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Download Accelerator Plus (DAP) version 5 is the latest version of this hugely popular download utility. If, like me, you spend a lot of time downloading files from the net then you will probably have heard of these utilities before. Gozilla is a well known variety of this kind of program. So why choose DAP? Basically, it does exactly what it claims to do. I have a dial up connection with a 56k modem and a 2 hour cut off on my ISP. If you have something similar then you'll know what a nightmare it is to download anything of a reasonably large file size. DAP solved that problem for me. It works by finding "mirror" sites. These are basically sites that offer the same download as the one you want. It does this very quickly, typically taking less than a second or two. It then begins to download the chosen file from the site you are on whilst simultaneously downloading the same file from several of the other sites it has found. DAP allows you to choose which sites to download from although I've found it is better to just let DAP choose for you as it automatically picks those with the fastest transfer speeds. By connecting to several sites at once, it ensures that you receive the fastest possible download. Not only that but it also protects you against download failures. If one download gets cut off, the programs continues to download from the other sites. This eliminates the endless re-starting that I'm sure you have all experienced at some time or another. So, that's the theory but does it work? Well I really did notice a significant difference to my download speed. Files leapt on to my machine 3 to 4 times faster than they previously did. My partner commented on the fast download times before she even knew I'd installed DAP so it wasn't just because I was looking for a speed increase. I could not believe the difference it made. As if that wasn't enough, whereas most downloa d managers save all downloads to the same default folder, DAP creates a different folder for each file extension so all your movie clips are stored in one folder, all your text files in another and so on. This makes finding your files much easier. Okay, so faster downloads may be the main reason to get this utility but that's not all it does. Another great feature is the ability to resume your downloads. In laymans terms this means that if your connection is interrupted either by yourself or by outside influences (ISP cut off etc), DAP remembers where it got to and offers you the option to resume later. Select "yes" and provided the download site supports resume capability (the vast majority of sites do support this nowadays) you can click to continue the download at any time and it'll pick up where it left off rather than starting over. There is a built in scheduler in the DAP options which allows you to schedule a download to take place at a certain time. It can be made to dial up and connect to the net, then find the site and download the file before disconnecting from the net and even shutting down the pc if you so wish. This is great for those times when you need to download a large file but can't let it interfere with your work. Schedule the download for after you've gone to bed and leave it to do everything for you. What a great touch! As with most download utilities, once the download is complete you are given the option to run the file. I tend not to use this as I always virus scan anything I download before running it but the option is there nonetheless. You can set DAP up to play any sound of your choice when a download is complete. The default selection is no sound. DAP itself is available on magazine cover discs almost on a monthly basis but if you don't normally pay out for magazines don't worry. You can download the freeware version from www.download.com, tucows.com and many ot her download sites. The official site is www.speedbit.com and is worth a look. This version has an advert banner at the top of its window but it doesn't really interfere at all. I've never been concerned about it. If you can't put up with the adverts though then simply register the product and they are removed. It costs $29.95 to register the product (yes it was intentional to use american dollars, it's an american program). This is the current price and is reduced from $34.95. Other benefits available after registering the program are : "Better Utilisation of Bandwidth, Tray icon minimization during download, prioritised technical support, your personal activation code (I don't know what this is for) and free updates for the first year worth $10." I very much doubt you'll have any problems working out how to use DAP but if you do there is a help file featuring FAQ's and a support line too. DAP is very user friendly though and the chances are you won't need either of these. I had tried other download utilities before but none of them seemed to make any difference. This one really does. Download it now, it'll be the last slow download you ever make!
