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Dancing. Not something that is normally top of my hobbies list, I'm more the type to sit on the side tables drinking, pointing and laughing hypocritically. As the years have gone by though, inhibitions have been shed and self-confidence has risen, so nowadays I'm not fazed by making an utter tit of myself all in the name of having a laugh. My little sister is the reason why I became aware of the Just Dance series, and takes the opportunity to rope me into playing using my daughters as a hook. 'Look, watch daddy be funny!' is the usual line to which I then submit. Reservations aside, I discovered playing Just Dance 3 is actually a bit of daft fun; it certainly brings people together for a body wriggling giggle that seems a far way from the giant intimidating dance coin-ops that frequent bowling alleys, shopping centres and such like, usually surrounded by teenage girls squealing with uncontained excitement. As a bit of family entertainment in the home however, this kind of game becomes much more approachable for the more senior of us.
--Care for a Dance?--
Following on from its predecessors of the same name, Just Dance 3 is not a complicated format to figure out. Choose one of the 40 pre-loaded songs, select a mode and mirror the dance movements shown on screen. The better you match the dance, the higher the score. The motion of your body is picked up by the Wii remote, and this tracks your movements. Well, as close as it can. As we all know, motion controllers on all platforms are not always perfect, so performing an award winning double spin step-over with jazz hands may be missed, making you become a touch annoyed having put all the effort in for nothing. This mainly happens with complex foot movements however, obviously holding the controller does no pick this up very well, but it seems pretty accurate and responsive with hand movements. This is good news, as the choreographed dances to each song use a lot of hand movements for this very reason. I would think that the X360 Kinect version would be for unforgiving and track your body better, but this is just a guess. The Wii can suffer from responsiveness issues, but Just Dance 3 is certainly not one of the worst I have played in terms of this dynamic.
--Put your Right Hand in...--
Back to the game itself, Just Dance 3 contains all the aspects from its forerunners, including duet and dance battle modes. It also has many unlock-able modes and songs, and extra routines can be downloaded too, so there is plenty to achieve and expand on, especially for enthusiasts of this type of social party game. Advancements from the previous games include better rendering of the motion-captured figures and more flamboyant visual effects. The most significant addition however is the dance crew mode; where up to 4 players can simultaneously dance at the same time with separate choreography. Not the kind of gamer to usually enjoy such games, I found this format quite entertaining and strangely satisfying having built up a sweat. Of course, this cannot be done without ample space in your home; dancing around in circles and getting in each others way can become ridiculous. I also found that interest in playing is effected by the choice of tracks. Many dance games are full of modern pop rubbish and tiresome R&B tunes which I dislike at the best of times, that's the target audience for the main with these games. This time, it's good to see a better selection on show here; with the likes of Daft Punk and Madness to choose as well as the usual poppy and hoppy stuff. Personally, about a quarter of the included tracks get my attention, but I can see a definite attempt to make it more appealing to a bigger audience of tastes aside from the X-factor fans or bling lovers.
The presentation and dance recitals are stylised with a very sixties/seventies chic; bright garish primary colours, neon highlights and dazzling psychedelic lighting effects set against a black backdrop is the main order of the day. It's a style I actually like, and prefer it to a more modern clean cut look. The figures are not entirely humanised and wear a variety of wild clothing that sets it away from any distinct fashion or genre. Keeping things generic is a good move I feel, and doesn't dissuade music fans are any specific type. It's all very well rendered too; the figures are lucid but remain jovial, the backgrounds fit in with each song but don't distract from the action. The motion capture is top notch, the movement is consistent and the majority of the dances do fit in with the song they represent. The scoring is clear, and guide for the movements is good, and on the whole it's a well shaped and laid out game screen. The selection and menu screens are a bit dull, and not as exciting, and the scrolling between tracks and options seems to falter from time to time. However, there are some touches which make JS3 stand out from other dance' em up's; the band-themed additions to the background and clothing is fun and recognisable, and the overlaying SFX (although used quite sparingly) is fun and appropriate to the tone of the game. As you would have assumed, the reproduction of the music is pretty much on the money. The vocals may seem a little enhanced, and the SFX can sometimes dominate over the drops and crescendos of the given track, but mostly its well balanced and keeps the element of excitement and joy contained.
Unlike some other dance games I have had the misfortune of witnessing, Just Dance 3 doesn't drill home the teen culture hip-ness or hang on the cheesy bygone DJ's favourites, but achieves a balanced mixture of enjoyable songs with entertaining dance routines that even your granny could get involved in. Yes the sensitivity is not A-1, and sometimes it can feel as if you're dancing totally randomly, the game completely missing what you are doing, but it somehow has an unashamed and silly fun factor that even the biggest killjoy would be difficult to ignore. Great for a social mess around in small amounts, it also has the added bonus of being vastly enhanced by the personal consumption of alcohol. Madcap adult antics aside, it's a dance game that can cater for most ages with a bright and unique style. Far from flawless, but one of the better dance games on the market for my money.
Thanks for Reading © Novabug (This review is also published on The Pixel Empire with full permission)
Kitchen essentials appear to have skyrocketed in price over the last few years, so its no wonder that big brand names are being replaced by cheaper budget products, none more so than supermarket own brands. Daisy is Tesco's lower range washing up liquid and provides a good alternative to a certain other brand which shares its name with Peter Pan's nagging companion. Here are my thoughts about this very average but usable dish washing liquid.
--Wait for the Squeak...--
Since being subjected to those horribly cheesy Fairy Liquid ads of the 70s and 80s, When I do the washing up I have an ingrained habit of running my finger over a plate to listen for the squeak. This is a sign that any grease residue has been fully removed. As slightly OCD as it may be, it does work and this is the thing I look for most in a decent washing up concoction. Fairy has always worked for me, but using a cheaper brand can sometimes produce similar results. So with greasy water abundant, in goes a plate and out comes my squeaking finger to test weather Daisy is as good as the more expensive stuff! Does this pass my litmus test?
--Price and Packaging--
The traditional Blue Peter style washing up liquid bottle shape made a departure some time ago in favour of a flat container with flared top edge and a wider nozzle. This shape varies from brand to brand and its pretty much this shape with Daisy. The plastic is quite thin but holds up well, even though the nozzle is susceptible to shattering if dropped. The plastic is also fully recyclable of course.
Tesco have 3 own brand versions of washing up liquid; A extra budget type (with retro bottle), Daisy and then their own premium brand. For the 59p you pay for 500ml of Daisy, it's cheaper than the higher type with little differences in the quality. However, Fairy is nearly 3 times the price for almost the same amount, so it's a reasonable price which ever way you look at it.
First thing I noticed about this liquid is that it appears very thin in the bottle, and so doesn't install me with confidence that it will perform the way I want it too. Time is not something neither me nor the girlfriend wish to waste standing at the sink, so ferocious scrubbing is not welcome. Adding it to hot water, it takes a while to dissolve with a little mixing but fears are put a bay however when the first bits and pieces of cutlery and crockery wash well, and come out nice and clean with no grease remnants. For general diner plates, cups and metals, this liquid works well. After a while, the effects start to wear off and a top up with more hot water is required. Initially, Daisy produces a good amount of fluffy bubbles, but this dissipates rather quickly.
Heavily stained items take a little more effort to clean, but still come up smelling off daisies with effort.(!) Only burnt on remains or dried sticky foods can cause problems, and this liquid just isn't strong enough to really lift off hardened stains. Direct application helps, but I find I get through a lot of the liquid this way, thus removing any possible savings. For the most part however, general day to day washing is just as easy as it is with a top brand, so it does get the job done if slightly slower.
Fragrance wise, I can't really detect much at all. The generic soapy tone is present mildly from the neat liquid, and after dilution this becomes even more distant. After washing there seems to be no trace of aroma at all, something which you still get with higher quality brands. That said, very little soapy smells are left on the crockery, which I find is better. A strong cleaning aroma is not great on plates and pots, and can pass this on to any food cooked or served.
I have pretty robust skin, even if I am as pale as an antiqued ghost, so I find no irritation from this liquid whatsoever. The girlfriend, who does suffer from mild eczema, needs to wear rubber gloves as continued use can cause a little redness now and then. This is normally whist using neat doses on heavy soiled pans; general washing with water does not cause this to happen.
Water, Dimethylol Glycol, Perfume, Citral, Limonene.
Being cheaper than the leading brands and producing good enough results for me, Daisy does what it should do. It's clear that it is not up to the tough jobs without a concentrated splash, and it doesn't hold it's fragrance well, but for the pennies you pay I can;t see no reason to switch back to a bottle costing nearly 3 times the amount.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
The practice of casual gaming was a concept that had a huge growth spurt in the mid 2000s. The Nintendo DS was a major cause of this, with early titles like Nintendogs and Wild Crossing having a big impact. The DS latched onto the more grown-up individuals, with busy hectic lifestyles not having the time for a 3 hour gaming session amidst the pressures of work and family. The ability to play a little bit each day in bite size chunks greatly appealed, and so a direction away from virtual pets to tricky puzzles was inevitable. Sight Training came a year after the steamroller success of Dr Kawashima's Brain Training, with a similar idea, interface and presentation. At first it came with connotations of improving your vision and reactions, although Nintendo have clearly stated this was not the case. As such Sight Training should be taken as merely puzzling entertainment and doesn't improve your eyesight radically. Also in keeping with a more relaxed tone, it comes across as a little more fun and approachable with the inclusion of sport based games and overall far less daunting than the aforementioned Brain Training, but keeps the casual element essential for that trip on the bus or a break at the office.
Sight Training has a basic set up with a predominantly menu based presentation, bold text and basic shapes. You create a personal profile in one of the four available slots, perform a few adaptations of the included activities to ascertain your 'eye age', and from then on set about improving this score through playing the various games and puzzles. Much like Brain Training, it's set out like a calendar and tracks your daily progress as you play. Everyday, it gives you a pre-set eye workout judging from your current 'eye age'. This is a selection of 4 to 5 games to improve your scores on the 5 parts of vision. These are Hand-Eye Co-ordination, Dynamic Visual Acuity, Momentary Vision, Eye Movement and Peripheral Vision. This is a strict, daily routine according to the game, but you are able to play any activity at will providing you have achieved the level needed to unlock them. Only 17 in total; most people with a degree of decent vision should be able to unlock all of these, it's not all that hard. Once all the games are available and the difficulty level is cranked up, things can get pretty though and challenging. However, the 'eye age' results can be slightly off the mark. My mother of 70, who has only 40% of her natural eyesight, achieved an eye age of 49... Hhhhmm. Needless to say, this score can be taken with a pitch of salt but does provide a target to beat nonetheless. That's the overall goal, to better your scores as it is with any video game. Sight Training likes to tell you your eyesight IS getting better (or worse), and like me you may feel an element of truth to this; however no scientific evidence exists to support this.
For a game that focus' on eyesight skills, you would expect things to be presented in a very clear-cut sharp manner. For the most part it is, with pastel colours offsetting against a light blue/grey background. It's not bright or overly colourful, but provides a user-friendly environment that's clean and tidy. The menus are simple to read and understand, with instructions given for every game. It's a shame that these instructions repeat every time you start a new activity, even though the machine knows you have already played it. Eyesight facts and tips always appear after each game too, and quickly begin to repeat ad nauseam. This gets more annoying because the text takes a while to display each time. This aside, it's all easy to navigate around, choosing your daily eye workout or custom game is a breeze. Of the two sets of activities, core skills and sports, the latter is by far the more enjoyable; providing some nice captured animations and realistic settings to pep things up. The core skills are all presented in a black, green and yellow scheme to keep things clear, but it does look a little dull and un-engaging, far removed from the colourful screens of Big Brian Academy or the Professor Layton series. If anything, staring at the same colours constantly puts more strain on the ol' peepers out of sheer blandness. The rest of the graphics are all rather standard, nothing original save for a nice 8-bit style blocky character that accompanies each game. It's the same story with the audio. The usual inoffensive bleeps, clicks and chimes are there to highlight every menu hit or correct answer, the sports games have some decent lifelike samples but I cannot ignore the menu screens' overlaying tune that becomes very irritating. Eventually, you learn to block this music out.
