-heels, is a happy thought that I return to on long days in the laboratory. The island is also a great leveller of people – scientists, doctors, chefs, builders: we’re all there with a job to do and no one cares where you come from as long as you chip in and get on with it.

My second study site was on Antarctica proper and the feeling of the place was undoubtedly different. There was such stillness: the opposite to the onslaught of wildlife, weather and smells of the subantarctic – though the presence of large vehicles on the station diminished the sense of peacefully coexisting with nature somewhat. We could cross-country ski in the evenings under an ever-present sun and, on special occasions, would glide around icebergs on station boats.

While I love my PhD for the adventures it has provided, the science has ultimately proven to be just as exciting . One valuable application is a direct, fine-scale mapping of man-made climate change, made possible through something as simple and seemingly insignificant as moss.

And although there are times I am laboratory-bound, I can always look forward to abandoning my white coat, donning a red freezer suit and heading south for another season on the ice. There are still the long, hard hours and the necessary legwork once there – but it reminds me that a PhD can be at once a serious academic pursuit – and also a great adventure.

Fears rise over school places as secondaries battle the bulge

Families waiting to hear if their child has got into their first choice of secondary school this week are bracing themselves for disappointment amid warnings about a crisis in school places and growing anger at “inadequate” planning by government.

Tuesday is national offer day in England when half a million children in their final year of primary find out which secondary school they will go to in September, but parents are being warned many will not get their preferred choice as demand for places goes up.

Councils, which no longer have the powers to open new schools where required, say they will struggle to provide sufficient places as the population bulge which has been affecting primary schools in recent years begins to move up into secondary.

Last year, 84,000 families failed to get their first choice of secondary school – 7,000 up on the previous year – and Labour says the figure could rise again this year.

Fresh analysis by the party reveals the strain on the system, with one in six secondary schools already at or over capacity and forecasts of more than 300,000 additional secondary school pupils by 2020. Last year, 84,000 families failed to get their first choice of secondary school – 7,000 up on the previous year – and Labour says the figure could rise again this year.

Labour warns that the number of so-called “titan” secondaries – with pupil numbers in excess of 1,600 – could increase by more than a third by 2020, and many could get even bigger. There are already 27 secondary schools in England with more than 2,000 pupils and that trend looks set to continue.

The government is hoping its free schools programme will fill the gaps where there are shortages, but critics say they do not always open in the areas of greatest need and there may be a struggle to find sufficient sponsors to open new schools quickly enough.

Parts of London and other major cities, particularly Birmingham, will be the most severely affected again this year. In Birmingham, more than 30% of children failed to get into their top choice last year. Nationally, 84.2% got their first choice.

Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member for Birmingham children’s services, said the current system was a mess. “As a local authority we need to ensure there are school places where they are needed across the city, but we lack the powers to do so,” she said.

“We spend a lot of time working out what we need, but convincing some academies and free schools to open in the right places at the right times can be a nightmare. If you don’t have enough places, children suffer; if you have too many, then the funding is spread too thinly and their education still suffers.

“It’s such a delicate balance. When public money is so scarce, seeing it getting wasted on places where they aren’t needed, when children are forced to sit in crowded crumbling buildings elsewhere, makes me really angry.”

The shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, called on the government to reinstate local planning for school places and remove the bureaucracy councils currently face when trying to open or expand schools. “The Tories’ free-market approach to providing new school places just isn’t working and is creating a crisis in school places,” she said.

“With such big rises in demand and one in six secondary schools already at or over capacity, the provision of new places needs proper planning and co-ordination. Yet this government’s fixation with free schools, which can be opened where there is no shortage of school places, has made it harder and harder to ensure there are enough good school places in every local area.”

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 270 councils across England, said if councils could not open new schools, then academies – which are outside local authority control – should be compelled to expand to make sure every child has a place.

Roy Perry, who chairs the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Councils have a statutory duty to ensure every child has a school place available to them but find themselves in the difficult position of not being able to ensure schools, including academies, expand. Finding suitable sponsors with the capacity to take on the running of a successful new school is also proving a challenge.”

The government claims an average of more than 3,000 secondary school places a month have been created since last September. The schools minister, Nick Gibb, said: “We want every parent to be able to send their children to a good local school. Despite rising pupil numbers the vast majority of parents are able to do so.

“The government is investing billions of pounds creating new schools and new school places and through our free schools programme we want to open 500 more new schools during the five years of this parliament.

“Free schools are helping to drive up academic standards throughout the country as they are the type of school more likely to be rated outstanding by Ofsted than other state schools.”