This Opinion is about all three books in this trilogy, rather than just one. The Vampire World Trilogy follows on from the 9 books in the Necroscope series and is a mix of fantasy, theory and horror. Sounds like a strange combination? Read on and I'll try to explain. The story begins on the parallel world of Sunside/Starside. As its name suggests, this is a planet torn in two. A massive mountain range known as the Barrier Mountains runs in a seemingly endless line around the centre of the planet. On Sunside, the low arc of the sun creates a day/night cycle equivalent to an entire week here on Earth. This is where the Syzgany live, human travellers much like our own Gypsies. On Starside, where the Mountains block out the sun completely, lived the vampires. Upon a time they were many, from the lowliest thrall to the mightiest Lords and Ladies of the Wamphyri, their flags and pennants, flyers and warriors filled the air with dread and death (or worse). But no more. For they were destroyed in the greatest, bloodiest battle ever seen, the battle at the Dwellers Garden. Now, on Sunside, two boys grow up. Twin brothers but only by birth, they are as different as can be both in looks and personalities. Sons of the Necroscope, Harry Keogh, they possess the power to save or destroy not just their world, but ours too! And if they don't, maybe the vampires will...for you see, the Wampyhri are back in Starside and hell is just "...a blink of an eye..." away. So is this just another book about vampires then? The answer to that is a resounding NO! I've always been interested in the mythology of vampires but these books are like no other I've ever read. Lumley builds an entire social structure for the vampires. From mindless flyers and incredibly deadly warriors to thralls, lieutenants and the Wamphyri themselves, each social level is given a background and a life (or unlife) a ll its own. It works so well that I cannot read any other vampire stories now without wondering where the Lords and flyers are! Suddenly the Vampire seems horribly real. Lumley also manages to draw the reader in with a superb connection between our world and Sunside/Starside. I won't spoil the story by telling all but it really comes as a shock at times. The way Lumley explains how certain civilisations, races, names and rumours came to be and then links them to this parallel world really makes you think and is so cleverly done that you actually start to believe it. From the beginning, the tension builds and builds, then just when you think something major is about to happen it switches direction completely. In contrast, there are times when you are lulled into a false sense of security and suddenly hell kicks off with a vengeance. Thousands of small puzzles and tidbits of information are discovered throughout the books until eventually they all come together in a truly unexpected and amazing climax! The worlds in which the characters (from both planets) live are lavishly described with many familiar areas and locations (especially if you know London at all). Sunside/Starside becomes so real that you can see the scenery, taste the smoke and feel the terror. The characters themselves are wonderfully vibrant and alive, each and every one having their own individual traits so that by half way through the trilogy you can tell who is speaking just by the way they phrase a sentence. All in all it's a truly amazing piece of work. I have never felt so powerfully moved by a book since Tolkeins Lord of the Rings saga. Indeed as far as fantasy fiction goes I have to say that Brian Lumley is second only to that master, Tolkein, himself. Be warned though, this is not a series for children. The Little Vampire it ain't! Some of the imagery conjured up by Lumleys exquisite writing style left e ven me with nightmares! Don't let this series pass you by!
Finally its here. The second collection of Madonna's greatest hits. I've been a Madonna fan since the very beginning, 1983, so please let me be forgiven if this Op is a little biased. I shall attempt to remain fair throughout. Madonna was of course the most prominent female solo artist of the 80's. In 1990 she released her first "Best of" album, The Immaculate Collection. In the early 90's her frequent courting of controversy caused a massive media backlash which once more heard the critics claim that her career was over. Now, 10 years on, she is releasing her second "Best Of" album, simply entitled GHV2 (Greatest Hits Volume 2). So how did she get from there to here. The album track list seems a good way to explain it. Track 1: Deeper and Deeper (7" Edit). Taken from the liberally slated Erotica album, this song features a serious hook. The way the lyrics are recited fast then slow, fast then slow draws you in as the heavy dance beat pulls you into a party mood. The tune is uplifting as she tells of how she follows her parents advice about falling in love (we assume she wasn't talking of her real parents as her mother, also named Madonna, died of cancer when singer Madonna was only 5). This is a great opening track for the album and psyches you up perfectly for the rest of it. Track 2: Erotica (Radio Edit). Not to be confused with the song Erotic which came on the cd packaged with the Sex book, this is the title track from the Erotica album of 1992. The record opens with a scratching sound deliberately made to make it sound like an old vinyl recording. The highly suggestive lyrics, combined with a deep bass beat and the deliberately grainy recording create a song filled with atmosphere and sexual tension. The song was slated as "shocking trash". The video was banned for many weeks by MTV. In my opinion the song was a masterpiece of dark desire and an expressio n of the innermost sanctums of each and every one of us. Track 3: Human Nature (Radio Edit). This was taken from the