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Please note that this review is for the Lego Mindstorms NXT2.0 Educational Kit which incorporates the Intelligent Brick.
As an ICT teacher I was looking for a product to make learning about Control in ICT a little more engaging. I stumbled across an advert in a trade mag for the Lego Mindstorms Kit and decided to risk a couple of thousand of my budget on a set of 8 of these.
==The Kit ==
The intelligent brick is the hub of the kit, it communicates with the sensors and controls the motors and actuators that you can connect. It also has a rechargeable battery pack and a bluetooth connection enabled.
Aside from the brick, light, sound, movement and contact sensors are included, along with 3 servo motors and some LEDs built in to Lego bricks.
There is also an abundance of structural lego which can be used to build the core robot and to further modify it.
==The Concept ==
Build your own Lego robot and either using the basic controls on the brick, or the PC software included, Give the robot instructions to react to various senses.
==The Reality ==
Building the bots proved great fun to my 6th form class, the instructions were clear to follow and they did not take too long to get them up and running. At the time we did not have the software installed so we used the controls on the bricks to try some basic rprogramming. Within 40 minutes we soon had a fleet of robots following paper trails on a dark floor!
Not cheap at about £250 a pop. I certainly wouldn't buy one outside of an educational context. However they are inspirational in the classroom and have the power to engage children of all levels. The software allows for far more detailed programming suitable for Advanced level pupils.
Ahh, the software, once it was finally installed I realised that this is where the whole thing i s a little bit of a let down. NXT-G is a built in language that Legfo provide. It is a kind of quasi graphicla language that almost works like a flowchart. My pupils found it difficult to understand or inflexible in getting the results they require. There are other 3rd party languages that will work with the software which I am told are more efficient and effective but as they are not included I will not review them here
Build your own robot and then make it do stuff. It's every boys dream! Great fun and with real educational value. I am very pleased that I got these for our school.
This review also appears on Ciao under the username "thejazzyj" :)
I bought this drive as a replacement for an old 80Gb Freecom drive and I have been very impressed. I opened it up and was immediately impressed by how small the unit was it is not much bigger than an old audio cassete box (for those of you that can remember the days before CDs).
I was particularly interested in this device as I was after a bus powered drive (it is powered by your computers USB port and not a mains adaptor) as for me being truly mobile is important to me and this allows me to use it with my laptop when I am on the move. The drive was supplied formatted and had an actual capacity of around 480 Gb. The device maximises the USB 2 transfer speed and transfers smoothly. Large files and large amounts of small files transfer seamlessly.
The device comes with a USB cable that has a splitter on the host end that allows you to plug it into 2 USB ports in case one doesn't provide enough power. I haven't found that it needs this on any of the 4 machines that I use. The device itself is a stylish mix of glossy and matt black with a nice convex shape around the edges. It lies flat and has a small footprint. There is also a power/activity blue LED which lies just above the USB port. Personally I would prefer this on the opposite side but that's because I like my cables at the back. Still that is purely cosmetic! The drive is virtually silent in operation - it is easy to forget that you have it attached.
Review also on Ciao
I teach Java to sixth formers and every year I get al least one who goes against what I say and ends up buying this book. On the surface I guess it looks attractive, 24 hours to learn a new programming language? Sounds great.
Having read through the book it doesn't do a bad job of teaching the very basics, data types, functions, procedures, assignement, iteration, selection all covered.
There is example code for people to try and the book extends to some simple User Interface work. The problem for me is that it skims over so much. At no point are people taught about sound programming concepts or the thought processes behind how you go about designing and creating a program.
The book also splits things down into "hours" to give you an idea of how far along you are. I decided to give it a try and read through the whole thing completing all the suggested exercises. It took me over 30 hours and I have been programming for years so hopefully avoided a lot of the simple errors.
Firstly I must say that I am not a Microsoft fan. This game pad came with my first PC which I purchased in 1999. It is still going today and is still the only gamepad I own. If it broke, I would look to buy another one. This pad is great.
Lets start with the looks.