In actuality, all the activities are well designed and enjoyable to play. A few are far too simple; such as the basketball task or box tap, and others are a bit temperamental with the accuracy of the stylus. Both the football games being the worst offenders. That said, it is rewarding to beat your own targets and to improve more on your eye age score, you get a feeling that you are doing good for yourself and thusly this can be quite gratifying. Some of the games like the boxing, number flash and number tap are very addictive, and can be more of an enjoyable challenge. Unfortunately, because of the strict parameters of judging the eye age score, all games can only be played once in a 24 hour period. You can repeat them, but any score achieved will be ignored by the system. This makes the time frame in each day very limited, I would say about 30 minutes to get thought all 17 games of play to enhance your score. The sports games are able to be played in the separate option, but I would have liked a way to have a separate score table that records all the games scores. It would have given more life and attention per day so to speak.
Sight Training is like the little cast-out brother of Brain Training, wanting to be as subversive but not delivering with the technicalities. The various activities are fine for the most part, but it's those little annoyances that make you want to put it down after a few days and pick up something with more grab-factor. On a personal level, despite the lack of proven research, I have found a slight improvement in my eye movement whilst playing other titles, this I attribute to Sight Training somewhat, as it as helpfully told me on numerous occasions. Not completely useless then and an enjoyable title for casual short stints, but flawed in parts. Not 20/20 vision, but not in need of the bifocals either.
Graphics - 6/10
Thanks for Reading © Novabug (This review is also published on The Pixel Empire with full permission)
One of the bands responsible for my submersion into the modern rock genre has to be Muse. I first heard one of their tracks in 2001, and from that moment I was entranced. That track was called 'New Born' and provides fond memories of me and the girlfriend's first trip to Austria. Initially, I was not blown away from the band, but as I heard more of their material, I realised they were something special. They are currently one of the worlds hottest tickets for live shows, and are still producing some excellent music 13 years on from their debut album. Here are my thoughts of their latest long play record, The 2nd Law.
--Muse-ic to my Ears--
Although I discovered Muse just after the release of their second album "The Origin Of Symmetry", I became aware that many others were in the same boat. This album was the breakthrough record, and tracks like the aforementioned "New Born", "Bliss" and "Plug in Baby" being big fan favourites. The following album developed and refined their style even more, with the fourth album "Black Holes and Revelations" took a slightly different electronia-enhanced approach but resulted in their finest work so far. This style was toned down a tad for the next record, and "The 2nd Law" attempts to combine both their classic and more edgy compositions with an even more different direction. Formed in 1994, originally going by the moniker "Rocket Baby Dolls" and hailing from Devon's own small town of Teignmouth, Muse are one of the most popular and well-known English rock bands.
Muse's sound has been described as many things. Progressive rock, hybrid rock, heavy rock, classical and even electronica on it's own. I summarize this as alternative hybrid rock, it's really the best and simplest way to encapsulate it. They use a large range of traditional instruments, combining computer generated sounds, orchestral tones as well as some of the highest vocal skills you have ever heard. The front man of the band is responsible for this, Matthew Bellamy's vocals are incredible, and not just content with that, he plays a variety of instruments such as lead guitar and piano. The other members are equally as important, Dominic Howard takes the percussion and electronic stuff while the multi-skilled Chris Wolstenholme provides the bass guitar, keyboards and backing vocal to name a few. Up until now, they have achieved a good balance of all these factors. "The 2nd Law" is the bands 6th studio album.
Muse's varying styles reflects into their best tracks in a sublime and astonishing manner. I personally prefer up tempo, heavy and catchy tracks, but I found myself loving some or there more plodding softer stuff, rock ballads and generally the more peculiar tracks such as "Citizen Erased". Granted, some of the earlier slower tracks can be a little monotonous, and some later ones a little bit too crazy, but overall their work is consistent, original and defining.
--Packaging and Price--
The usual prices for a single disc CD are available, as well as the 2-disc limited edition with DVD, featuring a behind the scenes look at the making if the new record. Look to pay around £12 for this deluxe edition, £9 for the standard copy and just over £5 for the MP3 download.
Recently many of my favourite bands have opted for the folding card CD case, and The 2nd Law comes to you in this form. I don't like card cases as they are not as durable and lack the protection needed for a CD. This one, although adorned with nice fibre-optic brain stem images and blurred arty photographs of the band, it has wide slots for the discs and thusly causes them to slide out even in storage. Many a time I have opened it and seen the disc fly across the floor. A plastic case would have been better. That said, the booklet is nice, with more themed illustrations and photos set against a black background.
1 Supremacy - It pays to start on safe ground sometimes, and 'Supremacy' is this kind of semi-epic quintessential Muse sound. An ear catching angry guitar intro fades to soft vocals with a backing of a marching band. It rises in parts to a rather brilliant heavy guitar riff which becomes the staple of the track. Speeding up in places, while dropping back down to the riff flow, it's a fluid piece indeed. Some nice touches are added, distortion on the overlaying melody is wonderful, and Matt is in top form with the high vocals and cries. A perfect start to the album, and certainly gets you wanting to hear more. [8/10]
2 Madness - In a completely different tone to the previous track, 'Madness' in under-pinned my a blurred electric vocal sample, a warping synth bass and a constant plodding deep thumping drum hit. Mostly a vocal track, it's slow to get going with little changes as it progresses. The bridge guitar part is a tad clichéd, and the returning drop rather predictable. It's not offensive to ears, but just okay and simply just that. Nothing amazing. [5/10]
3 Panic Station - Seemingly taking cues from Cameo's 'Word Up' and a general sound that bears resemblance to ELOs material, 'Panic Station' in a good example of how Muse can surprise you now and then. Almost poppy and more lighter, it has a fun and lively flow, foot tapping a certainty with Matt taking a more snappy approach to the words. It has sing along aspects, a simple arrangement of a march drum loop and nice big-bands reverberating in the background. I like this a lot, not the usual Muse stuff, but very fitting for them and good to hear something fresh. [9/10]
4 Prelude - Simply a fill-in between tracks; piano, choir and orchestral chords blend nicely to act as a short building introduction to the next track. [5/10]
5 Survival - Again with an ELO-ish stunted vocal and piano inspired introduction, 'Survival' is billed as the leading track and I can see why, it has shades of the former Muse brilliance. A tension building sequence, Matt singing the single lines up until a heavy hit of dirty guitars, vocals reaching the higher screaming echelons and chiming choirs. It's fundamental idea is great, but for some reason I feel it isn't fully polished and doesn't fit together the way it should. Although a lot shorter in length, it tries to mirror the likes of 'Butterflies & Hurricanes', but falls short. Some typical excellent work with the drums and leads as usual however, but it almost feels incomplete. A shame, because it has the potential to be a truly epic track. [7/10]
6 Follow Me - A vocal starting point, the sound of doves among the strings in the background, you think this may become a lengthy rock ballad. This changes when the bass and drums start rolling in, Matt changing his voice to a call to the masses and all of a sudden, Bang! Dub-step phasing bass and synth make a very surprising appearance, something of which I did not expect from Muse. Reading the booklet notes, it's no shock that this additional sound is provided by clubbing dance outfit Nero. It almost works too, it's a very good track, I love the reverbed pitch changes in the bass in particular, but Matt's voice does not quite belong against the backdrop of the dance music bed. Or course, I found myself singing along, it has that draw factor, but something tells me this is not the sort of sound Muse will or should try again any time soon. [7/10]
7 Animals - Going into a more softer and flowing realm, 'Animals' is an execution of some of the best Muse material that takes a more alternate but recognisable direction. Well, sort of. Matt is again making fine soothing sounds common with the more docile Muse tunes, but it's the retro but superb melody guitar that wins this one over for me. Reminding me of Mike Oldfield's works and even a touch of a Radiohead in there, this is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Dipping out to bridges of typical Muse eloquence, it has something that I find very enjoyable for the soul. Radiohead fans would echo this sentiment and 'Animals' is probably the most accomplished track on the disc. [9/10]
8 Explorers - Simple mild piano's and whispering vocals instantly make you aware that this is a more usual Muse ballad. Strings are prevalent here, drums providing an equally mild support against the piano, strings and vocals. Personally, I find this a little dull and boring, kind of drawn out for the sake of it despite the fine production qualities. I don't like a high supporting group vocals, there is no catchy tune or riff, it's almost like an eighties drama show theme it seems. Not one of their best it has to said. [3/10]
9 Big Freeze - Some nice drum rim tapping starts this off, with some cheesy backing vocals echoing Matt's introducing verses. Again, it seems to be missing the oomph that you come to expect with Muse. Like 'Madness', it's not a bad track, but just doesn't deliver what you want. It has some cheeky funky guitar strumming, good string stretching and some milder big drum drops, be it still leaves me unsatisfied. Matt also seems to be trying to force the issue with the vocals too, and doesn't feel an organic as it should. [5/10]
10 Save Me - With Matt taking a backseat in the singing duties, this acts as a showcase for Chris to try his hand at making his own vocal skills shine through. While he has always done a fine job with the backing vocals, he doesn't have the penetration and octave range of Matt and this is clear from the outset. The guitar and drum arrangement is very basic, no major drum drops or solo spells as the whole song is hinged around Chris' harmonies. He does a fine job too, not the highest of talent in the voice department, but reminiscent of Athlete, Embrace and possibly Coldplay. A pleasant track, nice to listen in the background or whilst doing a task, but not the most memorable groundbreaking. [6/10]
11 Liquid State - This instantly reminded me of Muse's earlier track 'The Small Print', starting in a similar fashion. However, it has more familiarity with some of the american pop-rock such as the likes of Blink 182. Chris again takes the microphone, Matt seemingly on a break from the studio. This style is more suited to Chris' vocals, more rocky, up tempo with some nice bass riffs and guitars. Very short, but not a bad little blast. [7/10]
12 The 2nd Law: Unsustainable - Sample heavy, some nice epic big band chord hits and a solely more electronic sound in its entirety, it doesn't sound like a Muse track at all and would feel more in place on a Skrillex or Pendulum record. The only hints of its Muse connection would be the backing apocalyptical chords and Matt crying out over the loud, distorted bass synth and the slow drum & bass loops. It has obvious environmental and political statements to deliver with the robotic speech samples and squealing high tones. This is fine, although I'm not a biggest fan of this kind of message transference. Very enjoyable in a short and sharp shock kind of way, but not what I expect from Muse, and I'm not sure I can say I like that with any certainty. [7/10]
13 The 2nd Law: Isolated System - Staying with the synth/orchestra mixture, this time more sinister. With more urgent but darker chords and choirs, the haunting piano riff running throughout is wonderful. It sounds more mellow than 'Unsustainable', but share it's cues. For the first time I can ever remember, this is a full length instrumental composition; not a single vocal is uttered apart from the newscasters samples. The two tracks together are suppose to be the headliner for the album, but veering to the dance/ambient direction is not what a Muse fan is looking for. I was expecting a rousing epic climax with plenty of big drum riffs and loud guitars, but get a slightly gentle electric infused finish that ultimately is disappointing. I like this kind of music don't get me wrong, but not coming from Muse. [7/10]
All tracks Written and Produced by Muse (Matthew Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme, Dominic Howard.
Additional Mixing by Tommaso Colliva
Additional Vocal Production by Paul Reeve
Mastering by Ted Jensen
Released by Helium 3/Warner Music UK
Total Length - 32.27 minutes
It's an odd one this, like two different albums mixed together to form one. Certain tracks are classic Muse, some are inspired with new additions such as 'Panic Station', but I don't feel comfortable with the heavy use of samples, extended synth, orchestral strings and computer sounds. I just doesn't justify what Muse are about. Glimpses of brilliance are in this record, and more of that should be included, not chilled-out cordial tunes or dub-step driven tracks. Overall, it's a fine album, but in my personal opinion Muse's weakest so far; nowhere near the heights of 'Absolution' or 'Black Holes and Revelations'. A bit of a let down, but still a must for any Muse fan and maybe for some dance fans to take a look at. Good, but not Great.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
Last Christmas we decided to get my eldest daughter a more advanced gift, and as 2012's holiday season is looming towards us now, I thought it would be good to share my thoughts about this nifty little device. She was always wanting to play with the girlfriends Nintendo DS or our smartphones, so we bought her her own handheld console designed specifically for young children. This is not only for games, it's also education and provides an excellent alternative to damaged mobile phones or destroyed adult consoles. Here are my thoughts about Leap Frog's Leapster Explorer handheld console, the PSP equivalent for toddlers.