Bedtime Story album, Madonna's first album since Erotica. This time the video played on the fetish side of Erotica by injecting light hearted humour into it. The tongue in cheek video and wonderful bass sounds disguised the biting lyrics though. This was Madonna's answer to the media's attack on her during the Erotica days. Lyrics like "You tried to shove me back inside your narrow room and silence me with bitterness and lies..." or the chorus "I'm not sorry...I'm not your bitch don't hang your sh*t on me" displayed how she really felt. Track 4: Secret (Edit). Again taken from the Bedtime Story album this track epitomises what Madonna is all about. An incredibly catchy acoustic pop tune with Madonna herself humming the real hook, all surrounding lyrics that are deep and meaningful at first listen. Listen harder though and you may be persuaded to think there is an alternative meaning to the lyrics. To quote from the inlay sleeve "'...happiness lies in your own hand...' Think about it. Think harder." In my humble opinion, Secret is one of the best Madonna songs ever. Track 5: Don't Cry For Me Argentina (Radio Edit). For those old enough to remember, this song belonged utterly to Elaine Paige (of whom I am also a great admirer). Some say Madonna made this song her own during the film adaptation of Evita as produced by Tim Rice. Now I love her performance and I think it marked a massive milestone for her vocally in the move from the squeeky voiced pop queen to the controlled singing of a stage queen. Even I, however, have to say that Elaine Paige simply is in a league of her own (no pun intended) and can never be surpassed as the true Mistress of that song. Still, a beautiful rendition that surprised many a hater and fan alike and certainly silence d the critics. Track 6: Bedtime Story (Edit). Co-written with Nellee Hooper (Bjork's writer) this is one song that I really do believe Madonna should not have done. When I listen to it I really can picture Bjork dancing to it, hear Bjork singing it etc. It's perfect for Bjork but to me just isn't right for Madonna. This is without doubt the weakest track on both albums. However, the general public loved it more than me and this was one of Madonna's great comeback tracks. Track 7: The Power Of Goodbye. Taken from the Ray of Light album this is my 2nd favourite track from that album. A beautifully powerful song where the emotion drips off of every spoken word. The touching melody contrasts superbly with the way the lyrics move from sorrowful tears of leaving to a determined "Don't look back" kind of goodbye. You can literally hear her rise through the pain and take control of the situation. Track 8: Beautiful Stranger (William Orbit Radio Edit). This track was used to promote the movie Austin Powers 2 in 1999. I'm really not sure how to describe this one. I don't know what instruments were involved and I know nothing about electronic music. Therefore let me just say that this is a superbly conceived and incredibly catchy, uplifting song that almost without a doubt created yet another generation of Madonna fans. Where the Ray of Light album finally gave Madonna her 1st UK number 1 since 1990 and whispered that she was back, this song bellowed it from the rooftops. Move aside would be copycats, the best just got better. Track 9: Frozen (Edit). Taken from the Ray of Light album, this is the very song I mentioned above, the one that took Madonna back to the top of the charts and certainly my favourite from this album. The song oozes class. Describing how her intended love's heart is cold as ice, Madonna sings of what could be if she could only find a way to thaw it out. "If I could melt your heart, we'd never be apart. Give yourself to me, you are the key". The lyrics are poignant and really can touch the coldest heart. The haunting melody and voice like a Siren draw you in and at times, if you close your eyes, you feel like you are floating. Note that by Siren I was talking about the mythical creature that lured sailors to their deaths with their beautiful song as opposed to an Air Raid Alarm! This ballad was a well deserved number 1 (a rarity these days) and if you ever get chance to see the video...do so. It's amazing. Track 10: Take a Bow (Edit). This is a beautifully sung ballad taken from the Bedtime Story album. The title refers to Madonna's lover in the song after she discovers he has been toying with her affections. Though totally in love with him she realises that his love for her is a pretense, a masquerade so well performed that it fooled her. Hence she tells him to take a bow for the show is now over. The tune is simple but highly effective with gentle chimes and a soft lullaby atmosphere. Surprisingly, this song was the first of Madonna's songs not to reach the top ten in years. Quite why is beyond me and I'm sure if it were released today it would certainly go top 5. The video is a little strange though, depicting the lover as a Matador. Track 11: Ray of Light (Radio Edit). Well, what can be said of this song. It's pretty unlikely that you haven't heard this one as it was played to death on the radio and is now being used by Microsoft to advertise their XP series of products. Basically its an intense dance track with a thumping beat and lyrics that range from fast but well held to deliberately squealed. The song is basically about Madonna enjoying herself and living it up, simple as that. What you may not know is