This pad is a big, chucnky black affair with dark grey buttons (6 on the right, 2 triggers, 1 centre button and a start and select button sunken centrally) and a round with raised cross D-pad. It comes with a wire of approx 1.25 meters length which is long enough top reach around the back of your PC and still give you some slac k to play with.
The MS software that comes with this pad lets you set up custom profiles for individual games which means that the pad will know what buttons to assign to what commands - a really useful time saving feature.
This pad fits wonderfully in the hand, it looks too big, but when you pick it up it fits snugly in the hands with all the buttons in easy reach. The D pad is comfortable to use with little pressure on the thimbs.
I have a very old one of these with an old Gameport connection (I have moved my old soundcard between my last 3 PCs to keep this pad!) However I understand that the recent editions come with USB connections. The Gameport version has a removable cover below the cable entry which allows you to daisy chain more controllers.
A superb, easy to use, customisable, versatile pad.
My discovery of these little gems was a few years ago, I have always enjoyed the odd chocolatey biscuit and decided to give these a whirl (no pun intended!)
A nice big picture of what awaits you inside adorns the top of the packet. The Fox's logo is also there suggesting quality. Internally the biscuits are held in a plastic tray divided into sections, each of the 5 sections holding 2 biscuits.
===Nutritional Info ===
4.5g of which sugars
2.6g of which saturates
Not the healthiest I guess, but hey - it's a biscuit with chcolate - what do you expect!
Initially I didn't know what to expect from these biscuits - would the chocolate be as nice as on a chocolate hobnob? Would the biscuit let it down? As soon as I bit into the first one I knew I was on to a winner.
The Biscuit is extremely smooth and buttery with a slight salty edge that is complemented exceptionally by the sweet smooth chocolate. Moreish is an understatement. rarely do we open a pack of these without finishing them!
At a price point of approximately £1 in the supermarkets these woprk out at 10p a biscuit, I guess this is expensive in the grand scheme of things but they are delicious and I happily pay that price.
One of the best tasting biscuits out there! I would love to see more in the packet though!
Review also on Ciao.
I have always been a fan of Sports Management games ever since growing up with Championship Manager on the Amiga. I saw this game advertised on Steam and decided I would like a look at it.
Having downloaded it through Steam I cannot comment on the box, however I will assume that the manual is the same as the PDF one available through Steam.
The game looks good from the start with bright colours and predominantly yellow (it is after all endorsed by the Tour de France). The initial menu takes you through the options well and directs you to the right starting point.
Gameplay is split into 2 parts, the management of your team and the actual races. The management section feels weighty with a host of options including purchasing equipment, organising training camps, selecting riders for events, arranging sponsorship and sorting your team roster. As well as this there are all the league tables and performance graphs that you would expect from a sports management sim. One complaint in this section is that the menus are rather hidden away at the top and do not always contain what you might expect, however within a game or 2 you are soon used to it.
The second game section is the 3D race engine. This is an excellent graphical representation of the race with all the riders being modelled individually with the correct team kits and even different bikes. It looks stunning and there are a variety of camera angles for you to enjoy. The best part about this section is that you can influence the race. It is not simply a case of giving your riders pre race instructions and then sitting back to see what happens, you can interact with each rider in your team, telling them to make a break or conserve energy and even asking them to sprint.
I won't go into all the technical instructions that you can offer your riders but suffice to say they are vast. You can ask a rider to follow another or to chase down breaks, you can even tell a rider to go pick up refil drinks for others.
For me this is the section of the game that is most enjoyable as you try to work out a strategy to take 1 of your riders to the line.
If this isn't your thing you can simply simulate the races with you giving each rider a pre race instruction, but surely that's not as much fun!
Overall I found this game had a steep learning curve (definitely one to read the manual first) but once you get into there is such a plethora of options that you get immersed in no time at all.
It is with regret that I am writing this review. I sit looking at a laptop that I am about to replace. I have owned my Thinkpad R61 for 4 and a half years and have never had cause to complain. However I have now cracked the screen and realise that it is probably time I updated.
Ok, lets be honest, none of the Lenovo range are going to win awards for looks. It is square and boxy in a nice rubberised matt black finish. The battery protrudes from the back like a spoiler on a car! The keys are a glossy black plastic with a trackpad that is top and bottomed by mouse buttons and the ever present "nipple" living between the keys that allows you to track with the mouse.