--Leap Frog, 21st Century Style!--
Gone were the days when Leap Frog meant jumping over your friends back in the playground. Today's ridiculous H&S rules would more than likely prevent that simple innocent fun anyway. The modern day brings a new Leap Frog, a US based educational entertainment company that produce specially designed interactive books, consoles and tablet computers for children aged 3 to 9. These systems mirror the adult counterparts and thus make your children feel more involved with the common household technology. During the early years, Leap Frog merged with various technology and educational firms, and in 1999 released the Leap Pad educational computer book which became their flagship product. They have also developed strong connections with reputable entertainment companies like SEGA and Macromedia, and develop the machines and software together. After several more successful handheld machines, they released the Leapster Explorer in 2010.
In an obvious attempt to emulate the feeling of holding a Playstation Portable or Nintendo Gameboy, the Leapster Explorer is designed to feel and look like the fun games machine a child's parents or siblings may have. It has game cartridges, downloadable media, e-book compatible and video and picture facilities. All the current Leap Frog interactive machines are compatible with each other, the games for the Explorer work with the newer Explorer GS for example. Although this model is green coloured, there is also a purple coloured on too (Pictured), both can be used for both girls and boys, Leap Frog not using the typical Blue/Pink choices.
--Price and Packaging--
With a nice sturdy folding box matching the colour scheme, bubble bags and a card insert protect unit inside. It's all rather exciting for a child opening it up, like a treasure chest of sorts. The included guide tells you in straight terms how to operate and connect to the computer for updates, downloaded software and such like. It's high quality packaging and gives a good impression of the quality of the machine itself. The box should be kept really, but it is recyclable of course.
Since this is the older model, the newer Explorer GS replacing it, the prices can vary from different retailers, normally between the £35 up to £60 mark. We paid £39.99 for it from Argos last year, so shop around. It's cheaper than the GS model due to it's age, but all the released cartridge software and downloads are compatible anyway. The cartridge games start from £9.99 and the downloadable games and storybooks start from as little as 99 pence.
--Looks and Durability--
In outward appearance, the Leapster Explorer's shape has a lot in common with the old SEGA Game Gear. It has rounded edges, smooth surfaces, chunky control buttons and a large stylus that tucks neatly away in a slot on the back. Unlike the Nintendo DS, the stylus as attached via short cord so misplacing it isn't a possibility. The major operational buttons are smaller and set into the unit to avoid accidentally switching it off or turning the backlight off. The screen is heavily bordered by the body of the console, and thusly is not as large as you would expect, but still enough to view things clearly. The game cartridge socket in on the top edge, and leaves the game flush with a lip to pull free, again making sure it doesn't fall out whilst playing. The power input and headphone jacks are on the bottom, and oddly so is the expansion socket for additional peripherals such as a camera. It is annoying that a camera is not built in, an so has to plug into the bottom, making the handling of the machine a little trickier for smaller hands. The two tone colours of green and white plastics is appealing for a child, and gives it it's fun-toy qualities (remember, this is an educational toy). On the back is the battery housing, which unfortunately protrudes out quite predominantly, again effecting the weight and handling. That said, rechargeable battery packs and power adapters can be bought, negating the use of standard AA batteries.
Since this kind of device can be delicate, Leap Frog have done a good job on making it as hard as nails. The plastic is thick and well put together, the screen protection good without losing sensitivity, and stylus' cord is strong and even the sockets secure the plug in's tightly. Since we have the external camera, I was suspicious that it would brake off the moment the console was dropped. However, after many a tumble, it still works perfectly if a little loose in the socket, and the main body of the unit is undamaged, nothing cracked and no buttons have popped out. I find this quite impressive, since is has had a hard life in the hands of my eldest. It's fallen on carpet, wood flooring and even street concrete, the only evidence of the drop being slight superficial scratches to the green parts. It is very durable indeed.
Although the body is tough and rugged, the printed labels, numbers and letters on the various buttons is not quite so hard wearing. The A and B lettering has almost completely worn off, and the pause and play symbols on the smaller buttons have been totally washed clean. Speaking of washing, the unit should only be cleaned with a wipe or damp cloths. It is not water proof and irreversible damage will occur if submerged for any length of time. It's also a bit heavy for small hands. Picking up and general handling of course is not a problem, but dropping it on small toes and fingers will result in a few tears I would guess, but leave no permanent damage.
As robust as it is, if the games and activities it runs are no good then it's all rather pointless. However, from the games I have seen, it's pretty great stuff. Firstly, the main interface is set out very simply, and took very little time for my 4 year old to learn how to load and play the games, set up a profile, take pictures and make drawings. It's all very colourful, vibrant and engaging, with nice bright cheery sounds too, even for an adults eyes and ears. The screen has a good level of responsiveness, it's not too sensitive, just right. The physical buttons on the console match this too. It has included help screens too, which are spoken to the user. As this is an American product, you do have a rather irritating american voice, and this applies for most of the games as well. It loads quickly, but does have a habit of crashing now and then for no reason. This is not common, but it is frustrating for your child, especially if it's mid-game before the game state has been saved.
Included with the console before anything else it put in is a Virtual Pet, which can be personalized by your child, on-board storage memory of about 2GB and software for pairing the device with your computer. This is handy, because you can store downloaded games and books on the computer, and transfer to the explorer as and when required. Parents of course have control of its connections to the computer, and also can set the age and skill levels for your child, which then automatically adjust as your child plays and progresses using the machine. Clever.
The games are all different, and can vary in educational merit. We have one called Mr Pencil, a creative drawing based game which my daughter finds extremely fun and challenging at time. Also, we have puzzle games such as a train track one where you have to lay the track in the right places for the train to complete it's journey. Again, this is popular which my little girl, and is far different from the drawing game. This adds diversity to the fun and learning in equal balance, and for me that's the best and most effective way for children to learn. This machine also does have the effect of your child feeling part of the technology used in a modern household.
Other good points about this system would be the amount of games available, and the fact that story books can be downloaded onto it. It's easy to create a video and take pictures, which can be edited in crazy ways for extra fun. It's a really like a all-in-one entertainment package. Yes, is does have limitations, but all in all it performs to an excellent level. It does however suck the life out of regular AA batteries rather quickly, only about 2 hours playing with heavy usage, which can become very expensive. Investing in the power pack or adapter could prove cheaper in the long run.
Height - 90 mm
Width - 168 mm
Depth - 42 mm
Weight - 794g
Colour - Green/White
Item model number - 39100
Batteries - 4 x AA
Power Input - 9v DC
Storage Memory - 2GB
ASIN - B0038APBDA
Number of Game Players - 1
Although when I initially purchased this console I was skeptical about the longevity of it as well as the appeal to my daughter. I didn't want it to be like a V-tech system with strictly set parameters and big limitations. I was also wary of the fat that it may get destroyed before a month had passed. Thankfully, I was wrong and my daughter has loved it the moment she first switched it on. It stands out for several good reasons, and is no wonder it was awarded with many accolades for educational and playtime aspects. It's built to last, well designed with a simple but easy interface. It has the classic look of many an adult handheld console, with and excellent software catalogue to back it up. More importantly, it is fun and educational at the same time and provides great interaction with your child. For those reasons, I fully recommend this neat little machine.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
Computer peripherals in the modern day come in all shapes and sizes, and from many independent manufacturers. A lot of consumers take a side-step away from these and tend to stick with a well-known brand name, even if this is more costly. But, as I have recently re-built my desktop computer, I have found the costs of trying out unknown and cheaper parts and peripherals has literally, paid off. This is a perfect example, a corded optical mouse from a brand I had never heard off. Here are my thoughts on this USB Optical Mouse from Nexons (iiView).
--A Raving Neon Rodent...--
I'm a sucker for everyday items that look more bright and fun than usual, so whilst browsing for a new optical mouse, the glowing colours that this mouse produces initially draw me in. My previous dell mouse was as dull as ditch-water, and had became unreliable so it was the first part to get replaced. After looking at the stats and prices, it seemed to be worth a punt on purchasing this mouse. I had never heard of Nexons or iiView (Identical product under two different brand names) before, so wasn't expecting much, but I'm quite pleased with the chance I took.
Budget priced computer mice are abundant on sites like Amazon, but few look any good compared to the big brand makes like Microsoft, Apple or HP. This stood out from the others, and certainly looked a little different. The mouse itself is slightly smaller than a regular standard mouse, but not the size of a mini-mouse. It's about 9cm x 5 1/2cm with a cord length of about a metre. It plugs straight into any USB socket and doesn't require any drivers.
--Cost and Packaging--
No costly flash-branded packaging here, it comes in a simple bubble-wrap bag in an padded envelope. Safe, simple and sound. It comes with a simple leaflet for the very basic installation of, erm, plugging it into the computer. Anything electronic costing less than £3 is always going to raise suspicious of quality, but at £2.99, I feel you can't really complain even if it only lasts a month. Thankfully, this is not the case and it will last as long as you don't bang nails in with it. It's available from Amazon from various suppliers, but the price can vary with each one. Look for the lowest price as it is exactly the same mouse.
--Design and Performance--
The outward shape and design of this mouse, whilst not ergonomic, is comfortable the easy to handle. It does feel small in the hand if after using a full sized mouse however, so that takes a little getting used to. The buttons are big enough, give a satisfying click when pressed and incorporate the scroll-wheel nicely. The overall general responsiveness of the buttons and the optical sensor are good, and works on a variety of surfaces. As mentioned before the works straight away without drivers on Windows 7/XP2, but like many USB devices, it can go missing now and then. A reboot sorts this out. The cord is quite a thin gauge, so may be something to watch out for, not too pull it hard or snag on other objects. Finally, due to the very low cost, the whole unit has very little weight to it, so some people may hate this. Personally, I don't mind the weight of any given mouse, so this is not a problem for me.
Performing as an average budget mouse should, things are satisfactory but it's the looks that I really like. It has a black and clear plastic shell, on top of a black plastic base. This lets the light of the red optical sensor shine through, and by adding a blue LED under the scroll-wheel, we get a Red/Blue/Purple glowing, rather tripping-out mouse indeed. With the added retro aspect of showing the insides, it's a neat looking cheese-muncher indeed, and whilst it my not have the ultimate precision of an expensive Jerry, it makes up for it with more interesting funky look. If you have a LED backlit keyboard, it would make a good partner for it. Looks brilliant in the dark too!
For a price as cheap as this, you get what you pay for in the performance department. The mouse works well enough without major issues, maybe not pin-point but good enough for general use. (Maybe not for photo-editing software... etc) This is predictable, but I feel you can't really go wrong with it's compact size and cheeky funky looks. It's not going to last a long time I would think, but should be adequate for a good year or so. Certainly brightens up the computer desk somewhat too. Cheap and a bit of a novelty, good for a backup too and not as bad a little squeaker as the price would hint too.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
With the endless amount of music, pictures and video files we all seem to acquire nowadays, the thought of running out of computer memory space is an all to common problem. Also, computers have a habit of going wrong more frequently nowadays, at least for me, thus you could end up losing precious pictures or valued home videos. Backing up the files is a wise thing to do, and I do this several times over just to be sure. I recently required additional space for my music files and backing up my family pictures, and so went for the portable option of this Intenso USB 320GB external hard drive. Here are my thoughts about this smart little memory board.
~~Please note: This review is of the newer design shape, and differs from the image in Dooyoo's database. Internally however is it identical.~~
Recently I had been trawling the on-line sites for an external hard drive for a while, but I was not really impressed by the look, value or description of the Seagate or Buffalo models. I was looking for something not massive in capacity, but more than 250GB, so the 1TB units costing close to £100 did not tempt me. Forgetting about buying one altogether, I wandered into a store of Maplin's and noticed an offer on their external drives. I honestly had not heard of the brand Intenso before, but after a quick check on my phone, their products seemed to have a good reputation. So the impulse-buyer in me took over, and that was that.
Intenso are a German based technology company with a whole range of computer peripherals such as UBS flash drives and SSD memory cards, but they also manufacture stand alone units like tablet PC's and MP3 players. Their range of products is very neat and tidy to look at, and similar to Toshiba in appearances. However, it's not a surprise they are not that well known, their website is unbelievably basic.
--Price and Packaging--
Like a lot of computer support devices, this item come to you in a sealed transparent plastic box, where the product is tightly fitted inside with very little in the way of inner protection should the package fall. Just a simple card insert, USB cable and a brief instruction leaflet is included. This is odd considering the delicate nature of disc drives, so I would have expected a little more in the way of protection. However, the plastic is fully recyclable so no waste I suppose.