The Department for Education (DfE) accused the LGA of scaremongering and said 95% of parents received an offer at one of their top three preferred schools last year despite rising pupil numbers.

“Councils are responsible for ensuring there are sufficient school places in their area, and we expect them to plan effectively and make good investment decisions,” a DfE spokesperson said. “This requires certainty, which is why funding is allocated three and a half years in advance of places being needed – giving councils time to plan while still allowing the flexibility needed to make adjustments should local circumstances change.”

Families, meanwhile, are nervous after months of waiting. Parents on Mumsnetsought reassurance from one another as national offer day approaches.

One wrote: “I am pretty sure that we will get our first choice as it is less than a mile away (we moved here a few years ago to be sure). But it was a big birth year (not sure if that was nationally or just in our area but bulge classes were added on to all the primary schools when DD [darling daughter] started in 2009). So catchments will be smaller this year.”

Another responded: “That is my worry too. We are the second year that there were increases at primary across the board. So I am fairly sure we will get one of our top four but not absolutely sure. It doesn’t help that our two closest schools are both highly sought after and also admit via lottery so being close to them doesn’t help us AT ALL. Argh.”

Last year, London had the lowest number of applicants receiving an offer at their first choice of school. With a 3.3% increase in applications, which were up from 80,746 in 2014 to 83,380 in 2015, just 68.9% got their top selection. In Hammersmith and Fulham, 12% of applicants did not get into any of their six preferences.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, condemned the government’s approach as laissez-faire and inadequate. “This is not rocket science,” he said. “It is easy to predict the need for secondary places, and it just needs coordination across all the different school types to meet the demand.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “It is quite clear that local authorities need to be given the ability and adequate funding to open new schools.” She said failure to do this would result in “yet more chaos”, children being taught in portable buildings, larger class sizes and many having to take places in schools away from their neighbourhood.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “The free school experiment has failed in its most important purpose: ensuring every child has a local school place. The government must restore local authorities powers. They know their local area and should be able to respond to local need.”

Leora Cruddas, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, warned however that the school places issue was not just about quantity, but also quality. “This means having sufficient resources. Unfortunately, schools are facing a double-whammy of real-terms funding cuts and a teacher recruitment crisis,” she said.

Most Popular Apps on Android You Absolutely Must Download

The world of apps is nothing short of a dream world where you can explore a variety of apps which helps increase overall productivity many fold. From ordering food to getting a doctor to socialising with friends, apps have redefined and simplified the way we interact with technology around us. With a host of apps simplifying various facets of life, it now seems next to impossible to function without them.

Check out these top trending apps that have surely got it right when it comes to understanding customer requirement which is why you absolutely must download them:


Shareit is an extremely useful app allowing you to share information and all kinds of files with contacts on the move. The speed offered is 200 times faster than Bluetooth and requires no data cable for you to make transfers. It doesn’t require internet either which makes it so revolutionary. Without any network restrictions, it is simple to use delivering nothing but high performance. You can also connect it to a PC to view your files and manoeuvre them accordingly.

Amazon India Shopping

Amazon India Shopping has become one of the fastest growing and most popularly downloaded apps of the year. The Amazon App makes your shopping all the more mobile by giving you access to over thousands of products ranging over a variety of categories. From home décor to baby products to fashion to healthcare, every product under the sun can be found using the Amazon App. You can pay via debit cards, credit cards, netbanking and COD depending on your comfort. With easy return policy, customer care support and quick delivery you never have to worry about shopping again. You can make use of amazon coupons to get further deals on your shopping cart.


TrueCaller is an amazing app that helps you keep better track of people calling you. You can say goodbye to the frustration of having to answer unknown numbers, telemarketing numbers and crank calls as the database helps identify where the number is from even if the number is not stored in your phone book. You can easily block unwanted numbers as well as spam calls. Locate numbers anywhere around in the world by feeding it into the app. You can copy a number in an app and TrueCaller can identify the number. It’s an app that has surely made mobile phones less pesky.


Paytm is one of the leading apps thanks to its ability to allow you to easily pay bills. You can forget about running out of balance and instantly top up your data plan allowing you instant gratification. Be it mobile top up, DTH recharge, internet bills or data card recharge, you can do it with the touch of a button with ease. Paytm has tie ups with leading retailers and service providers including Airtel, Idea, Vodafone and many more. Along with recharge options, you can also shop for hundreds of products through the app. Make use of paytm coupons to get your hands on products at great prices.