The screen has a matt finish which makes it difficult to see in bright light conditions. In addition there is a power brick which is approximately 15 cm * 6 cm by 4cm. The leads attached to this are a little on the short sizde meaning you will need to be sat close to a power outlet if you want to charge or run on mains.
For it's time this was a bit of a powerhouse being one of the earliest dual core laptops with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor runnig at 1.8GHz giving ample processing power which is backed up with 2Gb RAM which allows you to run a reasonable amount of applications at once. I am sure this is further upgradeable but I am reviewing this as I have it which is straight out of the box! The Hard drive is a modest (nowadays) 160Gb which in real terms once the OS is stored and you lose the inevitable bit for formatting allows you approx 120Gb of storage space. Not toos habby in it's day!
Loads of options here with Firewire, Bluetooth, 3*USB ports, VGA out, and built in wireless. All in all not too bad. Couple that with the DVD ROM drive and you have a machine that can handle most things. Oooh I just remembered it also has an SD card reader, a godsend in terms of speeding up photo transfer from my various cameras.
I find this machine a breeze to use, the keyboard is well layed out with the trackpad being nice and responsive. The screen brightness is one winge and the maximum resolution is not as high as I would like. It is not the lightest of laptops with the battery being particularly heavy, however a single charge will happily give 5 hours usage. The sturdiness is one of it's defining features, It has been nudged, dropped and generally abused for 4.5 years and I finally finished it off by leaving a pen on the keyboard when closing it!
I will miss this laptop, the newer thinkpads have abandoned sturdiness for looks and I think that is a mistake. Sturdiness defines this laptop along with the cutting edge tech when it was released. If you still have a working one of these, enjoy it. One day you too will mourn it.
Clotted Cream is a real Cornish delicacy. I grew up eating Roddas with many deserts and like to keep a pot in the fridge.
A nice traditional looking design adorns the plastic tub and clear plastic lid. The design features an old fashioned milk maid carrying pails of milk. The packaging leaves you in no doubt that the cream is Cornish!
==Description of Product==
Clotted cream is a very thick cream which has a similar consistency to your average cheesecake. In the tub there is generally a layer of (crust on the top, which when you break through reveals the lovely smooth cream beneath. The crust is just as tasty and still perfectly edible, however it does have a different texture.
It is hard to describe the flavour of clotted cream - it is more subtle than double cream and the smooth texture adds so much to the taste. It is the perfect accompaniment to virtually any dessert with Xmas pudding being one of my favourites. Of course the iconic Cream Tea in cornwall features clotted cream on top of jam on top of a scone. Delicious.
If you live outside Cornwall then you can get 8 ounces delivered for £4.45, however it is about half that price in the supermarket!
Roddas is the original and best clotted cream. Others have tried to break into the market but Roddas is in a class of it's own. When she was still alive the Queen Mother had a delivery of this every week - it is easy to see why!
This for me is the best war film ever made. It may not have the action that some others have but the emotional buy in and reaction that it inspires is unbelievable.
Three big names in Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz head the cast however you will recognise many other faces in this (Bob Hoskins, Ed Harris etc).
I won't write too much here as I hate giving away things that people would enjoy finding for themselves.
This film is set in Stalingrad in World War 2 and focusses on the German assault on Russia. In particular it focusses on a young russian from a rural background who gets conscripted to fight. The film opens with a russian assault on a well fortified German position. As the russians are urged into action with a rifle between 2 people they are mercilessly gunned down by German machine guns. As the Russians try to retreat they are then shot by their own Officers for cowardice.
The film centres on the main character and also a young officer/reporter who form an unlikely allegiance. The young soldier proves to be a crack shot and the reporter inspires the nation with propaganda stories about his friend.
All well and good until the Germans bring in a big shot sniper of their own charged with the killing of the youngster.
Add to the mix a love triangle and some genuinely heart warming moments and the film is electric. It is edge of the seat stuff.