Prices for this model, the 6003610, can be up to £60 in places, both on-line and in the high street. This is the successor to the 6002510 model, which can be found a few quid cheaper. As mentioned, I bought this on a sales offer, so it was a snip at £39.99. Considering the quality and capacity of the unit, I feel this is very reasonable. Currently its available on Amazon for just over £50.
--Design and Durability--
I'm the kind of person that likes a bit of original slickness and fun to the designs of computer kit, even though I can't stand Apple's design cues. The older model of this hard drive was rather more of a flat box, with a shiny finish to the covering. This is the updated model (6003610), and has a more rounded and smooth look and feel. It has a silk finish, which is much smarter I think, more like Toshiba and Samsung products. It's also an ultra-simple design, with the USB socket on the front edge and an activity LED on the top. This light I particularly like, as it's a cool neon blue coloured ring which matches my desktops and mouses coloured neon's. My desk now looks like a bad psychedelia trip on occasions. The light glows dim when the unit is connected, and blinks brightly when the drive is active. With the nice silver line around the border and simple non-intrusive logo of the top, It's a very smart and functional design.
One thing that strikes you about this instantly is that it's very light. Maybe feeling a bit to light actually, the kind of sense that it would shatter into pieces the first time it's accidentally dropped. I have no intention of finding this out however, so my advice would be, don't drop it! Given it's nature as a storage disc, I wouldn't expect it to be as hard as nails, but it does lack a little bit of hardiness to it. The outer covering of mine has already got a deep but small scratch, and I store it in a separate compartment of my laptop bag. No idea how this scratch happened. Unlike a flash drive which can be relativity thrown around the place, this is something to take a little bit of care of, and buy a carry case for it too. Plenty of universal cases fit it without issues.
A lot of us get a little apprehensive when connecting a major device to a computer, hoping that it works correctly first time without dealing with installation problems. I'm happy to report that this product works like a dream, with very few issues to even mention. The unit comes with a metre length UBS cable for you connect it to your computer, and after few a few moments, both my ageing laptop running XP and my desktop with Windows 7, installed it quickly and was ready for use straight away. Using the connection removal tool on both operating systems, you can disconnect it safety. Again, this takes just a few seconds. Nice and easy.
In operation, access to the drive files is quick with very little lag. This is a very good for an external drive without an independent power supply, so I was pretty impressed. Creating folders, transferring standard documents and music takes seconds depending on the file sizes. Copying picture and video files can take a little longer, and there is a small amount of delay when moving these files, even single items. This seems to mostly be for larger video files however. Both my USB flash drives are quicker, but given the vastly different memory capacities this is understandable. It also seems to have a lot more memory than it says it has. I managed to transfer the majority of the files from both my computers, around 180GB, and there still appears to be nearly half the drive available when if should be over this mark. Even though its only 320GB, there is plenty of space for making essential back up's for most regular computer users. I would suggest that if you have a lot of video files, use a larger model with a separate power supply.
Accessing the files on it is also rapid, and performs like the static hard drive in your computer with little little delay, and saving direct to the unit is exactly the same. Quick and problem free. Overall, the general performance is very good in most aspects, and perfectly fine to use as a permanent extension to the computers regular storage drives if you wish.
Height - 128 mm
Width - 82 mm
Depth - 12 mm
Weight - 165g
Colour - Black
Item model number - 6003610
USB - 2.0
Disc capacity - 320 Gigabytes
Disc Size/Factor - 2.5"
Max Reading Transfer Rate - 33MB/s
Max Writing Transfer Rate - 35.5MB/s
Spindle Speed - 5400 rpm
There are a lot of portable external USB drives on the market today, and taking the cost and quality into consideration, I conclude this one is very good purchase. The look is nice and modern, the blue light is a quirky touch and while it may seem a little flimsy, if it's looked after I wouldn't think it would breakdown easily. The outer covered is maybe too delicate, but I cant really fault it on its performance. Despite being a little sluggish with large video files, overall its rather quick to transfer and access files. For a very reasonable price, you get fair bit of memory to have as a handy support to your laptop or desktop as well. For me, a good purchase.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
I'm not a big buyer of jackets, I normally only have two, one for the summer and one for the winter. Unfortunately, i adorned my old winter jacket to attend to a jump start in a rainstorm. In the dark. The resulting mix up of cables and an exploding 12 volt battery rendered my then jacket with more holes than a colander. So with the winter just around the corner, I choose to finally buy something with a designer label. Liking the look of this Superdry Windcheater jacket, I bought it on line and found I was pleasantly happy with the money I had parted with. Here are my thoughts on this snug and smart wind cheating coat.
--Super Branding, Super Pricey, Super Dry--
You wouldn't believe it, but despite the American styling and Japanese designs of their clothing, Superdry is one the brand names of Supergroup PLC, a British fashion company based in the humble surroundings of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Over the last few years they have become a major designer label all over the world, rivaling America's own Hollister Company brand with a range of T-shirts, jackets and hooded tops. They have dedicated branches all over the UK, mainly in the larger towns and cities, with a flagship branch in London's regent street. Just take a look around the next time you are wandering your local shops, and you are bound to see at least one item of Superdry clothing, they are very popular. This popularity also comes from a bit of naff-ness about it, the bright colours and logo, but mostly from the high quality materials. I must admit, it is very comfortable clobber.
As with most designer labels, it also comes with a heavy price tag. I say this, but in all honestly it's not the most expensive with this range of clothing. Some items are ridiculously expensive, but for the most I would say it's just above reasonable. Any clothing range with the celebrity endorsement of the likes David Beckham and squeaking teen crooner Justin Beiber is marketing gold, and for Superdry, it's made them continue to grow and grow.
--Price and Packaging--
Coming to you in a simple Superdry emblazoned polythene cover, I would have expected a little more in the way of protection, but it did seem to keep it clean and dust free in storage and transit. This plastic is also fully recyclable and easy to remove from the jacket itself.
Apart from the branded stores, Superdry clothing is not readily available in just any clothes retailer or department store. A few large chains stock selected items, and I got mine from the on-line Littlewoods catalogue shop for around £70. I paid slightly over the odds because of the installment payment system Littlewoods have. You can buy this jacket from the official Superdry website for £65. I found this out afterwards of course. Live and learn!
--Design and Comfort--
This jacket is of a comfort fit style, not loose or tight but just right, particularly in the torso area. Be wary however, Superdry clothing seems to be naturally smaller than standard sizes, so I brought an extra large when my actual normal size is just a large. It fits perfectly. Its layered with an outer nylon based shell material which Superdry call 'ripstop' fabric, which is extremely light but strong too. It has a kind of crunchy texture, but is not rough or irritating to the touch. The inner layer is not a fleece-like material as expected, but a soft mesh polyester. I was worried about this on first glace, but it's actually very comfortable and easy on the skin. These layers are attached together with quality stitching, but still leaving the inner layer free to move around within the outer layer. The neck line and cuffs have an extra double layer of thick ribbed fabric, the cuffs have thumb holes too or as I incorrectly assumed, watch holes. This is different than the material on the rest of the coat, and is more of an slightly elasticated cotton mixture, as to hug your wrists and neck. All this is quite comfortable with no itchiness or annoyances to speak of. There is also an outer ruff on the neck line too, but no hood. The jacket is machine washable on a cold wash too, but is not suitable for tumble drying or dry cleaning.
On the front alongside the two zip-up pockets, there are three zips, one of each layer of fabric. Two are in the center, and the outer one is outset to left side. The middle one is matched to the secondary colour of the jacket, which is a nice little bit of design. These zips are a tad over the top I feel, because it can be fiddly to do the zips up easily with so many fobs hanging from the teeth. The middle one also has a tendency to stick, and doesn't attach smoothly enough for me. Elsewhere, the design colouring and general shape is good, with a bright and well embroidered Superdry logo on the front left front shoulder, and another alternative logo on the back right shoulder. It also has a mark of authenticity in the form of a small rubber tag on the right cuff. These design traits are a sort of trademark of Superdry jackets and coats, and makes it look modern and stylish. My jacket is in a light blue, but other colours are available such as yellow, white, pink, red, green and more, with the base material always in black. This makes for a good selection, and makes this jacket appeal to both sexes and across an age range.
With all the impressive talk that the company officially give about this jacket, does it really keep me warm and comfy, but more importantly, stop the wind-chill from getting in? On the whole, yes. The outer shell is wipe clean, withstands the odd scuff without damage, and provides a good break against the wind. The inner mesh gives a very nice feel, warm but breathable. The cuffs are useful, and the neck ruff can be zipped up smug, but again without being too tight. I also love the design as a whole, the graphics are eye-catching but also familiar to modern fashion. This make you feel a little better whilst walking down the high street. Mostly I can only speak of positives about this jacket, but I do have a few small issues.
The zips are, quite frankly, a bit silly. It's not a dry-suit after all, so they all seem to be present merely out of a quirky part of the design. If the middle one was missing, the jacket would feel even better, and lighter too. I also wish it had inner pockets, but because of the mesh inside this would be tricky. The zip fobs, while quite fun, are again a little over the top for me. It;s of course not completely waterproof neither, but doesn't claim to be anyway. Shower and splash resistant only.
While you may be able to pick up a slightly thicker and warmer jacket with a lower price tag, this is a fine contemporary item of clothing, which is not only functional but fashionable too. The lightness and flexibility combined with the apparent robustness and warmth of the materials makes me think that £65 is a justified price indeed. Washable and stored easily too, this is a jacket I recommend fully. Great for casual or sporting use, but could also be used for trips out or as an overcoat.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
In 2008, the common soundbite doing the rounds after the Beijing Olympic games was "How are we going to top that?" At the time, it did seem a daunting prospect, none more so than the spectacular opening ceremony the people of Beijing put on. We all had a certain amount of worry heading into the 2012 Olympics in London, and a lot of this focused on our very own opening ceremony. Apart from the show itself, the music that accompanied it had to be right out of the top drawer, and as we all know now, the show was an utterly brilliant triumph. The soundtrack, which was mostly put together by the progressive dance outfit Underworld, had a CD and download release the day after the ceremony. Here are my thoughts on this excellent soundtrack that played such an important part at the start of the London 2012 games.
--Seedy Drug Dens, Teenage House Parties and The Greatest Show on Earth--
When Danny Boyle was commissioned to organize and direct the 2012 opening ceremony, it shouldn't have been a surprise that he turned to Underworld to head the music selections and produce original compositions. He previously had worked with the band to write the soundtrack for his hit film Trainspotting, and the title track 'Born Slippy' became a massive hit as a result. Underworld are the duo of Rick Smith and Karl Hyde hailing from Romford, London. (Very close to the actual Olympic site as it happens). They are known for their movie soundtrack work as well as their huge underground dance scene following. Apart from Trainspotting, their track have featured also in the movies Vanilla Sky and Kevin & Perry Go Large. Predominantly an experimental techno sound, they also have a unique ear for rhythm and the ability to use choirs and strings in their work. This aspect was key in the creation of some of the music used in the opening ceremony, particularly the soundtrack for the Pandemonium sequence.
Working closely with the other music directors of the show, they also had a big say in the other music used such as Mike Oldfield and Dizzee Rascal. Rick Smith was the overall music director, and the London Symphony Orchestra were also used in many of the original tracks and versions of classics such as 'Chariots of Fire'.
--Packaging and Price--
Depending on which version of the release you buy, prices are between £8.99 and £15.99 both on-line and in the shops. This is the two disc version and cost me £10.95 the day after the ceremony. In the typical CD case you get a nice booklet with words about the soundtrack written by both Danny Boyle and Rick Smith, and the usual band profile photographs and track details. The dark blue cover contains one of the images from the 2012 Olympics that will be remembered for all time. A silhouette of gold and white depicting the image of the Olympic flame coming together to form the cauldron, headed by the 2012 logo and matching typeface that became all to familiar in those brilliant two weeks.