Clean Master

Most of us face issues of a slower smartphone over time due to usage and variety of apps running in the background as well as accumulation of junk data and files which slows down the overall output. With Clean Master, you get a fast and quick optimizer that helps accelerate and clean up phones giving you lesser lags and freezes over time. You don’t have to continuously delete apps and pictures to make space for more. You can easily manage apps better and get better battery life as well. The app helps improve the smartphone manifold.


Be sure to download these top performing apps that gives you improved functionality, output and performing and smoothening over all user experience.

Forest management-the sustainable approaches

Forest management-the sustainable approaches.

The use of butterfly breeding by Papua New Guinea villages was recently brought up as an example of conservation in action. The 1997 (and previous) articles by Larry Orsak, who directed the Christensen Research Institute in Madang at the time, was one of the original reports. The 3 authors here, rather than destroy the forest by logging, argued for strategies that would enable forest people to hunt, harvest and develop their own resources in ways that maintain the habitat. Sustainability of course is the aim, with hopefully some regeneration of forest in these areas. The 2 main butterflies involved are the world’s largest and fastest, the Queen Alexandra and Goliath birdwings.

To clarify the position, empowerment of local interests is one of the keys to sustainable development. The alternative is large scale farming or deforestation such as that developing oil palm, sugar cane or similar cash crop monocultures. If logging or mining were adopted in any specific location, some local employment would be expected to enhance the regional economy in a minor way, while all such loss of habitat must obviously have limits. We need to assess just where that limit is for every case, with an obvious input needed from local people. The struggle against loggers was shown up in our 2014 article, highlighting the problems for Indonesian fauna.

The butterflies of both Indonesia and Papua New Guinea have been shown to help, because rare butterflies are “common” in the few remaining tropical forest areas, as they rapidly decrease in area. As Larry describes, at that time, people bought products of the rainforest such as Brazil nuts to support tropical conservation efforts. He notes how the PNG government set up an Insect Farming and Trading Agency(IFTA) in Bulolo with sales of $400,000 pa. Only villagers were allowed to sell the insects to this agency, with the 2 largest birdwings (in the world!) being especially bred in gardens with Aristolochia and its pipevine relatives as their foodplant.

When the villagers sustainably manage their insects, prices can be maintained with increases and consumer demand related to conservation outcomes. While suggestions on selling non-rare species are commendable, it is hard to understand how demand would continue for butterflies, beetles or similar items unless the market was unfairly manipulated. It is obvious that plants, feathers and other almost touristic sales products might need to be developed, given great insight into worldwide popularity. Collectors of butterflies for example would possibly be very good customers, while there could be a limited market for items where there was no long-established demand.

One example that can be observed in action is in The Gambia. Villagers there have used palm leaf furniture (the coconut-like Rhun palm, Borassus aethiopum), honey and tree nurseries to spark their forest product industries into life, given a pre-existing eco-tourism interest on the large Gambia River. Community forests replaced some of the state-managed forestry projects in the 1990s, but these local industries were unfortunately not developed then. Fuel wood is admittedly one of the forest products that elsewhere has caused desertification and gradual deforestation. Here in The Gambia, $50 of wood has become worth $700 because communities organised themselves into a federation. The FAO drew attention to this hopefully good news in 2005.

To bring things up-to-date across the continent, this year has seen Tanzania gain renewed interest in forest logs and trees. With a modern tractor for their farming activity, Nahanga villagers have used their governments Kilmo kwanza initiative (using finance from Finland) to use forest products to subsidise their agriculture. They also built an office and a health centre. The Nahangans bought their own forest, then sold scrub and cleared wood as fuel. Lack of facilities to sell forest products has obviously stopped many villages from following the lead of Nahanga, but the education into the many possible ways of benefiting from abundant forest resources is a very big problem. Whether butterflies or other insects can be sold, whether nuts from the palms or other trees have any value other than basic food are questions we all need to answer for forest peoples everywhere. From colder rain foresst in North America or Tasmania to the truly tropical variety, the biodiversity is never questioned. Such resources need advertising to not just developed areas, but also the very people who could profit from their local produce.

Everyone, including the climate changers needs these forest resources for very different reasons. There is an equally complex set of reasoning behind their potential. Whether we buy something from the forests or reject it depends on those who work today for or in these dwindling resources.

Stunning Photos Of Norway’s Reindeer Hide A Radioactive Secret

Nearly three decades have passed since the devastating meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. Yet, all these years later the fallout from the disaster continues to have a detrimental environmental effect.

The deadly 1986 explosion at Chernobyl resulted in a mass evacuation and the relocation of hundreds of thousands of people living in surrounding areas. Radiation spread across the region.