Tremendous production and direction as well as excellent sets and scenery make this extremely watchable and helps to ensure that you can relate to the characters involved.
A good set of extras (documentaries, biographies, commentaries and deleted scenes) make this excellent value at just under a fiver from Amazon. this is a film that I can happily watch over.
Review also on Ciao
As a teacher, there is nothing worse than a dirty whiteboard. The buildup of months of my scrawls makes it dull, streaky and hard to read. Sure I have a whiteboard eraser which removes the markers to some degree but after a while the board is notably "unwhite". I ordered these through the Consortium at a cost of £4.99 per bottle.
The container itself is approx. 18 cm tall and 5 cm in diameter with a pump action nozzle which diffuses the liquid as it exits. The label makes it clear what the product is for and also specifies that it is an alcohol free product. It also shows a warning that it should not be swallowed and should be kept out of the reach of children. The bottle contains 250ml of cleaner.
The instructions explain that you should spray the fluid onto a lint free cloth and then wipe the board clean. Other than this the instructions are scant and written in very small font on the label.
When used properly this product works well, removing streaks and drying to a glossy finish. It happily removes all evidence of thge various brands of dry wipe marker that I use regularly. It has even removed evidence of using a permanent marker once accidentally. It is easy to use and doesn't smell too solventy like some products I have used previously.
=Overall= I have had one bottle of this for just over a year and probably clean the board fortnightly. This represents great value for money and I am pleased with the results. A little spray goes a long way. My only criticism is the size of instructions and warning.
I discovered Mulligatawny soup in an old recipe book of my Mum's and was blown away by the flavours of this wonderful soup. This review is based on the Heinz version of the soup, available for approx £1.10 for 400g.
Like all Heinz soups you have the familiar red label with product picture on the front looking rather tempting. The label has all the details on the ingredients and nutritional information.
My first thought when I emptied the soup into a saucepan ready for heating was that it looked rather thin. I am used to Mulligatawny being quite dense with the rice and meat adding real volume and texture. The colour was a pleasant reddish brown and there was evidence of the rice.
In my mind Mulligatawny soup tastes like a pleasant mild/medium curry. My first taste of the Heinz version was quite positive. It certainly had some curry flavour and was warming to eat. As I continued through the entire 400g I realised that it wasn't actually as nice as I had thought. The curry flavour began to taste more like curry powder mixed in water and there were not the complex spice flavours that my home made version delivers. The rice was nice but I felt it lacked in quantity. Some of the meaty bits were chewy and not particularly pleasant.
Well, if you are a big fan of curry flavours give this a go. If you have tried mulligatawny soup before I'm afraid this is likely to be a let down.
Review also on Ciao
I stumbled across funkysnooker a few months back and was so pleased that at last someone had had a good crack at an online snooker game. There are hundreds of Pool games online but I love tyhe whole tactical side of snooker!
Branded in a nice green colour the site itself is inviting and offers you the chance to get straight into a practice game or competitive game as a guest. This is a nice feature as many people are reluctant to sign up to something until they have tried it out. The site uses Java as a delivery engine for it's game which works well in the main browsers (I have used in IE, Firefox and Opera without difficulty).
The game of snooker is well represented with arcade and regular versions available (Arcade has 10 reds, regular the full 15) with appropriate table sizes. Gameplay itself is faithful to sooker rules with breaks being built up and play rotating between players. All the fouls are in there and so too is the use of spin on the cue ball. Shooting is handled by the mouse, aiming and then clicking and holding whilst pulling back and forward to generate the shot power. This feels really intuitive and you soon start knocking in shots.
If you sign up you get a ranking which will go up or down as you play other players. This is a nice way to judge yourself and gives you motivation to improve. Regular tournaments are also run which gives an extra dimension to the game. Tracking includes how many games you have played, won, lost and also your highest break.
FunkySnooker seems to have got the balance just right as this game is easy to pick up but hard to master. Just when I think I am on a great run of form I seem to miss an easy red! Tactical play can be rewarded as you stifle your opponent with snookers and I feel that my understanding of positional play has improved since using this site.