that it is actually a cover version and Ray of Light was originally released many years ago. I don't know who released it though I ha ve heard it. Without any bias, this version is much better due to simply having more about it. It's not my normal taste in music (I can't stand dance stuff) and at first I was rather reticent about it but trust me, this track grows on you. The more you hear it, the more you love it. Track 12: Don't Tell Me. This is an incredible song. When I first played the Music album I said to my fiancee that Don't Tell Me would definitely be a single. I was very soon proved correct. It sounds very much like a country & western song but with a funk edge to it. Its a very strange and yet extremely hypnotic cross of styles. You cannot help but find yourself humming the tune, its one of those that gets into your head and stays there. Fortunately, it isn't one you are going to get sick of. The lyrics are unusual and its clear that Madonna not only re-invented her image (again), but is also re-inventing her music. To me it seems that she is saying 'You can tell me to do, or not to do, anything but don't tell me to stop loving you'. I'm sure you'll draw your own conclusions though. This is my favourite song from the Music album. Track 13: What It Feels Like For A Girl. This is a very unusual song from the Music album. Basically its Madonna explaining to men what it feels like to be a woman. Its a subtle way of pointing out the differences between the sexes in terms of their emotions and feelings rather than anything physical. It starts off quite slowly but once it kicks in you find yourself swept along. I expect that women may feel a little liberated by the lyrics, you know how you do when someone says what you are thinking. Men, if they care to admit it, will probably learn something from this and I think that was Madonna's intention. Now here's the curious thing...I can't even recall how the tune goes (once it gets going). This coming from a fan who can name any Madonna song if you play me 2 seconds of it is a strange occurrence. The reason, I think, is that the music blends with the lyrics so seamlessly that all you really "hear" are the words. A great track. Track 14: Drowned World/Substitute For Love. This is the first track on the Ray of Light album and is another strange mix of styles. A slightly ambient tune gives the impression of hearing the music underwater. The title is combined because the two songs blend into each other. The lyrics tell us how Madonna sacrificed her chances of love in order to be famous and show a very different side to her than is normally portrayed. In this song you can tell that she now realises (thanks to husband Guy Ritchie and children Lourdes and Rocco) that fame is not as precious as those you care for. Its clear that being a mother has changed her for the better and that she is now much more content with her life. "I traded fame for love without a second thought. It all became a silly game, some things cannot be bought..." is how the song opens and I think it says everything that is needed. It's a beautiful song. Track 15: Music. After the delicate softness of the previous track, the album ends on one of the most upbeat, funky songs to hit the charts for years. This song was a massive hit and yet another number 1. The video, featuring Ali G, was an instant hit and may have gone a long way towards helping this song up the charts. Although I like the song, even I cannot understand how it became such a hit as it did but then this isn't really my type of music (excuse the pun). Certainly it is a great song to close the album, making sure you finish your listening experience on a high. Summary: Wow! What an album! If you like your songs to show emotion then this is the album you have to own. Every single track burns with true emotion and listening to the whole album in one sitting is akin to an exhiliarating roller coaster ride covering sorrow, pain , regret, fear, love, joy, determination and power. Any fan will certainly buy this, that goes without saying. Non-fans should also buy this for two reasons...1) It's a fantastic way to get hold of the best Madonna songs of the last decade, most of which you will doubtless have been humming at some time or another and ...2) its one of the most original, imaginative, varied and emotionally powerful albums ever compiled. You should also spend some time reading the inlay sleeve. Written by Dan Cadan, it's a complete mickey take out of all the songs on the album. It really is very funny and proves to many Madonna haters what us fans have always known, that she has a great sense of humour and is down to earth enough to laugh at herself (why else would she allow it to feature there?). Try this album for size, you might just find you like it. Hey Mr DJ, put this record on...