~~Disc One - The Isles of Wonder~~
It is kind of difficult to know where to start when talking about the music of the opening ceremony, because it was just so fitting to the event and such a high quality to boot. Well, mostly. (Thank you Paul McCartney!) Thankfully, the album does not contain his poorly performed 'Hey Jude', but focuses on the music that accompanied the show played out. It generally runs in sequence to the show's order, starting with Frank Turner's song that was played at a live event separate to the main show just before. If I were to put the track into a specific catagory that would be difficult, as the likes of LSO, Bach, AR Rahman and Dizzee Racsal is not something that can be put together. The opening children's choirs of the show make lovely renditions of 'Flower of Scotland', 'Danny Boy' and 'Jerusalem'. The latter really tugging my heartstrings as a proud Englishman. The London Symphony Orchestra have much involvment in many of the tracks, including Elgar's dreamy 'Nimrod' and Blanck Mass's 'Sundowner', which was the music that was behind the Olympic torch coming into the stadium. It's classical, but modern in the same breath, and wonderful to listen to away from the awful chart and pop stuff of today's society.
This aforementioned chart crap does of course make several appearances in the show, but is blissfully missing from this album, and only contains either the backing tracks or live performances on the night. While this keeps the content down to manageable levels, i feel a few of the linking music and mix tracks should have been included. The introduction music that accompanies the following of the river Thames sequence is missing, as is Muse's 'Map of the Problematique' which is the track that enters the stadium in the beginning. However, the delights that are on the album make up for this. I highlight a few underneath, but listening to 'Chariots of Fire' and 'Abide with Me' is all very good for the soul, warming and emotional.
~~Disc Two - Welcome~~
This is the mixture of tracks that backed the athletes entering the stadium one by one, proudly following their countries flag. Starting with one of my personal favorites 'Galvanize' by the Chemical Brothers, the mix is mostly comprising of Underworld tracks with many from Drum & Bass artist High Contrast. These tracks are not hard dance or techno by any means however, the more lighter music from these artists. Mixed in with these are a few classics too. David Bowie's 'Heroes' speaks for itself, and the Pet Shop Boys' 'West End Girls' make it's first on many hearings during the 2012 Olympics. More for a dance fan this disc, not as far reaching as the primary disc one, but a nice addition nonetheless.
I Still Believe ~ Frank Turner - This was not a piece that featured in the actual show, but before at a live event in London to get the ball rolling so to speak. It's a jolly guitar driven folk/rock track, that's got a lot of sing-along aspects and is a pretty generic track. References in the vocals to familiar peoples and events with a good string riff make it a nice opener to the album. Turner's voice maybe a little grating for some, kind of reminding me of indie bands like Scouting for Girls, but it's all in good fun and non-threatening to the ears. [7/10]
And I Will Kiss ~ Underworld - Right, deep breathe! This, and I will not be lying when I state this, is the most brilliant piece of music ever written I have ever heard! That sounds like a huge sweeping statement, but let me tell you why I find this music so good. I once thought that it would be difficult to beat my former favorite track (The Box by Orbital) in terms of sheer depth, originality, emotional stirring etc. 'And I Will Kiss' has all the aspects of a genius modern composition, both in live instruments and electronic sound, it has a balance, class and execution I have never heard so excellently played. Taking it's name from a line in Shakespeare's 'The Tempest', I could talk about this track until time runs out, but I'll try and keep it short. It's basically 17 minutes of emotional heaven. This is the track that backs the best part from the show, the transition from quiet green lands to industrial empire, culminating in the forging of the 5 fire rings in the sky. From the first single drum thumps and crowd shouts, to the deep flowing and penetrating bass line and that euphoric synth sequence that runs throughout the track, its captivating and spellbinding. When the chanting of the choirs blends in and fades to the whistle bridge, you are blown away, but that is only half of it. The musical interpretation of a minutes silence plays out so wonderfully, and brings a tear to my eye every time. Just as you are gathering yourself from this, the 1000 drums hit back in and the track continues in building angst and passion. It finally climaxes with a bang of drums and the whistles fade out into silence. Its 17 minutes of bombarding of the senses, and that's exactly what Boyle told Underworld to create in the brief he gave them. He wanted the audience to be scared, absorbed, but mostly be thinking "How are we going to put up with this emotional pressure for 4 hours?" It worked. It's worth buying this album alone for this track, that's how good I think it is. A real modern masterpiece. [11/10]
Tubular Bells/In Dulci Jubilo ~ Mike Oldfield - The part of the show focusing on the NHS and GOSH was highlighted by four Mike Oldfield tracks mixed together, two of which are my favorite Tubular Bells tracks. I title tune, the one used in 'The Exorcist' features prominently, with the others following in. Growing up with my fathers interest in Oldfield it's not music I haven't heard before, but you cannot deny the excellent organisation and melodies that Oldfield creates. The original Tubular Bells is always haunting, and the fun jolly tone of 'In Dulci Jubilo' broken up by the dark techno infused 'Far above the Clouds' is a unexpected combination. The bells ring out loud and the sublime guitar work by Oldfield is top drawer. A bit cheesy for the casual listener, but a fine piece of work and well used in the show itself. [9/10]
Bonkers ~ Dizzee Rascal - Ah, grime music! Developed in the east London area, it's a mixture of rap, dub-step, techno and hip hop, and Dizzee Rascal has skill in delivering it. I'm not a big fan of rap/hip hop in general, but the dirty bass lines, clever lyrics and catchy riffs are quite fun and enjoyable. I have liked most of Dizzee Rascal's material, and 'Bonkers' was one of his more extrovert tracks, but grabs the attention and good mood of the show and plays out well here. Not everyone's cup of tea granted, but good for this to be included for a somewhat modern feel. [8/10]
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor ~ Arctic Monkeys - You would have to be living in a cave for the last 6 years if you have never heard this track, the breakthrough tune of the Arctic Monkeys. Typical English rock as it's best, the monkeys have that knack on combining great lyrics and loud guitars, all made into a very likable song. This recording is a live studio version, but very similar to the live performance of the show. It's a got all the elements of good music. Sing-a-long chorus, head banging drums and memorable guitar riffs. It was another good choice to be used as it's instantly familiar and popular. [9/10]
Caliban's Dream ~ Underworld feat Alex Trimble and other artists - Written specifically for the torch lighting sequence, this track is mostly an ambient tune, vocal hums and choirs aplenty with a subtle bass and plodding quite percussion line. Vocals are done very well by Trimble, who sings in an almost silent state but would it be significant if his voice was missing. Backing vocals are key to this track too, creating a heart pulling and dramatic tension to it all. The strings and synth lines build on this emotion to the track, making to a perfect fit to the ceremony that accompanied it. The chimes of 'la laa la la laa laa laaaa laaaaaaaa' ring into the mind as you picture the cauldron coming together in all it's glory. Wonderful. [9/10]
Music Director - Rick Smith
Associate Music Directors - Pete Cobbin, Allan Jenkins and Kirsty Whalley
Mixed by - Pete Cobbin and Kirsty Whalley
Music Supervisor - Mike Gillespie
Published by Universal UMC
Released by Decca Records
Total Length - 150:02 minutes (2 disc)
Without going out and buying the DVD of the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, this is the best reminder of that fabulous show that made us again feel proud to be British. Although there are glaring emissions from the whole show's soundtrack, the highlights are included on this disc and brings the feel good factor back into the body. Not all the tracks are some peoples thing, but I can't think that anybody could listen to 'And I Will Kiss' and not be taken aback by how emotive and deep it is. Images of poignant meaning are conjured up by this album, to make you remember what we displayed to the world in such wonderful skill and class. You may beat your chest, wipe a tear or hold your head high whilst listening to the music that made one of the best show's ever held for an Olympic games. An excellent compilation of music.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
After having a total calamity of a situation trying to copy all my files from one PC to another, I sternly told myself I needed some extra portable memory. I swiftly did a bit of searching, and found myself a good exterior hard disc and a new USB flash stick for convenience. My previous USB still works fine, but I needed something with a little more zip and bulk. Taking cost into consideration as well, I bought this Kingston Technology DataTraveler 8GB. Here are my thoughts on this neat and tidy little stick of memory.
--Ur' Data on your Travels--
The majority of USB flash sticks are simply a case of plug in and drag files to the relevant window. This Kingston USB drive includes a piece of software called UrDrive. This is basically an automatic updater. If you choose to install the software included on the stick, you're computer will synchronize with the stick every time it's plugged in. You can set the program to transfer the files you want automatically without the need for manually copy and pasting and so on. In principle, this is a great time saving idea, but as I have found out with other software packages that claim to do this, weather it be a mobile phone, Sat-Nav or notebook, things don't always run smoothly.
Personally, I prefer the manual method of transferring data. I feel I have piece of mind that it's done correctly this way. However, I did try the software on my laptop and it did work rather well without any installation problems. The interface is simple enough too, even though it does slow the process up a tiny bit in the first instance. I still didn't trust it though, and double checked the files afterwards. It's a nice feature to include, certainly a little different from a bog standard USB stick, but I give it a miss purely out of my own habits.
--Cost and Packaging--
The price of this stick varies quite a bit. I bought mine from a local high-end computer workshop and thus paid near the full retail price of £9.99. On reflection, I paid over the odds really. It can be found on line for under a fiver, so that's another lesson learnt for me. Impulse buying... and I only went in to inquire about a monitor I saw on sale. Tut!
As usual, this device is packed in a bubble covered card, with a distinctive Kingston logo resembling an Easter Island statue. It's packed tightly, well protected but has no instruction leaflet to speak off. All the information about the UrDrive facility is included on the stick. The card and plastic are fully recyclable of course.
--Design and Durability--
I like a USB stick to look like a USB stick, to be obvious and have a handy ribbon or cord. Unfortunately, this one comes with no cord but does look like what it is suppose to be in a Lego-brick kind of fashion. White and Yellow in design, it's quite an unassuming piece of kit, and could be mistaken for said Lego brick, but it's not a bad shape at all. I do like the rubber grips down the sides however, this makes inserting and removing the stick easier with no slipping on the fingers. Why this rubber strip is not on the protection cap is beyond me, as this sometimes does not come off quickly. It has a tight fit over the USB plug, and can be tricky to remove in a hurry as it is largely smooth surfaced. Also, the gap for a ribbon is on the body side of it, so the cap could be misplaced. This is a design point I dislike from USB sticks with a cord on the cap. No awards are ever going to be given to this for it's looks certainly, my mirrored USB is far more fun to look at.
One thing that did strike me was that it's very light and flimsy to the touch. I would think that any kind of accidental mishap involving something being placed on top of it would cause some damage to the outer casing. That said, the plug is mounted strongly and doesn't move about in the socket, and despite it's feather weight, it can take a small drop off the desk without harm.
The key aspects of any portable memory of course is is it reliable, compatible and fast. Happy to report that this ticks all those boxes with ease. It has had no problems with various operating systems on the different computers I have used it on, simply using the plug and play system. The transfer speed is also very good, faster than any previous stick I have owned. Large files still take a few minutes, but generally it's pretty good using the drag and drop method. Basic pictures and word files move across in a matter of seconds, and transfer in the other direction just as quickly. I have had no compatibly issues to speak off as yet either, and have had no files become corrupt or gone missing , so this all bodes well.
Overall, this may not be the most best looking and designed USB stick; the fact that there is no neck-cord is annoying, but I can't find many faults in it's general functionality. The bundled software, if you choose to use it, works well so people who like this time eliminating aspect will be pleased. The use of it with different computers and operating systems is also fine, as is the transfer speed, capacity and reliability. Even though it's a little on the weak side in build quality, I am quite confident my files are backed up and secure on this device, and it's not a bad price either for an 8GB stick.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
After recently seeing an episode of Man v's Food, it reminded me of my over fondness for toasted cheese sandwiches. So craving some lactose goodness, I hot-footed it to the kitchen, sliced some cheese, got out the ham, put it on the bread and popped it in the sandwich toaster borrowed from my parents. It didn't work. Cursing, I left to go to shops hungry and returned with the cheapest of cheap sandwich toasters. Here is what I have found out about this pretty rubbish product from the Argos value range.
--Deadly Cheese Blisters!--
We all know the situation, much like the hidden lip-burner qualities of the McDonalds apple pie, the toasted cheese sandwich has damaging talents of it's own. That seemingly innocent pillow triangle of bread loves nothing better to dribble its molten contents over the tip of your chin or the back of your hand. It's a trait of the snack, and one that we forgive because many of us have a fondness for these sandwiches fresh out of the Breville toaster. I have vivid memories of my parents management of the pub they owned, with a massive 6 slot sandwich toaster. It got stupidly hot, it was a bugger to clean, but my it made damn fine evenly cooked toasties. I suppose it was foolish of me to think I could regale this from my childhood with a tiny plastic machine that cost's less than the ingredients in the sandwiches themselves. A Breville this is not.