Today, more than 1,000 miles away from the disaster site, residual poisons linger in the quiet pastures of central Norway in an unsuspecting host: radioactive reindeer.

Norwegian scientists point to the reindeer’s diet as the reason for their contamination, according to Norway’s The Local news site. Gypsy mushrooms, which the reindeer eat, absorb radioactive caesium-137 particles that have drifted north over time and accumulated in Norwegian soil.

This poses a problem for Norway’s indigenous Sami people. They brave the country’s harsh climate to herd the reindeer as a means of economic survival andcultural tradition, but this has become dangerous. The Sami harvest the animals for meat production, but as a result of the recent rise in radioactivity levels, many are not safe for consumption, which is impacting their livelihood.

In 2014, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority reported that they detected radioactivity in the reindeer. Radiation levels in meat can be found by analyzing the amount of becquerels — a unit for measuring radioactivity– of caesium-137 per kilogram, and the numbers they detected were as high as 8,200 becquerels per kilogram in reindeer, according to The Local.

In comparison, the Japanese Ministry of Health set the safe consumption limit of caesium-137 at 500 becquerels per kilogram following the country’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

A Sami riding his snowmobile through the mountains as the herd is driven toward the corral.

Reindeer run to avoid the herders’ lasso inside the corral. The very young reindeer are snared and have their ears tagged with a unique family mark.

Reindeer chew on lichen, fed to them by the herders.

A young reindeer is selected for tagging.

A vet’s assistant reads from a device measuring the radiation in a reindeer selected for slaughter.

The herd swirls around young Sami men inside the corral.

How the stars secure the perfect Oscars dress – the inside deals and politics

Cate Blanchett at the 2014 Oscars

Griping about unimaginative Oscar dresses has become an annual ritual among fashion watchers (myself included).

The list of “atrocities” regularly committed by attendees of the Academy Awards includes hogging the middle of the road, navigating the red carpet while under the influence of beige, and failure to wear any neckline that isn’t strapless.

So while reporting on the Haute Couture shows for The Telegraph in Paris, I mentally put myself in the celebrity stylist’s shoes. Actually, since most celebrity stylists don’t attend couture, being otherwise engaged answering the multiple sartorial demands of their charges, this was better than being in their shoes. This was like being on stilts, standing in front of them. I was ringside at the greatest fashion show on Earth. How hard could it be to pick out a dozen or so ravishing frocks?

Julianne Moore in  at the Golden Globes 2016.

Um, where to start? The first issue is that dressing an actress for the biggest night of her career is no longer where many couture houses direct their main energies.

Dressing an actress for the biggest night of her career is no longer where many couture houses direct their main energies.

At the Couture shows, it was notable how many maisons have largely turned their backs on safe Oscar-appropriate styles in favour of appealing to their (paying) clients or to prestigious editorial in fashion magazines.

Dolce & Gabbana actively discourage its appearance on the red carpet, knowing their customers prefer exclusivity.

On the couture catwalks, spectacularly lavish ball-dresses and embroidered tunics popular at Middle Eastern weddings, or “avant garde” barely-there experiments that might work for a Rihanna video, but would set off every pace-maker at the Academy Awards, now outnumber generic red carpet dresses.

“The problem is, the Oscars aren’t regarded as fashion any more”
Fiona Golfar

“The problem is, the Oscars aren’t regarded as fashion any more,” says Fiona Golfar, editor-at-large of British Vogue. Golfar has attended the Oscars with her husband, the producer Robert Fox, and dressed actresses for them. “It’s surprisingly tough getting hold of decent dresses for them,” she adds. “For one thing, there’s a strict pecking order, both among actresses and designers. You can have a great actress who might score an A among her peers, but only rate a B or C in the fashion world, because she isn’t considered to wear clothes well.”

Cate Blanchett wears Givenchy at the recent Golden Globes ceremony. 

Or she might be the wrong age. When Golfar dressed Dame Maggie Smith the year she was nominated for Gosford Park, she was informed by one house “that they weren’t interested in dressing a woman in her mid-sixties”.

The hierarchy cuts both ways. Actresses want to be seen in labels of commensurate status, or above. Labels tend to feel the same. Double As include Julianne Moore (“despite her age,” as one Hollywood insider put it), Jennifer Lawrence (“she can even make falling over look good,” said the same insider), Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and, suddenly, Alicia Vikander.

Acute status-awareness leads to a degree of unseemly horse-trading behind the scenes, with some stylists stockpiling dresses they have no intention of putting on their clients simply to prevent other stylists having them, or reduced to promising designers they’ll put an A-lister into their dress, provided that designer agrees to dress their other, less exalted clients. It sounds like a bear pit, but then stakes are high.