RTS games have been around for years. Why? Because they are some of the most furiously addictive and beautifully designed games ever made and we can't get enough of them. When Cossacks was made, it seems the programmers looked at every game gone before, took the best of each one and then made everything better still. The 195 page manual is a lesson in 16th, 17th and 18th century warfare in itself. I'll take the Cossacks of the title as an example. The manual (and the in game encyclopedia) states the following: "Sich Cossacks: Ukraine Cossacks were the core of the Ukrainian army. They were formed at the time when Ukraine was under Polish rule. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Ukrainian Cossacks comprised several divisions. First of all there was the hetman's army. Then there was the army of Zaporizhzhya (the Sich Cossacks), a number of regional Cossack regiments (in the regions of Sumy, Kharkiv, Ochtyr, Izyum and Ostrog), and regiments of the right-bank Ukraine (which was a part of Poland). The hetman's army was made up mainly of the Register Cossack regiments of Kiev, Mirgorod, Priluki, Pereyasliv, Nizhyn, Hadyatch, Lubyan, Starodub and Chernihiv. There were also mercenary regiments. The strength of each regiment was different (from 400 to 700 units). Regiments were divided into hundreds commanded by a hundred master and the starshina (his staff included a yessaul, an obozny and a cornet). A hundred comprised several kurens with a kuren ataman in command. Cossacks were armed with various weapons - scimitars, muskets, pistols, bows, daggers, maces and six-blade maces. They used both oriental and West European weapons, but usually had no armour. Don Cossacks: Russia These Cossacks were an irregular cavalry with an original structure and unique administration system. Their ranks were beefed up with fugitive serfs and militaries sent to defend the frontiers. The largest Cossack associations were formed at Dniepro (Zaporizhzhya Sich), Don and Yaik (river Ural). As the Russian monarchy grew stronger in the 19th century, Cossacks gained the status of a regular army. Their weapons and equipment were manifold, but mainly they were armed with a scimitar, pistols, a musket and a lance. A Cossack used no armour except for the occasional light chain mail, and wore a long caftan without buttons and a tall fur cap. Like the light cavalry, Cossacks attacked in an extended array. They were quick and manoeuvrable, successful in raids to the rear, good at outflanking manoeuvres and were often used for gaining new territories and performing frontier duties." This is the level of detail and information that the manual contains and that the game is based on. Pretty impressive I'm sure you'll agree, especially when you consider that every single unit, every artillery piece, every mercenary, every priest (or other religious figure), every ship and even every building has this amount of detailed information about it. All of the unit types in the game are based on real troops of the era. Unlike most RTS games, every unit IS unique and they all really do have good and bad abilities. Working out how best to use each unit type, in what strength of numbers, in which formation, with which diversionary force and tactics and from which vantage point is enough to keep you hooked for months in itself. Battles take place on land, sea or a combination of the two. The game is based around the battles for dominance of Europe during this era and as such 16 different nationalities are available to play, each of which has their own unit types, strengths, weaknesses, costumes and soundtracks. The units appear large on the screen with each clearly defined and beautifully designed in their own uniforms. The use of officers and drummers to organise what would otherwise be a mob into a well trained, solid formation is a unique touch. You can pla y against between 1 and 7 opponents in single player mode though going up against more than one is a bit of a nightmare due to them never seeming to attack each other. Instead they always seem to gang up on you. There is also an online multiplayer mode but I haven't tried it so cannot comment on how good it is. One thing I will say though is that the online mode allows players to re-enact real historical battles. In this game as in no other, defense plays just as big a part as attack and the computer is merciless in punishing any mistakes you make, though never to the point where you give up completely. The designers state that the game engine supports over 8000 units in game at once. Having personally had an army of over 3000 units I can quite believe it! There are six different resources to contend with, not just to build units in the first place but then to keep them running. Run out of gold and your mercenaries will turn on you. Run out of iron or coal and your musketeers, artillery and ships will be unable to fire. Exhaust your food supplies and your army will gradually starve to death. There are hundreds of upgrades available, including the ability to progress to the 18th century and gain access to better troops or the montgolfier balloon which removes the "fog of war" and makes the entire map, including enemy movements visible. If I had to name a downside to this game then it would be the limited options for setting up a battlefield map in single player. There are only about 30 different maps but as each nation plays with different tactics and excellent AI no two games are the same. Learning the vantage points of each map is a challenge that you soon realise will give you a real edge. I was unable to find the box so can't give the minimum specifications needed to install this game but if it helps my machine is a Pentium II, 400 MHz, 64Mb Ram with 10Gb HDD and Soundblaster Live sound and vide o card. The game does not need a massive spec machine as you can see. It also doesn't need a 3D Graphics card. The only RTS game that I can see beating this is it's own sequel. Quite simply the best of the genre, settle for nothing less. Buy it yesterday!