Review also on Ciao
If you are into cycling then you should consider whether a Camelbak would be a good investment for you. I have always hated having to remove my hands from the handlebars to struggle with a water bottle mounted on the fram of the bike and then have to look down to replace it. For me this was an issue of safety. A friend recommended a Camelbak and it has been one of the best purchases I have made.
The Lobo is one of the biggest Camelbaks on the market with a 3 litre fluid capacity and a 3.2 litre storage capacity. This is great for chucking a wallet, keys, phone etc in as well as a puncture repair kit. The bag itself is black in colour with grey trim and some snazzy reflective silver detail. It stands out well in the dark.
The padding on the straps of the Lobo make it a very comfortable accessory to wear, this is further enhanced by a series of grooves allowing air to flow between you and the bag. This reduces the sweat generated which is a welcome addition. To keep it in place there are 2 clipped straps that fasten across the chest and below the diaphragm ensuring that everything stays where it should no matter how aggressively you ride.
The drinking tube is guided up and over one shoulder leaving te mouthpiece within easy grasping distance and a short way from your mouth. Once in the mouth all you need to do is bite and suck on the Camelback's unique valve to ensure a steady flow of fluid. As soon as you stop biting the valve seals perfectly ensuring no leakage and no unwanted entry of foreign bodies.
3 litres of fluid is enough for the longest rides and using the Camelback feels very natural. Cleaning is a doddle with the anti bacterial finish to the internal bladder ensuring no problems. The extra pockets are handy for carrying your essentials and you know that the Lobo will not let you down.
I have been a Lindor fan for some time and first stumbled across the variety box a couple of years ago. While I think it is fair to say that the Milk chocolate are definitely my favourite Lindt shows that it is no one trick pony with these other subtle flavours. I shall review each chocolate in turn.
For me this is the greatest chocolate treat ever. The wonderful Lindt milk chcocolate is creamy and rich with a wonderful smell. However the magic happens as this melts away to reveal the wonderfully rich truffle filling. This for me is like liquid gold, easing it's way through your mouth and trickling down the throat.
The white chocolate sweet is extremely tasty but doesn't quite have the quality or smoothness shown in the milk chocolate. Overall it tastes sweeter aned slightly more artificial but in no way does it let the side down - very edible!
I am no great fan of dark chocolate but for me this mirrors the milk chocolate in taste, texture and quality but with a dark and bitter twist. If you like dark chocolate you will love this!
This one is the real oddity of the box with small hazelnut pieces impregnated in the chocolate. While I don't dislike these I much prefer the smooth finish of the others. Once again the centre truffle is dreamlike.
For me these are a luxurious treat, expensive yet worth it! While for myself I would still choose a box of the milk chocolate variety for those who prefer some choice this is a fantastic option.
Priced at approx £6 for 337g these do burn a hole ion your pocket especially at the pace I seem to eat them!
Review also on Ciao
I like Ginger Beer. I like alcohol. I love alcoholic Ginger Beer. Ginger Beer for me has always reminded me of days gone by with the warm tingling being comforting and refreshing.
Bottle wise this looks like any real ale on the shelf. A sturdy stout traditional shape with an attractive brown hue to the drink when the light shines on it. The label is well presented with a thistle flower giving reference to it's Scottishmanufacturer. Once in a glass it has a lovely clear finish with a delicious yellow tint.
I've tried alcoholic ginger beers before and only ever been disappointed. This one however ticks all the boxes. It is smoother than say Idris non alcoholic ginger beer with a less agressive carbonation leading to a more pleasant drinking experience. The flavour is a cross between something like Idris and the real homemade stuff my Mum used to make. There is the right amount of warmth on the throat and the alcohol is barely discernible in the pleasant drink. The bottle reccomends serving over ice, however serving chilled seems to give the same smooth flavour.
500 ml bottle (enough for 2 tumblers)
4% alcohol (similar to a beer)
£23 for a pack of 12 (approx £2 per bottle)
Not a cheap option but one that I will definitely be returning to. This is the kind of drink that is great all year round, I can see it replacing Pimms at my summer barbecues and it is a great drink in the winter as it warms you from the inside out! Delicious and highly recommended.
Review also on Ciao