--Price and Packaging--
The Argos Value range sometimes has some excellent stuff in it's ranks, and even when an item turns out to be a useless object to take up bin space, it's worth the risk for the small price you pay. This toaster is a unbelievable £4.96. Less than a fiver! Four loaves of quality bread! So I parted with my money with low expectations, it's certainly lived up to them. A basic card box with a simple picture of the machine is how it comes to you. No plastic packing just card inserts which are all recyclable. The box however has a higher build quality than the toaster.
--Performance and Looks--
Good news to begin with. It came out of the box in one piece, with a decent length cord of about two thirds of a metre. It heats up quickly, and has a cool-touch outer casing so burnt fingertips are avoided. After use, it is also very easy to clean if wiped straight away. Dried food stuck onto the inside will be tougher to shift off the non-stick plates. It's all sealed well, with no gaps for exposure to the internal workings.
Now, all this should be a given with any product of this sort, but what you really want is for it to work well. Unfortunately, this doesn't do that. What is does do is heat up to a temperature that simply is not hot enough to evenly grill the bread, and while it should take a matter of minutes, it's takes far too long to get a sandwich even half browned, while the other half remains soft and soggy. Apart from the lack of a high temperature, the lid needs to be able to seal shut over the bread and solidly lock down. The clip used is made of weak plastic, mounted with a poor hinge and doesn't align with the lip on the base when the lid is shut. It takes considerable effort to lock this down, and even then it is not a tight seal on the sandwiches, causing cooking to slow and moisture to turn the bread soggy. It's basically a very poor design made with poor materials, and unless you physically stand holding the lid down for 5 minutes, it makes rubbish cheese toasties.
Other aspects about its shoddiness are the fact that it's feet feel like they will snap off under any pressure, the size of the non-stick plates are too small for a standard sized slice of bread, and the overall exterior look is dull and featureless. It is extremely light however, so won't damage anything it falls on, but is may destroy itself in the process.
Every so often, a punt taken on a low cost appliance that seems far too good to be true, can pay off. This time however, you get a product as cheap as it's price tag. It's only redeemable qualities are that is it at least quite safe to use and it switches on. Apart from that, this is a poor product that given the chance again I wouldn't accept for free. You would be better off using a regular grill and pushing the slices of toast together, just don't waste your money on this, and spend more on a quality Breville or such brand.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
One of my favourite holiday destinations within Britain is the wonderful county of Cornwall, and until I move to live there, I try to visit it as much as possible. I also try to take in and visit new places around the county, and this time we choose to visit the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in the village of Gweek. I'm a big fan of locally based animal havens such as this, and think it's great that they open to the doors for the public to view, creating an attraction and whilst having the added bonus of bringing essential funds in to continue with their work. I thought it would be an enjoyable day for both myself and my family, and it certainly was. Here are my thoughts on the Sealife Group's National Seal Sanctuary in Cornwall.
--Sealed with a Kiss--
The origins of this sanctuary lie in the coastal town of St Agnes on the Scilly Isles, and is one of those little caring stories that make you proud to be a part of the human race. Ken Jones and his wife lived there, and one day in the winter of 1958 found a baby seal stranded on the nearby beach. He took this seal in and cared for it, and subsequently began to grow his own small save haven for more seals and injured sea birds. News spread about his caring work and both local and mainland people contacted him about other injured and abandoned seals.
In 1975, with more funding available and expansion desperately needed, the sanctuary moved to Gweek near Helston on the mainland, just on the mouth of the river Helford. The sanctuary is now ran by the Sea Life organisation, and is still in a continuous effort to expand and improve it's facilities. While it tries it's best to return many of the seals and other water dwelling wildlife it rescues back to nature, some are injured to seriously to return to the sea, and thus become residents of the complex. While it now promotes itself as a tourist attraction, the work it does is still fine indeed, helping the local animal life around the Cornish shores which would otherwise perish.
--Getting There, Parking and Prices--
Gweek is a very small village in the southern part of Cornwall, only 3 miles outside of the nearest town of Helston. Getting to it by car will require traipsing the narrow B roads such as the B3297. This comes from the direction of Redruth, leaving the A394 at Edgcumbe. Other routes can to made directly from Helston or Falmouth, the latter being about 11 miles away. We made out way there from Redruth, which is about 10 miles and took about twenty minutes in journey time. Bus links are available from Helston however, and national train links are at Helston too.
The entrance is a little tricky to find, just next to the central village store of Gweek, with signposts that need a little enlargement. Our Sat-Nav got confused and took us the other side of the river Helford into a riverside industrial area! However, once located it's a short drive to the car park and main reception. The car park is on various slopes, and a little rough in places, but there are plenty of spaces, around about 120. Additional parking is also available for camper vans and mobile caravans alike.
I must admit, I was a little surprised about the entry fee's. Prices start at £7.20 for an adult. Include the VAT and it's £8.64 each. Children under 16 for just over £6 and under 3's are free. I think this is a little pricey for what you get to see, but it's difficult not to make too many complaints. After all, most of this money does go into the funding of the sanctuary. You can save a little more buy buying a family ticket for £26.64, and another small perk is that the ticket your purchase has a week of lifetime on it. You could return within a week without paying again. Still, I do feel that it's a little over the odd's for what the experience is.
~~The Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Gweek, near Helston, Cornwall TR12 6UG, England~~
After a short queue to the reception desk and paying for my rabble, you are welcomed into a spacey room with various colorful and informative pictures and text to take in about the sanctuary and the seals that inhabit it. The main building is all rather nonchalant, simple brick walls and colours matching the elements of nature. I suppose it's best it's like this for the kind of place this it, but I was I tiny bit despondent, even though the cheery maps and pictures did brighten things up. Children receive a fun questions and answers scratch card, where upon you have to find the questions about sea life scattered around the complex and scratch off the right answer. I liked this a lot as did my 4 year old, very engaging and interactive I feel. She got so excited when finding another question (mounted on bold coloured boards in the complex), it did make me smile. Learning and fun, that's the best way.
After leaving the main building, you can either wait for the 'Tour Bus' (A themed Land Rover with a trailer with seats in it, very Jurassic Park!) or walk up the hill along the riverside woodland to the first seal pool. We chose to walk as the 'bus' was very limited in space and would require more waiting for the next one to arrive. However, it is not a steep incline, and a pleasant walk following the flora and fun animal cut-outs placed along the way was relaxing and not strenuous. At the top there is a Ice cream and refreshment store that included a sand-ornament making activity for the children and more importantly, the sanctuary's special seal hospital which you can enter. Here you get to meet the veterinarians and see the seals recovering from treatment. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your view, no seals were in the hospital at that time, having all recovered from their injuries. On a more practical point, the toilets and baby changing facilities were also located here.
Down the hill beyond the large sign showing the various pools constructed and fund totals, we came to the first pool. Again, I felt slightly disappointed. This was a pool for general wild seals and looked in a slightly shoddy condition. The water was mostly dirty, and little life seemed to be dwelling in it and it's disregarded beach balls and hula hoops stood still and lonely. Suddenly, a pair of dark eyes popped up from the surface and blinked coquettishly at us. In unison we all went "ahhhhhh". That set the tone for the rest of the morning viewing these wonderful animals. Pathways led the way to the next pool which in turn was the first part of the primary complex, and almost right on the side of the river Helford providing excellent views for the eyes to behold.
The next pool is the nursery and weaning pools for the common grey seals. You can either be level with the pool, or stand above on a ridge overlooking it's guests. There were many seals in this pool, and it's lovely to watch them go about their frolicking. A large dark male seemed to be sunbathing on the steps, which we all found rather amusing, and another lighter grey female flopped around the poolside staying clear of the others. We found out later about these two characters during the feeding time. The next pool on housed some South African seals, and the pool adjacent from this had the boisterous and vocal sea lions. Again, all these areas could be viewed from ground level or from above on the higher ground. Opposite all these pools was a good sized gathering area for the visitors, with several shelters, picnic tables and the waiting stop for the 'Tour Bus'. On the ridge above the pool were grasslands for more picnicking and play.
In the middle of this pool arrangement was a modest wooden adventure playground, all in the shape of a pirate ship on soft wood chips, again surrounded by picnic tables. This was all safe for the children and good to let them play for a bit while you take the toll off your feet. The next area however I feel was the best part. In a walled-off small arena, a staff member sits on an artificial rockpool/walerfall and gives entertaining and educational speeches about the work the sanctuary does and the local sea life around Cornwall. I personally found this captivating as did my daughter, and after the speech has ended, guests are invited to have a look first hand in the rock pools in this area, or hold and touch real live sea life, like a starfish or sand-crab. All of my party found this great for us and the children. Rest assured however, the staff are trained well and very knowledgeable, and tell you how to handle the animals with extreme care. No harm is ever afforded to the animals.
More things are in the sanctuary to interest you too. There is a small penguin pool which you can walk underneath with underwater viewing windows, or walk to the top and watch the feeding, and a souvenir shop and eating area located between the pools overlooking the brilliant view of the river Helford and Cornish countryside. We sat here for a few moments, had a bit of lunch and enjoyed the view for a bit. The hot food sold is the typical hotdogs, chips, burgers etc, of course, but not overpriced surprisingly, and of good quality too. After a quick bite to eat, we made our way back to the nursery pool where feeding time had begun for the seals. At this point, the sanctuary was quite busy and the pool was surrounded by visitors. The staff came in with good friendly chatter on the tannoy, telling you about the various seals in the pool and some of their history. We were saddened to discover that the dark male who we saw sunbathing was actually brain-damaged, having bashed his head against some rocks on a local beach. The sanctuary had found him and brought him back to health, but he could never return to the wild due to his new mannerisms. The grey female we saw before, we were told that she must be the most unsociable seal in the northern hemisphere, never interacting with the others at all, and actually coming up to the feeding bucket on the poolside instead of waiting for the fish in the water. It was all entertaining and heartwarming, and such a wholesome experience too. We left shortly afterwards, where at the end we were greeted buy another shop on the exit, and my daughters were awarded with medals to remind them of their experience.
Now, apart from the shameless amount of shops selling gifts associated with the seal theme, the Cornish Seal Sanctuary is a nice place to visit indeed. The animals are the real stars of course, and it's great to see them happy, healthy and being cared for in the best way. On the whole, it's a great place to see some lovely animals, the complex it kept clean and tidy, the staff are friendly and with top class views of the Cornish countryside it's all good. All the mod-cons needed for a family trip are present also. Despite the steep-ish entry fee, it's worth it for a nice day out. Oh, and by the way, my daughter found and answered all off the questions and got a gold medal from the staff at the exit. The beaming smile was on her face for the rest of the day.
For information on the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, visit - http://www.sealsanctuary.co.uk/corn1.htm​l
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
After buying my Dell desktop many years back, I also got a rather dodgy Dell all-in-one printer that never really impressed me. When my Dell computer died this year, my new purpose built PC needed a new printer, and because my father had bought a new Epson and was happy with it, I chose to buy an Epson too, taking into consideration of the Epson brand history of course. I got a higher spec model, which could fulfill my needs at a reasonable cost. Here are my views on this Epson Stylus all-in-one SX435W inkjet printer.
--Stop the Presses!--
In yet another case of brand names becoming pseudonymous with the product they are famous for, Xerox means Photocopier and Epson means Printer, with the Canon brand possibly having a say in that. I can remember Epson printers all the way back to when the 8-bits were claiming dominance and the Compaq 386 was the choice in the offices. Seiko Epson are a huge world leader in computer printers and media interfaces. They were formed in 1942 and are based out of Suwa, Nagano, Japan. They were the first company to release a colour LCD screen and a rudimentary handheld computer.
The reason I make to automatic connection with printers to the name Epson goes back many a year. I remember the reams of green-lined computer paper that ran through the dot-matrix Epson printers in the school library, churning out nonsensical images and text lines, and that all so familiar sound of the drum pushing the pins in and out. Since then of course, technology has progressed quickly, and now we have high-quality ink-jet printers as common as fresh air. It's this memory, and I'm sure similar ones of yours that make you trust such a brand name, but sometimes, that trust is not justified.