Alicia Vikander in Louis Vuitton at the Golden Globes. 

The right look (hair and make-up are also key) can make casting agents reassess their preconceptions about an actress’s bankability. If she’s just played a dowdy frump or had a run of period parts, the Oscars are her chance to demonstrate that she’s a bankable sex-pot. The perfect dress isn’t one that’s merely flattering. It should position you on the map as a potential fashion muse, which means you can begin collecting fees for wearing certain labels on the red carpet. Not all fashion houses pay actresses by any means, however many jewellery companies do. One Hollywood agent told me that an Oscar nominee can charge up to £200,000 an outing – though it’s more usually jewellery rather than fashion houses which pay.

The Holy Grail of red carpet dressing – apart, possibly from winning an award for your acting – is a contract with one of the big European fashion names. These are even more rare than Oscars however. Cate Blanchett has Armani; Jennifer Lawrence, Marion Cotillard, Charlize Theron and Natalie Portman have Dior, Alicia Vikander and Michelle Williams are signed up to Louis Vuitton; Kristen Stewart, Keira Knightley and Julianne Moore have affiliations with Chanel.

Jennifer Lawrence in Dior at the Golden Globes earlier this month. 

Depending on their deals, actresses are obliged to wear these brands at a certain number of key events, appear in advertising campaigns (generally shot by top fashion photographers and therefore considerably more beneficial than the average cheesy, heavily-air-brushed beauty ads they also star in) and make occasional appearances on the front row.

The money is the big draw. “Many Hollywood actresses earn less than the public imagines,” says Anna Bingemann, who has styled Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts and Uma Thurman. “Most films are pretty low budget these days. Many indie films pay actors less than they’re paying their nannies, and there’s no back-end.” A financial association with a prestigious fashion house can be a career life line.

Rooney Mara attends the Golden Globes in Alexander McQueen

Brands like to lock their mascots in for several years, not least because it allows them to build a creative relationship based on trust. Too many of them have been burned by actresses and stylists demanding five enormously expensive options, only to ditch all of them at the last moment, while somehow failing to return any of them.

The twinkling Armani Privé ballgown Cate Blanchett collected her Oscar in two years ago showed what happens when an actress and a designer hit the sweet spot, creatively. But these exclusive arrangements also means there are fewer dresses to go round those actresses outside the magic circle.

Another chink in the system, says Bingemann, is that there are now so many noteworthy awards. “In the old days, no one in America really watched the Baftas. You had the Globes and the Oscars. Now you have the Sag Awards, the Baftas, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Emmys…no one ever cared about the Emmys. But now that television is sexy, everyone watches those too. You’re talking months of awards.”

Campaign trails can start back in September with the Venice film festival. That’s a huge number of dresses. “The sensible strategy,” says Bingemann, “ would be to hold back the best dresses until the Oscars, but it doesn’t work like that.”

Kate Winslet in Ralph Lauren at the Golden Globes earlier this month. 

So to my Oscar picks from Couture. Hmm. All I can say is that compromises were made. I’ve omitted sheer, although in real life, designers could probably be coaxed into adding linings and I’ve bypassed anything that won’t play well in Milwaukee. I had a hard time finding much colour – then again, given the controversy surrounding this year’s nominations and the sobering situation in Syria, monochrome might be the order of the evening.

I thought hard about weaning Kate Winslet out of her habitual stiff columns and into something floaty and about trying to make Rachel McAdams look a bit more left of field. But Winslet’s stiff columns work for her and left of field might look all wrong on McAdams.

And what do you do about Charlotte? Once she was a Double A – 69, but a hot fashion property because, hell, she’s Charlotte Rampling and innately stylish. Then came the race row. Now some designers may feel cautious about dressing her… this Oscar dressing business is not as easy as it looks.

Valentino for Rooney Mara

A striking colour and a touch of Gothic drama, this has Rooney Mara’s (Best Supporting Actress nomination) name on it.

Valentino Haute Couture SS16 (left) and Chanel Haute Couture SS16

Chanel for Charlotte Rampling 

Widely expected to wear a Saint Laurent-style Le Smoking, Charlotte Rampling (Best Actress nomination) could still surprise in something softer but still quintessentially French. Plus Karl Lagerfeld won’t give a damn about her controversial remarks on the Oscars race row.

Ralph & Russo for Saoirse Ronan

Best Actress nominee, Saoirse Ronan’s stylist has gradually been coaxing her into more daring choices. Ronan, who says she stipulated no flowers or pastels, has worn both to great effect. This metallic floral lace is youthful but Oscar worthy.

Ralph and Russo Haute Couture SS16 (left) and Christian Dior Haute Couture SS16. 

Dior for Jennifer Lawrence 

Admittedly the neckline’s quite a statement, but nothing Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress nomination) can’t handle.  She’d look amazing with bright red lips and minimalist make up too. Less for her to trip up in too.

Dice Kayek for Rachel McAdams

This flattering combination of classic and interesting, would considerably up the fashion ante for Rachel McAdams (Best Supporting Actress Nomination) without alienating her fans.

Dice Kayek Haute Couture SS16 (left) and Schiaparelli Haute Couture SS16. 

Schiaparelli for Brie Larsson 

Your classic girl next door (if you live in Hollywood). Brie Larsson’s (Best Actress nomination) style credentials are untested. Lavender Schiaparelli, with strong hair and make‑up would mark her card as a potential fashion player.

Atelier Versace for Jennifer Jason Leigh

Undoubtedly a great actress, Jennifer Jason Leigh (Best Supporting Actress nominee) is Hollywood’s odd-ball. Versace would be an unexpected curve-ball for her. This Versace also happens to look quite edgy, yet sexy.

Armani Prive For Cate Blanchett

After the taupe ballgown she wore to collect her last Oscar, Cate Blanchett (Best Actress nomination) may want a colourful column. Look no further.

Atelier Versace Haute Couture SS16 (left) and Armani Prive Haute Couture SS16. 


Every Oscars Gown This Year’s Nominees Have Ever Worn

There are 10 women nominated in the best actress and best supporting actress categories at this Sunday’s Academy Awards, and not one of them is a newbie to Hollywood’s biggest night. Here, we trace their gown choices through past Oscars appearances, whether they’ve been to the event one time or eight (hi, Cate). A little preview of what’s to come on Sunday, perhaps?


1999: John Galliano

2000: Jean Paul Gaultier

2005: Valentino

2007: Armani Privé

2008: Dries Van Noten

2011: Givenchy

2014: Armani Privé

2015: John Galliano for Maison Martin Margiela


1996: Vivienne Westwood

1998: Givenchy

2002: A custom design by Ben de Lisi

2005: Badgley Mischka

2007: Valentino

2009: Atelier Yves Saint Laurent by Stefano Pilati

2010: Atelier Yves Saint Laurent by Stefano Pilati


2011: Calvin Klein

2013: Christian Dior

2014: Christian Dior


2014: Miu Miu

2015: Dolce & Gabbana


2008: Alberta Ferretti

2014: Valentino


In Elie Saab Couture


In Givenchy




15 Effective Home Improvement Ideas to Make It Energy Efficient (INFOGRAPHIC)

October 27th is celebrated as the Energy Star Day.

We talk about saving money around every financial turn, from buying discounted packaged dry goods in bulk to keeping up with the maintenance on our brand new vehicles. Yet, one area of homeowner costs literally and figuratively flies out the window. Most of us do a poor job of reigning in our energy bills.

Take a look at some startling statistics:

  • Americans spend $130 billion per year on energy that does absolutely nothing but go to waste
  • The amount of energy wasted by 75,000 average American homes in one yearequals the waste that spewed out of the 2010 BP oil rig disaster
  • In 2012, the amount of energy wasted by businesses and homeowners in the United States would have generated enough power in the United Kingdom for seven years

Yet, we are discussing macro effects of energy waste. The dramatic effect on family budgets throughout the United States has wakened up many people. However, not many Americans understand how to reduce energy waste. The answer lies in 15 simple steps that turn your home into an energy efficient machine.

15 Effective Ways to Reduce Your Utility Bills

1. Change out Incandescent Light Bulbs for LED Indoor Lamps

The United States government has mandated this change, but far too many homeowners cling to the use of energy sucking incandescent light bulbs. A recent study states that the average American household burns 47 light bulbs. By assuming the use of 60-watt incandescent light bulbs, the amount of energy saved by going LED is staggering.

Type of Light Bulb One Light Bulb Wattage Wattage Consumed for Household
Incandescent 60 Watts 2,289 Watts
LED 9.5 Watts 446.5 Watts

The average American household that uses 47 light bulbs saves more than 80% in energy consumption. Forget the government. Do the right thing and replace incandescent light bulbs with LED indoor lamps. Your accountant will also thank you.

2. Dual Flush Toilets are Better than One

We tend to flush the toilet about as often as we leave the kitchen sink faucet on.Dual flush toilets decreases water usage by using water whenever it’s needed. A dual flush toilet has two handles or buttons that flush different water levels to ensure that you only use the water you need. The energy savings translates into more than $100 a year for sewer and water bills.