--Cost and Packaging--
This product comes to you in a large and sturdy box, brightly decorated with Epson logo's and supposed examples of the prints you will get out of it. It's all rather predictable and fit for purpose. The printer itself if much smaller than the box, so there is a considerable amount of polystyrene cut outs, and a few card inserts. Included are a USB 2.0 cable, power cable and a set of four cartridges. Overkill on the packaging I feel, but it's contents are very well protected. All the card is fully recyclable, but the big bits of polystyrene is not.
At £59, this is a great price for what you are getting I think. In the mainstream shops, you will pick this up at around £70 and the same for similar models. I bought on-line from our friend Amazon for the reduced price. As we all know with the majority of inkjet printers, it's the cartridge cost which gets expensive. The genuine Epson cartridges can sell for up to, and sometimes over £15 a pop! £30 for a set colours if you will. There are of course more reasonable after-market compatible alternatives, but be wary. Epson printers are VERY touchy about what you put in them, so don't buy the cheapest you can get, as you may find this will not work with the printer.
--Design and Durability--
Comparing to my last printer, which was a rather awful design, this is a nice looking piece of kit. Black plastic with a matt finish on the base, with a gloss shine for the top and control panel. The shape follows a basic flat box design with rounded corners, no wild design cues here, but in all honestly I prefer this. The control panel mounted on the front edge is nicely sized, with well spaced and shaped buttons, with the LCD display and cursor keys positioned in the middle for that element of symmetry. The paper out flaps fold away neatly, as do the paper in holders using a combination of black translucent plastic and a thinner gauge plastic, as so it folds up into a tidy compact box. It's not a design that's going to win a Turner prize, but it's pleasant to look at, subtle and functional. Small silver details and logo's finish off the overall look. All the cable inputs and memory card sockets are well positioned and easy to access, fitting the cables without problems.
The quality of the main body is nice and hardy, heavy to touch and lift and can take a few knocks without damage. This included the scanner cover on the top, which provides good protection to the glass scanner surface. On a negative point of view, the feed flaps seem a little weak, particularly the paper out guides, and could be subject to snapping under pressure. The control panel, which is also mounted on hard plastic, lifts out to lean at an angle. Whilst this looks good and makes the printer easier to operate, the support holding it in place also feels weak and could break when releasing to fold back in. The display screen is quite scratch proof, and the glass scanner bed is also resistant to minor scuffs. The white backing plate however is, as always on most scanners, a little susceptible to damage without care. In would say the gloss surfaces could be damaged a little easier then the matt parts, but this is neither here nor there.
Whatever the outside looks like is nothing without quality print results of course, and I'm happy to report that things are good with this Epson. Firstly, I have had a terrible history with printers that always have problems with the paper feed, and so was chuffed to find I have had not a single problem with this printer feeding the paper in. It holds a good stack, feeds smoothly and, up until now, has never jammed. This all bodes well, and with a relatively easy set up, all the functions work like they should and this is not time consuming either. I have used two different grades of paper, the results were fine on both. The ink lasts entirely depending on what you are printing of course, but it does seem rather economical with standard print settings.
As far as print quality goes, using the genuine cartridges produces a very good print indeed. Details are sharp, with very minimal blurring and the colours are accurate to the screen and opaque. When the cartridges get low, things stay good too, but using non-genuine cartridges can product varying results. Most of the time, the print is true and clear, but sometimes the odd error can occur, or a line of print can go missing. This is due to fact that Epson printers are notoriously picky about the cartridges used, and sometimes the unit needs to be reset altogether. I haven't come across this so far, and it handles my cheaper cartridges quite well. The speed of the printing process is good too, at standard print setting, and doesn't take long for your work to be spat out in a rather noisy fashion. That said, the printing noise isn't to annoying, but the feed in and out mechanics are a touch loud.
Other functions are the included scanner, fax and photocopy. The scanner is fast, creates a sharp image great for Photoshop, and can be used with a variety of software applications. The photocopy function work directly from the unit, easily operated and produces the same quality as the standard print in black and white. This is ink- thirsty however. I have no need for the fax function, but I would assume this would work as well as the scanner as it uses the same types of software.
So, the print quality is good, the speed is good too as are the general mechanics and scanner, but there are a few issues I have with this printer. As I have already said, certain parts seem a little weak in construction, and the printer can object some cartridges, but this can be forgiven. What cannot be forgiven are the fact that the software bundled with the printer is a little difficult to use, and I still haven't been able to fully install all the software included. I run Windows 7 so it shouldn't be a problem, the certain applications just refuse to work, even after a re-installation. Windows and Adobe programs work fine with it, but it's own software seems to have problems. Driver updates however run fine, and automatically install without prompting. Other small issues are the fact it has no auto-off function, so has to be manually switched off after you have shut down your computer, and it's also a tad lethargic in booting up and shutting down via the manual button. Annoying sometimes, because you may think you have turned it off when you haven't.
Height - 135 mm
Width - 390 mm
Depth - 300mm
Weight - 4.1 kg
Colour - Black
Item model number - C11CB21304
ASIN - B005LDLWH6
LCD Screen - 1.4 inches
Wattage - 15 watts
Cartridge Type - Epson T1281/2/3/4 or compatible equivalent.
If you are looking for a good quality printer at a low price, then this is certainly one to consider adding to your computer peripherals. With high quality output, easy initial set up and fine robust but simplistic design, I would mostly recommend this device. Just be wary of the touchy aspect of the unit in regards to cartridges and poor application software. It has not let me down so far without my own influence, and using the correct replacements you should get many hours of good prints weather they be text or pictures. A slightly above average budget printer from Epson, not bad at all.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
After a calamitous year or so with my previous vacuum cleaner, and with the constant ear bending the girlfriend was giving me, I boldly took another step into the household appliance world and picked out this little gem. I had chosen this time to go with a well known and reputable brand name, thus reducing the risk of ending up with another turkey of a vacuum cleaner. More expensive yes, but if that meant cleaner carpets and a happier girlfriend, it was worth the outlay. Here are my thoughts on this Vax Power 6 dry vacuum cylinder cleaner. (Please note, cleaning duties are shared in my house!)
--The Alien Planet-sounding Vacuum from the Seventies...--
In the Eighties, I always thought a Vax was the 'cool' vacuum for a family to have. All my better-off friends mum's had one, as did the school caretaker. I mean, it could suck up dry and wet stuff at the same time! Also, it's such a sci-fi name too, whilst twisting the abbreviation of 'Vac' of course. Based off an industrial cleaner design in the 70's, the now famous orange drum shape became a huge hit in households in the eighties and nineties, until a new kid showed up with his cyclones and balls... and high price tag.
Vax are still a major brand in the cleaning market, and make a huge range of domestic and industrial cleaners for many different applications, and are widely available in all the popular stores. They are now part of the TechTronic Ind company, which operate out of Hong Kong, such is the way companies alter. Although technology has moved on as has the competition, Vax still hold their original orange and grey colour schemes and still produce an updated model of the Wet/Dry vacuum that started it all.
--Price and Packaging--
As I have been buying budget vacuums for the last few years, I was surprised at the kind of prices high-end brand names sell for, some nearing the £1000 mark for a domestic cleaner. It wasn't such a bad hit on the wallet for this more compact Vax model however, a rather reasonable £75 on-line from Littlewoods. I have seen it priced around this region in various high street shops too, but as always can be found cheaper on-line from the usual sites. I did expect good results though when parting with 75 quid, my expectations has always been low with cheap cleaners, but was looking for much better with this.
The box it comes to you in is bigger than the unit, with plenty of card cut-outs to pack it in safely and securely. Good quality strong card is used, daubed with the Vax logo, colours and machine features. Simple, clear and fit for purpose and of course all the card is recyclable. No horrible poly-chips or bubble-wrap either.
--Design and Performance--
Taking the typical giant mouse-on-wheels shape design, the roomy dust cylinder is prominently mounted on the front, with a easy click off switch, and the cylinder slides off without resistance. It's also made of very clear plastic so you can see how full it is, and the dust inside doesn't cloud this view much at all. The other operational functions are also simplicity itself. Two very large translucent buttons mounted on the back are for the cable recoil and on/off. These are robust and responsive, so the usual action of using your foot to operate it is easier than using your hands. Sandwiched between these buttons is the power adjustment dial, again in the same material, chunky and responsive and fitting with the overall design. The main body plastics are quite thick going by the sound, and the panels are fitted together well with tight screws. The wheels are also large, freely spinning and are mounted onto the body well. It would take quite a fall to break any part off the main body, however the cylinder could be susceptible to damage if chucked around, and as always the flap that opens the cylinder is also a little weak on the hinges. The whole unit is coloured in the Vax trademark hues of bright orange, silver and grey, with many of the parts translucent or transparent to add to the quirky design.
However it looks, whatever the box design, it's really all about how well it works when it comes to basic vacuuming. All the aspects that make a decent carpet sucker are present, and all perform at a high standard. The hose is durable, lightweight and flexible. The lance is the usual aluminium tube which extends awkwardly, but does the job. The cable runs out of the coil housing without problems, and is a generous size of 7 metres and run up the length of an average staircase. The recoil is quick, maybe to quick as I discovered with a painful crack in the ankle from the flailing plug. I suppose this is a sign of a strong spring construction though, as so is unlikely to fail within the 2 year guarantee. The hose fittings all have a clunky and reassuring click and flush fit, and overall the build quality is very high.
Does it suck? In the slang terminology, not at all. In the literall sense, oh yes! 2000 watts is a normal power rating on many vacuums, but it's the 360 'air watts' that creates an impressive suction. Compared to previous vacuums, this makes the hoovering a complete breeze. With just a few glides across a weeks worth of family carpet, the dust and fluff is gone! No repeatedly going over the same area for ages with this gadget. It picks up general bits and pieces with ease off medium grade carpet and hard-wearing carpet, and is good on the thick rugs and deep pile too. However, the suction may have to be lowered for these carpets as it may pull out the fibres. On soft furnishings like sofa's and curtains, with one of the 3 attachments included it also performs very well, again adjustment may have to me made. So far, because of the unexpected power, I have hoovered up whole lego blocks, pound coins, half a towel, and most of a carrier bag before it tore off in a split second. This led to another find. blockages in the system make warning light turn on, and it's also easy to retrieve accidental pick up's from the cylinder, albeit a little dusty. Cleaning however is also simple, tapping out the main bulk of the dirt and running the central filter under a warm tap, let it dry and your back off and running.
Some versions on this vacuum have an extra attachment called a Turbotool, which adds even more suction. I have not got this tool, so cannot comment on it. Not that it would need more power for me, as it has cut the cleaning time in half in my household due to it's high performance. So top marks then Vax? Well, just a few small problems. It's considerably loud when set on a high setting, and due to it's quite bulky size it's not really portable. There is also nowhere to fix the spare attachments to the unit, even though the main lance and carpet head slide into a slot on the back.
Model Number - C89-P6-B
Weight - 5.6kg Approx
Maximum Height - 27cm
Maximum Length - 32cm
Maximum Width - 39cm
Hose Length - 250cm
Vacuum Arm Max Length - 110cm
Power Input - 220v - 240v
Maximum Output Power - 2000w
Cord Length - 700cm (7 metres)
Capacity - 3.0L (Bagless)
HEPA H12 filter fitted.
Not one to like spending close to £100 on a vacuum, I must say that I don't regret purchasing this at all. It does exactly what I want a vacuum to do. Tidy my carpets and not break down every 5 minutes. It's looks like my kind of gadget to, with the bright colours and spacey design. All for a price which is far, far, FAR more reasonable than a certain yellow brand with a ball on it. I could only think that the Numatic Henry/Hetty model is comparable to the balance of cost and performance, but I think this is better. It has no silly face on it! As I said, just little niggles, because it really does clean thoroughly and quickly, A high quality vacuum cleaner in many aspects, and one I fully recommend to your maid. (If you are that lucky.)
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
In the early nineties, rave music was reaching it's pinnacle in popularity, and whilst many DJ's and rave acts have become more well known over the years by progressing their styles and adapting with trends (Fatboy Slim AKA Norman Cook for an example), some acts were firmly stuck in that era of youth music. I believe one such band was these guys, Altern8. I have made references in the past on previous reviews to an album I searched high and long for for over 5 years, finally acquiring it in 1997. This is that album, the one and only LP released buy the band in1992. Here are my retrospective thoughts on this unsung rave classic, Full On Mask Hysteria.