3. Dimwits Don’t Use Light Dimmers

How bright do you really need the lights inside of your home? You don’t need a floodlight to read a favorite book or to watch the latest episode of The Blacklist. Light dimmers save more than 90 percent of light energy, which translates into a 10 percent reduction of your total energy bill. You simply set the dimmer to a level that meets your needs and watch the light automatically dim, after a certain period has elapsed. The less light that you use, the longer you enjoy the energy saving benefits of LED bulbs.

4. Automatically Shut Down Desktops and Laptops

How many times do you stop working on a laptop or desktop computer to do something else? Your smartphone rings a text or Federal Express comes knocking at the door. Whatever the case, you waste precious energy by leaving unattended computing devices running at full power. Laptop and desktop computers that include the “auto shut off” feature prevent you from wasting energy, while you tend to other matters. The feature automatically shuts off computer power, whenever the system detects a preset period of inactivity. So use these features by activating them by going to settings (or control panel) in your devices.

5. Strip Down Electronic Device Power

Conventional power strips offer homeowners a convenient way to increase the number of electrical outlets. However, the convenience leads to careless energy usage, as the electronic devices remain plugged in most of time. Many electronic devices, such as plasma televisions and DVD players continue to use power after you turn off the machines. Smart power strips eliminates energy wasting conventional power strips by implementing the same automatic shut off feature found within computers. Once you turn a plasma television off, a smart power strip automatically cuts the power drawn from an electrical outlet. Energy efficiency experts estimate that smart power strips save homeowners more then $100 per year in energy costs.

6. Ceiling Fans Require Less Power

Air conditioners spoil us by producing a steady stream of cooler, drier air. However, far too many homeowners blast the AC from the first hint of spring to the last gasp of autumn. Air conditioners guzzle energy, especially in homes that leak in hot, humid air. Window units might be the most inefficient home appliance of all. The answer to air conditioner energy waste whirls fastidiously above you hear in every room of your home. Ceiling fans push warm air down from the ceiling, which provides a heating benefit during cooler months of the year. Strategically located ceiling fans can reduce HVAC energy waste by more than 10%.

7. When Shower Drips are a Good Thing

We know that a dripping shower wastes water and hence, energy. A shower head that includes a drip features allows you reduce the flow of water, while you lather up with soap. The water reduction feature appears to save little in energy, but every bit counts in the effort to implement home improvement ideas to make it energy efficient.

8. Add a Layer of Heat Loss Protection

Sealing home windows airtight goes a long way toward saving energy. Advanced technology has taken airtight windows one step further by introducing smart blinds. Cellular and honeycomb blinds work in tandem with windows to reduce heat loss by up to 86%. Smart blinds operate on a timer switch that you set at night and an automatic daylight detector for daytime energy savings.

9. Second that Motion

We know about the security benefits of installing outdoor motion sensor based lighting. An added benefit helps you save energy and thus, lower your monthly utility bill. Motion sensor based lights automatically turn on, whenever the sensors detect movement. Many systems don’t turn on for smaller animals, which saves you even more energy. Ensto puts the savings on lighting costs around 60%. Motion sensor lighting systems also make it convenient for you to move about the deck, with your hands full.

10. From Dusk to Dawn Energy Savings

After hosting an outdoor bash, we sometimes forget to turn off the outdoor lighting. This act of forgetfulness adds up in higher energy consumption. Dusk to dawn LED light bulbs automatically turn off at a certain time to prevent energy waste. Of course, we have already discovered the energy saving benefits of LED bulbs.

11. Here Comes the Sun

Far too many homeowners avoid solar powered energy systems due to the false belief the systems put a large dent in the family bank account. Although the initial investment runs higher than other types of outdoor lights, the savings accrue after several months in the form of much lower electrical bills. Solar powered outdoor lights can save the typical family more than $30 per year.

12. Change the Air Filters Regularly to Enhance Energy Efficiency

Changing your air filters on a regular basis is another great way to reduce your energy expenses. This is especially true if you spend over $100 on cooling and heating your home. By getting into the habit of doing this, it is possible for you to save almost $50 a year. This amount of savings is enough to pay for the extra filters you will use.

13. Lazy Doesn’t Cut It for Saving Energy

Advanced technology has made us, let’s say, complacent, when it comes to consuming energy. For example automatically operated lawn irrigation systems turn on from the programming of a preset schedule. However, automatic irrigation systems inefficiently use energy. Save anywhere between $10 to $35 per month on your water bill and save energy at the same time by manually operating your lawn irrigation system.

14. Charging Electronics Wastes Energy

We all use smart phones, tablets and laptops in our homes. And with devices getting smarter more apps are being run resulting into more use of battery. So we usually charge these devices at night. For these devices it’s better to use smart charging stations that are either timed or automatically turn off after the device is fully charged. Charging devices are responsible for using almost ten percent of a home’s power, and that’s quite a drain on both energy and finances. That’s why it is important to make sure that you are using the correct kind of energy efficient charging stations, so you can reap the benefits of not consuming quite so much power.

15. Use Smart, Programmable Wifi Thermostats

Smart home automation allows homeowners to have virtual control over everything that consumes energy. Programmable smart thermostats sit at the forefront of the home energy efficiency movement. Smart thermostats automatically adjust to account for the time of day. You program smart home thermostats from your smartphone. Save nearly $200 per year by switching to smart thermostats.

Owning a home requires a lifelong financial commitment that includes finding ways to save money on energy consumption. You don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to reap the rewards of implementing home energy saving practices. In fact, most of the measures for saving energy involve little or no financial investment.

5 Home Tools You Never Knew You Needed

When it comes to home improvement, we know the drill (see what we did there?): Get a good hammer, invest in a screwdriver, make sure you have pliers, and so forth. But even with a stocked toolbox, an easy weekend revamp can quickly turn into a sawdust-covered mess.

Unless, you make sure you’re prepared for anything by adding a few extra tools into the mix. You probably never knew you needed the five tools we rounded up here (and that’s probably because you never even heard of them), but they can MAJORLY rev up your DIY game. These tools are useful for all sorts of projects, from painting the front door to building your own table — and once you start using them, you’ll wonder how you ever worked without them.

Roll up your sleeves…

1. A non-contact voltage tester
This little gadget is ideal for newbies to home improvement, as it checks to see if your outlets are safe to work with. After you’ve turned off the power to an electrical outlet, plug this pen-like device into the outlet to make sure an electric current isn’t running — that way you’ll know it’s safe to unscrew the outer plate or re-jigger wires. The tester works for appliance cords and light fixtures, too.

2. A laser level

Unlike your typical bubble or “spirit” level, this thing emits a laser beam to keep things perfectly horizontal when you’re cutting beams or nailing in shelves, frames and mirrors. It also emits a vertical beam, which helps for installing plumbing.

3. A pull saw

If the word “saw” sounds too heavy duty, here’s an alternative. Pull saws have tiny teeth and a sharp, easy slice, as they cut on the “pull stroke,” aka when you pull the tool toward you. Use them on wood blocks, lumber, or hard-to-reach places that need a clean cut.

4. A paint sprayer

Why use a big roller when you could spray an entire gallon of paint in nine minuteswith this little guy? It’s ideal for getting a smooth coat on your door, wall or furniture — and it sprays sealers and stains, too.

5. A stud finder

You know when you’re hammering a nail into the wall and suddenly hit a studburied waaay in there? Yeah, that won’t happen anymore with this brilliant invention– it can tell if there’s metal behind the wall, under a floorboard or in a ceiling beforeyou start hammering.

5 Home Renovations You Shouldn’t Do Yourself (And Ones You Can Tackle Instead)

With the new year comes resolutions for both yourself and your home. But before you tackle that big interior overhaul… don’t.

Last month, real estate site Zillow Digs polled homeowners who had completed a DIY home renovation within the last three years to find out how they feel about their projects in the aftermath. The results were not so promising: More than 40 percent of homeowners said they regretted undertaking large DIY renovations such as refinishing cabinetry or expanding a room, as projects like these went over budget at least 20 percent of the time. Survey responders had the most regret over the following projects:

  • 5 Refinishing or reinstalling hardwood floors

So if an update is in order, what’s a homeowner to do? It’s tempting to go big onDIY improvement, said Zillow’s Alexa Fiander. But homeowners often forget that large-scale DIY projects require special carpentry or electrical expertise, as well as LOTS of time.

Instead, Fiander recommends small fixes like replacing light fixtures, replacing cabinet hardware and giving rooms fresh coats of paint. These easy, quick projectsleft homeowners regret-free more than 80 percent of the time, Zillow’s survey found. (Bonus? A white paint job could make your home sell faster, if you’re in the market.)

The best DIY revamp, however, may be a simple cleaning session. Many experts, including HGTV’s Nicole Curtis, say decluttering before you do anything else will help you appreciate your space and renew your eye for design, thus eliminating the need for all those renovations you had planned.