Hailing from Stafford, the young duo of Mark Archer and Chris Peat started a project they called Nexus 21 halfway through the rave era, which later evolved into a full time rave act with the moniker Altern8. They took influences from many other rave and electronica music artists of the time, in particular from the north american scene and German 80's techno wonders Kraftwerk. They made their mark with a now classic rave sound, using various Roland drum machines, heavy breakdowns, a two-drum breakbeat and even deeper bass to anything around at the time. Add into this samples from everyday items and famous noises (an air raid siren for one), their signature zaps and bleeps, and the odd catchy vocal, they made a sound that while not unique to the genre, became their own entity. Aside from the music, they also had a persona in the culture of the day that was instantly memorable. They would perform in hooded shell-jackets, used many vocal samples that referenced party-drug use, would show up at unofficial events un-announced, and of course made a bright yellow dust-mask stencilled with a 'A' their trademark, which they wore nearly every time they were seen. The titles of their tracks would often include the use of the number 8 too, making their material even more memorable.
--The Altern8-tive Me!--
As a teenager in the early nineties, I donned the shell suits and rave music was the ONLY music that existed for me, and I can recall two events that made me interested in this act so closely. Firstly, to see a rave act dressed as they did perform 'Activ-8' on Top of the Pops was a first for me, and second was having impromptu rave-dance competitions with my friends to their tunes. 'E-vapor-8' was the track of choice normally, and became embedded in my psyche ever since. All I had was a battered old cassette with their tracks on, and after they dis-banded, I found that I simply needed to own their only album. I only discovered they even recorded one 2 years after they finished, and so started to hunt down the album. Several years later, I found it on Ebay, and got my hands on it, and listened to it like I was 16 again. Ahh, Memories.
--Packaging and Price--
When I bought this album off E-bay 6 years ago, it cost me £28, such is it's rarity. Since then, Amazon have begun to stock it from various sellers who have deleted album stockpiles, and a new copy will cost nearly £50! A second hand copy from £25. It is downloadable for under £6 however. This was not an option I had years back, and anyway, I prefer having the physical item with such rare CD's. The sleeve design was a godsend when trying to track it down. All gold in colour, front and back, just with the trademark 'A' dust-mask on the front, it's a very unique design and instantly recognisable. A simple thin black typeface and darker shade of gold take care of the titling and track listing. The sleeve opens out quite large, with photographs and the due using the electronic instruments of their trade, and a timeline of their rise to success, which is actually rather interesting. Clear, basic but unique is the overall layout, and the CD images matches with the sleeve too, a gold CD.
1 = Move My Body Most of Altern 8's tracks follow a simple arrangement, and the first track of the album sets this up in a low key fashion. For an opening track, it's rather mild and a tad bland, maybe monotonous after a few listens, but it does have some nice points. A start of a fragmented machine groan with the repeated lyric 'Move my Body' running through the entire track, re-verb bicycle bells and a typical fazing techno synth are layered onto a plodding and low drum loop. The sample fragmentation of the lyrics and the high alert squeals are fun, as are the fast vinyl rewind sounds and while the drops are predictable, it's a good example of a simple rave track to start with, in a softer kind of way. [6/10]
2 = Infiltrate 202 If the previous track was walking down the garden path, then this is falling into a deep pothole! Things really start to get going with this, and rightly so. A hit in the clubs and raves, primarily because of its ridiculously heavy bass line. Mockingly presented as a live performance, the main rhythm is a very low synth, with an sporadic accompanying riff with a deep running bass backdrop. That's heavy enough, the extra bass signals hit on the bridge and chorus. These are really deep, 4 square bass I believe it's called. It's the bass frequency that makes cars vibrate in chavvy town centres. Sampled female lyrics are there too, a nice sing along vocal that other rave bands used too. Ratpack was one. During the track, the bass sometimes reaches a dominating rumble, very loud and low. I have never heard another track with such use of heavy bass, it even has a tongue-in-cheek warning at the beginning about it. 'Watch Ya bass bins I'm tellin' Ya!' [9/10]
3 = E-Vapor-8 This has got to be the track that made me so interested in Altern8. Again, we have catchy female vocals in the typical style of the genre, not so blatantly referencing the use of the drug Ecstasy, but this is merely an aside to the excellent drum and bass arrangement. The main angry bass synth line is the key to it all, and makes the quick drums, rhythmic bass, piano synth and subtle zap blips a really sound-full blend. Add to this the breaks and the bridges with tinny stretching and, again the mock live crowd cheers and an MC hyping up the band enthusiastically, it really pumps along and gets the hairs spiking and the goose's pimpleing! It flows so well is quite a DJ's dream track to get things moving. That's main riff is just outstandingly catchy and memorable. Excellent despite the drug references. [10/10]
4 = 8's Revenge Going a little more low key again, this track doesn't have the deep hits of Infiltrate 202 or the high's of E-Vapor-8, just with the most basic rave break-beat possible, with a few drum rolls, almost quiet acid winding twists and casual rumbling bass. The ingredients are there, but it seems so broken and doesn't seem to flow correctly. Parts drop in that are vastly different from the sequence that proceeded it, making a quite haphazard track that's difficult to listen too. Also, the repeated lyrics just become annoying because of the delivery of them. For me, the weakest track on the album. [2/10]
5 = Frequency Ouch, That hurt! After the ponderous '8's Revenge', 'Frequency' gets your attention again, with, like the title suggests, a very high pitched fazed whine which develops into the main riff. Surprising to the ear, Simple vocal samples add to the track, but mainly the beat is what makes it a good one for a dance too. The trademark zaps make a big mark here, riding along with a great uplifting thumping two-drum beat, and a bass line that follows the frequency riff at a lower pitch. This is a constant rolling track too, with very little breaks, and when there is the riff continues on. Fast and rough, but a fine head-banger, that drills right through the head without leaving a headache. [8/10]
6 = Real Time Status Coming back to a softer sound, (this album does that a lot), this track acts like an opus for Altern8, proof that they have an ear for the more subtle techno rave sounds as well as the barnstormers. A quite start of a synth riff, rolls into a nice multi-drum beat that's not to fast, but has a good consistency. A simple and basic track, but the parts as a whole make it very listen-able. Lots of electronic hi-hats and shakers are used, with a short stabbing bass line that's heavy in places but not a lot. I like it, very different for the preconceptions for the band certainly. [6/10]
7 = First of May Actually being true to the former track, this continues were 'Real Time Status' left off. More softer and composed than a full on dance classic, we have some pleasant piano riffs, light blips running with a complex bass rhythm. Drums are kept to a minimum here, just with a few break-beat here and there, mostly the tracks relies on the kick drum beat and the melodies. It's quite clever really, because at first it's easily dismissed as experimental dance rubbish, but listen again, it's rather good. It's a far cry from what is next however... [7/10]
8 = Hypnotic St-8 'Gonna take you higher and higher!' scream the opening lyric, and boy it does. Back to a quick and more complex beat, this was another crowd pleaser back in the day. The synth melody hits hard and fast too, loud and instantly noticeable. Certainly euphoric when it breaks up too, and fragments in synch with the beat. Then comes the breakdown, and woooo, spaced out man! It's a brilliant sound effect, hypnotic like the title says, synth twisting at it's best I feel, and it's proceeded by a very random water trickle sound. Odd, but very clever and flowing. A bit of stunted electric piano helps this along, as does the almost hidden but essential hi-hats and zaps. Uplifting and loads of fun, an urgent track. Nice! [9/10]
9 = Activ-8 This is the tune that helped make Altern8 hit the charts, and even though it's bordering on the more poppy side of rave, it's still a top track. A plodding break-beat underpins what the track is all about, and again like some of the previous tracks, it's the melody. Acid synth in a very catchy rhythm make this, and is the signature of the tune, along with the constant build-ups of hard techno. Leading to a drop that never comes, but does when you least expect it. Like E-Vapor-8, it flows so well, and has a wonderful amount of energy about it. Another aspect is the rather controversial child's voice lyric of "Top One, Nice One, Get Sorted!", another party drug reference, but it's quite disturbing heard from a young voice. That said, it's a part of a track that wouldn't be what it was without it. Arguably , Altern8's most well known track and their rubber stamp on the rave scene. [10/10]
10 = Brutal-8-E The darker side of the band is shown here. This is a very tricky track to describe, at least compared to the tracks up until now. Mellow chords start us off, with a snaring beat coming in, but the rhythmatic blip sequence, almost spellbinding, is the highlight that brings this to life. It's also a very vocal driven track, unlike most rave acts, which makes for a more interesting listen. To be honest, it gets a little boring, because once it sets up, it doesn't change much, or bring anything new into the mix. A solid and different effort, but not the best tune on the album. [5/10]
11 = A D-8 with Plezure Taking the gong for best title, this track also takes the prize for the best track on the album in my opinion. Not out and out rave is this, with a much faster house-type beat with plenty of hi-hats and quick snaps, but I love the whining chords that run through many parts. The track starts like this, with a backdrop of a thunderstorm effect and echoed vocal effects. Halfway through this real foot-tapper, a signature Altern8 riff comes in, and a bass melody that really beguiling. Some would moan about the slightly annoying party whistles constantly peeping in the background, but I like this, makes it feel a good energetic track and very well arranged. For me, this just has the edge on E-Vapor-8, and is my personal favourite. [10/10]
12 = Armageddon The sound of air raid sirens is always something that makes the ears prick up, and a looped siren effect starts this up with a repeated male vocal shouting the title. The bass line again provides the foundations, and follows on from AD-8 with a fast but more drum focused beat, incorporating scratch rewinds at frequent moments and a more low sound of kick drums. It's a beat which is okay, but a little irritating and too repetitive at times. Also, this is the first track on the album that makes heavy use of the common rave music effect of high pitched sped up vocals, sometimes known as the chipmunk sound. (Used in R & B a lot nowadays!) No clue what it's saying, and while it fits into the general flow of the track, with a desperate tone, it becomes grating a bit. Parts of 'Frequency's' high screams seem to have been re-used to, adapted into the different drum loop. Not a bad track by any means, but maybe not for all rave fans. [7/10]
13 = Give it to Baby The second track to relay on a big bass hit and line, and starts as it means to go on with a very simple low synth riff loop, and a more simpler beat-line with whoops into the fold. It goes into bridge sequences a lot to, with a good and break the bass up well. The speaker damaging parts come on the breakdowns, where a big bass thump with a zap hits into the track in a nice, head-banging arrangement. The ideas and loops in this track are good and heavy, but the track does loop itself after a few husky female lyrics have their say. However, the little breaks, tinny drum rim hits, and variations on the underlying bass keep things interesting. Heavy on the woofers is that bass riff though, and doesn't let up in between the many breaks. [8/10]
14 = Re-Indulge I always found this a little difficult to judge, because on a first listen, it sounds like a mish-mash of all the previous tracks, and to some extent that is a correct statement. A soft piano provides the main hook, and it's pleasant enough, a bass line that reflects the band but not as harsh as others, and a synth sample which doesn't really stand out much and a run of the mill drum and bass beat. To be honest, this sounds like a track that's played when the gig or rave ends and everybody's filing out of the doors. Short, rather quiet compared to the rest on the album, and not a fitting end to the album for me. Shame, because I would have liked a bigger track to finish on. [4/10]
All tracks Written and Produced by Mark Archer and Chris Peat
Additional Vocals by Various
Recorded and Engineered by Mike Bell
Published by Kool Kat Music (Virgin Music)
Released by Network Records/Pinnacle Recuts
Total Length - 75:00 minutes Approx
Was the years of hunting this down worth it then? Well, yes really. Many rave bands back in the 90's didn't even make a studio album, and as a result lots of good work was lost in the reams of tapes and vinyl. Altern8 certainly lived up to their name, and were something different, and always brought a little spice to a rave event. Their biggest tracks are always fondly remembered by my generation today, but some of the more obscure nuggets on this LP make it plain that they attempted stuff that wasn't made for the dance floor, and for the most part its very nice work. Their later releases before they split demonstrated some of this progression, the track 'Everybody' is the best example, using the big deep bass with more complex synth and drum loops. Maybe they would have made the change to the dance styles that were to follow, and I believe one half of the duo is still recording. For me though, Altern8 are the talisman for my personal rave music fascination back then, and will remain so with this album to support my happy memories. A fine example of rave music with a few twists, and even though it's not flawless throughout, six tracks are awesome and make it one of my proudest additions to by music collection.
Gr-8 rave act, Gr-8 album. Highly R-8-ed!
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug