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The Duke

The Duke
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Member since: 13.08.2000

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      26.08.2009 17:20
      Very helpful



      Some navel gazing with respect to Dooyoo-related mesasge boards

      There have been quite a few Dooyoo-related message boards (or satellite sites as some call them) over the years. I believe that the original Dooyoo board, OpCom (the opinionators community, if I recall correctly) was the first for any of the UK-based review writing sites.

      The Opinionated Community (OpCom)
      Opinionators (Optors)
      (The Review Writers Forum (FOIB))
      Dooyoo Lovers
      *The Reviewers Room

      The above is a list of all the major players in the Dooyoo-related forums (that I can remember), listed more or less in chronological order. ChatterWeb and Opinionators covered both major UK review sites from the start, though were probably Dooyoo-centric whereas FOIB was mainly a Ciao-related (and private) board to begin with, though became openly viewable and latterly added a Dooyoo-related board. The one marked with an asterisk are currently running and active (as of 19 September 2009).

      Some question the validity of such forums, suggesting that they're a waste of time, but I disagree with this sentiment.

      Dooyoo-related forums can be a great resource for any Dooyoo member. Those who take their review writing seriously (that's not a crime, by the way) can join up and discuss all manner of Dooyoo-related topics. Advice can be given or taken and a general feel for various Dooyoo policies or trends can be gauged. Forums can also encourage the swapping of advice and information a lot more than is possible on Dooyoo... interaction is encouraged more on forums, especially in the current climate on Dooyoo where more and more members are only concerned with their miles rather than any larger picture.

      On the flip side, a busy forum can provide instant, valuable feedback to Dooyoo without them having to join up or even ask a question. Just by reading the various debates, Dooyoo staff members can gauge what the members (or at least a sub-section of them) are thinking.

      A lot has been made of the "community" around sites such as Dooyoo, but I believe that I have gained more, in terms of community action, from my membership of such satellite sites than I have on Dooyoo itself. Partly, that's because I believe that too much "community" can stand in the way of Dooyoo as a consumer resource and deliberately distance myself from it to an extent, whereas on a forum, I can shoot the breeze about all manner of topics, be they Dooyoo-related or otherwise and not have to worry about "polluting" a consumer resource with small talk and digression.

      There's also the fact that forums are designed and built purely for interaction, so it's much easier to do that on a forum than it is on Dooyoo, even with communications tools such as private message systems etc. in place. I think that's why reviewers' gatherings ("meets") have tended to be organised on/around the forums rather than on Dooyoo itself.

      I believe that most of the acquaintances I've met and, yes, friendships formed, have been done because of the satellite sites rather than my actions and interactions on Dooyoo.

      Certainly, I've hugely enjoyed each of the meets I've attended (which have involved me travelling a fair distance - Glasgow, Nottingham and several in London) and they've all been quite popular, though the last one was over four years ago now, sadly. I always leave them feeling that I've never spoken to enough people or not spoken enough to the people I really got along with. There are some photos from some of the meets floating around the place, but thankfully, not any really embarrassing ones (of me). I've even managed to meet up with a few Dooyooers in my home town when they've passed through, and this has all been arranged because of the forums.

      OpCom, set up by now inactive member TheKnight, is arguably the most important in terms of what it offered. As it was set up right at the start of Dooyoo's life and before any other forum, it kind of sets the standard that other Dooyoo forums have tried to emulate. Certainly, a lot of the rules and etiquette from the successful (and, in my opinion, better) forums were taken from OpCom and have evolved very little over the years - not advertising your own reviews, the infamous "no naming" rule, having the forum visible to all etc. These are now all staples of all decent forums.

      The privacy issue is one that has cropped up in the past and more recently, too. Personally, I don't believe there's any reason for any Dooyoo-related forum to be private or closed off to the general viewing public. While the topics discussed might only be of relevance to Dooyoo members, if you are a forum administrator and want your members to swap information, ideas and advice, why not make this advice open to every single passing Dooyoo member? If they like what they see on your forum, then they have the option to join up and take part themselves. Restricting access to information and resources is just selfish in my opinion and kind of defeats the whole purpose of having such a forum in the first place.

      For me, there are three main influences to the success of a forum. The first is the admin team; they're responsible for the set-up and running of any forum and a properly set up forum (choosing the correct software, adding just the right amount of forums to the board, making the rules sensible etc.) goes a long way in attracting and retaining active members. The moderation team is also important as these are the people that run the board one day-to-day basis. Poor moderation can be a death knell for a new forum if potential members feel they cannot trust those in charge. Finally, the quality of content that the members supply helps a board's popularity. That's not solely related to the solid facts (e.g. a list of Dooyoo guides or a frequently asked questions list), but the debate topics and standard of debating, too.

      The standard of debating is another point that has raised its head recently in the forum circles. Theoretically, your point of view shouldn't matter as long as you're able to back it up with reasoned argument. "Sandcastles are evil, because I hate sandcastles" is not, in my opinion, a valid argument against sandcastles (which are trés cool by the way) and applying such "logic" to Dooyoo-related topics doesn't really help anyone, least of all yourself. However, I've found debating Dooyoo-related topics to be great fun as well as widening my understanding of where other members are coming from. I might not always agree with them or understand them, but we are communicating and that's always a good thing between people of reasonable intelligence. Sometimes, people just want to gripe or can't debate, but these are few and far between and a decent mod/admin can usually get these members to participate in a more valued way.

      As a previous administrator of a Dooyoo-related forum (Optors), I was more concerned about the quality of input - debate, information, advice etc. from all Optors members than simply the number of registered members, which is something I don't believe holds true for other review site-related forums where some forum administrators simply see the running of a message board as a popularity thing.

      Sadly, I think that the heyday of Dooyoo-related forums is long over, having peaked around the ChatterWeb/Opinionators era (in 2004/2005). I still remember fondly chatting away several times a week with various Dooyoo members in the OpCom chatroom and even the interaction with Dooyoo staff members on OpCom, ChatterWeb and Optors when they posted (which was infrequently).

      The decline of the Dooyoo-related forum is, I think, to do with the change in Dooyoo members and their mentality than the forums being less useful or enjoyable. However, for anyone that really enjoys writing reviews, especially on Dooyoo, I think that satellite forums can still offer a great deal for the Dooyoo member while not having any real negative factors.


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        20.08.2009 15:49
        Very helpful



        Queen live at the pinnacle of their career.

        The crowd cheers as the opening distorted voices from "One Vision" slowly fade up. When the strings kick in with their familiar sound, the cheers grow suddenly louder and the intro continues as the bass drum is introduced. Finally, one minute and fourteen seconds into the first track, Brian May's guitar powers through the chords and the rest of the band enter the fray. It's audio theatre at its finest and something at which Queen excelled.

        "Live at Wembley '86" arguably captures the band at the pinnacle of their career. Nearly a year previously, they were the standout act at Live Aid and had just released their two most successful albums.

        Split into 2 CDs, the first CD is the stronger of the two. From the strong opening combo of "One Vision" and "Tie Your Mother Down", the track list is quality, filled with favourites including Freddie's famous audience singalong and only "Brighton Rock Solo" lets the side down. At over nine minutes long, I would rather have had an extra couple of songs in there, but I was never a huge fan of Brighton Rock anyway, to be completely honest.

        CD2 is where my problem lies with this recording. For some reason, there are about five non-Queen tracks in here and, in my mind, it's really jarring to get through CD1 and into a couple of songs on CD2 only to suddenly be confronted by a couple of rock 'n' roll classics. There's also the change in tone, coming off "Is this the World we Created?" straight into "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" that just doesn't sit right with me.

        However, this is Queen Live and these negative points don't derail an otherwise excellent concert/recording as they might have done if attempted by other bands. When they're good ("One Vision", "Radio Ga Ga", "A Kind of Magic", "We Will Rock You" etc.) then they are (or were) the best live act in the world... possibly (in my opinion at least) the best act in the world, period, as the Americans like to say. Even when they're not on top form ("Tear it Up", "Bohemian Rhapsody") then they're still one of the best.

        Sound-wise, it's hard not to be impressed with Mercury's voice, belting out Queen's well known tracks. The live environment works wonders on what I'd considered to be weaker tracks like "Tear it Up" and the engineering on the whole album is excellent - it's possible, even during loud songs to hear Roger Taylor's backing vocals, as an example.

        You're probably wondering why, if I am a Queen fan (I am), have I included Bohemian Rhapsody as a negative aspect. Well, while it is one of the greatest songs of all time (harking back to my audio theatre comment from earlier), its overall complexity means that I don't think it translates well at all to a live performance. The band does the opening and ending of the song, but during the middle section, they leave the stage and a recording carries us through the mid-section.

        I do have reservations though. Queen, as a live act, were one of the best, Mercury himself a role model for many bands that have appeared on the scene since his death. Having an audio-only album does take away from the experience a bit, and you really need to see Freddie in action in order to be able to appreciate the entire concert. Luckily, there is a DVD version of the same concert, so if you're a Queen beginner or someone that wants more than just the audio, then the DVD is the format to choose.

        In addition, there are far too many non-Queen songs in here. Well, I say "far too many", but it's really only about five out of a total of twenty-eight songs, but it's really noticeable and takes away from the overall atmosphere, especially when you consider what Queen could have included in their place. They could easily have included "'39" or "Spread your Wings" or any number of others from their previous twelve (count 'em!) studio albums instead of these rock 'n' roll classics.

        "Live at Wembley '86" is a good live album, especially if the "The Works" and "A Kind of Magic" albums are amongst your favourites but the definitive Queen live album for me is still Live Killers.


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        • Apple iPhone 3GS 32 GB / Smartphone / 96 Readings / 81 Ratings
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          08.07.2009 17:25
          Very helpful



          Probably over-priced, but a great all-in-one device.

          I hated my last phone, an LG Viewty. I have longed admired the iPhone, but it was never advanced enough to offer me what I wanted, which was a better camera than the 2 MP effort it originally came with and at least 32GB of storage.

          With the new announcement at the start of June, Apple had finally released a phone that, on paper at least, seemed to offer what I wanted.

          First impressions were good. The phone was a nice size for my hand with a pleasing weight to it that gave a sense of sturdiness. It took about four hours to get my SIM switched across to the new one (I already had an O2 3G SIM, so have no idea why I needed a new one) during which time I was able to synchronise my iPhone with my iTunes including 25 gigabytes of music and podcasts along with all my settings (email etc), contacts and photo (that took about an hour).

          I was also able to browse and download applications for the phone through iTunes on my desktop PC and install these and, where they didn't require access through 3G, I was able to play around with some.

          As far as first impressions are concerned, I don't think I've been this delighted since I first started using the Sony Ericsson K800i.

          Within hours, I knew that the iPhone was going to be a better phone than my Viewty and already, only three weeks later, I've made more use of the functionality of the iPhone than I ever did with the Viewty. This is all down to one thing: the iPhone is easy, quick and intuitive to use whereas the Viewty was clunky and slow. In fact, the SIM had only been transferred a matter of minutes before I was using the GPS and Google Maps to navigate from my house to a friend's place for his house warming party. I hate to say it, but it was really as easy as they make it out in those horribly twee Apple iPhone adverts.

          The touch screen interface is easy to use and although my fingers are slim, sometimes sending texts and email can get a bit tricky as the onscreen "buttons" can be quite small, however part of that might simply be me typing too fast to be more accurate.

          The screen is clear and the options and text are easy to read. As far as video is concerned, the quality is really very good (and dependant on the source, of course). However, I'd not want to watch an entire film on the screen which is still quite small at the end of the day.

          The phone aspect itself is easy to use... sound quality is clear and the volume button, for me as a "lefty" is right at my thumb for easy reach when taking a call. Being able to surf the internet for a phone number and dial it direct from there without having to write it down on a piece of paper or type it out is brilliant (I'm not sure this feature was available on other phones I've used, but even so, the iPhone makes this very easy).

          The text message function is also good, and enables you to see entire "conversations" at a glance, plus the interface and predictive text is also rather good (and miles ahead of the Viewty's) at offering words and fixing typos.

          Weirdly, the signal strength indicator of my 3G signal seems to fluctuate wildly, but internet connection and phone calls don't seem to be affected. The only issue I have is that, when trying to connect to the internet or an application, it can't connect, despite having both a good 3G signal and within range of a wireless network. From what I've read, it appears the iPhone can get confused about which signal to use sometimes and turning off the Wi-Fi can help connectivity.

          Perhaps the one thing that sets the iPhone apart from the rest of the market is the range of applications available through the App Store. There are a range of applications available, from free, that will cover a wide range of things. They're categorised in to high level topics such as Games, Entertainment, Social Networking, Lifestyle, Weather etc. Some are pretty much useless but fun (a lightsabre application that makes the familiar humming noise as you swing the phone around) and others are surprisingly useful like TV Guide or "Around Me" that uses GPS to map your location and point out local ATMs, petrol stations, cafés etc. The app store can be hard to navigate and I'm sure I'm missing out on loads of great apps because of this, but it's just a matter of hunting through. Unfortunately, this can be time consuming.

          A lot of the applications are simply interfaces for existing websites... three that spring to mind are the Facebook application, the Sky News app and the Associated Press application. All these apps do is pipe content from these websites to tools on my phone, with my having to start Safari and navigate to the page in question. That's not a complaint, by the way, just an observation and having these tools makes life a lot easier. For me, the more I use the applications, the more I get out of the device and while a lot of the applications are free, the ones you do pay for tend to be around a couple of quid, which is not that expensive really.

          The GPS and digital compass are useful, but it's the range of applications and how they use the technology built in to the iPhone that's the big selling point and makes having these features worthwhile (see "Around Me" above).

          While the iPhone undoubtedly has many great things going for it, some users might not be too impressed with other important features like the camera and the battery life.

          Obviously, as an all-in-one device with iPod, Wi-Fi, touch screen etc. the 3Gs is going to suck lots of juice from your battery, especially if you're connected to the internet or use the iPod functionality. Personally, I can just about squeeze two days from my iPhone between charges which covers about 15 - 30 minutes of phone calls, 15 - 30 minutes of (loud) music and about 30 minutes of connection (to email, the web and a few applications). When possible, I top up my battery when I can, just to be safe. That's at least once per day, when I get home from work, but I have a spare iPod USB lead in work that I sometimes use to top up the charge.

          The 3MP camera is not great either. I find it very hard to keep the phone still while taking pictures and the results are often blurry. When it gets it right, the resulting images are not bad at all... as good as you might expect from a camera phone, slightly worse than those from my 5MP Viewty and a lot worse than those from my older 3.2MP Sony Ericsson K800i. If you use the camera on your phone a lot, this could easily be a deal-breaker, especially with the lack of a flash. However, for video, it's actually not bad at all and can produce decent results in good light.

          The nature of the iPhone means you'll have it plugged in to your PC a lot to sync your iTunes and personal contact manager (mine is Outlook 2007), but weirdly, there are no tools for being able to, for example, send texts from your PC via the phone. This is a surprising oversight for a company that supposedly gives us devices "that just work". This was available for the K800i and even the Viewty (once they'd fixed their software after two years).

          I'm also annoyed at Apple's (or Steve Jobs') insistence in locking the phone down to minimise personalisation. I want to add my own ringtones and message alerts without too much hassle. I want to uninstall some of the applications that comes with the iPhone (I don't trade in stocks and shares... the application is useless to me). The iPhone, in this instance, makes things more difficult than it should be.

          Even with these negative aspects, each day I use it, I find myself liking the iPhone more and more. I don't want to sound like one of those Apple fanbois... it's not a perfect device by any means, but it helps me keep track of lots of information and sync it with my PC while keeping me in touch with my family and friends in many different ways while on the move.

          The iPod functionality is worth a mention only in passing. If you've owned an iPod before, then you'll feel right at home. The sound quality is as good as an ordinary iPod, as far as I can tell, and the interface, while slightly different, is still very usable.

          It's nearly three weeks since launch and I'm still extremely impressed. The final sticking point is the price. This 32GB model is £100 more than the corresponding 16GB model and that, in my book, is robbery. From my own perspective, it's almost worth it to get away from my Viewty (can you tell I didn't like it?), but if you're happy (or not unhappy) with your current phone, I'm sure it would be much harder to justify the price as well as factor in the cost of the contract.

          In my mind, the 32GB iPhone is at least £50 too expensive, but there's no denying that it does most things extremely well. The camera is the obvious Achilles heel in the device and is probably going to be the deal breaker when potential buyers weigh up the options, especially with new Palms and Nokias coming on to the market. My personal feeling is that I can just about justify the price and that the abilities of the phone make it the best on the market for smart phones although it's not perfect. If you need a camera though, my advice would be to look elsewhere.


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            09.06.2009 15:53
            Very helpful



            Decent backup solution for those needing to store lots of data

            It's now getting to the point where backing up my data to DVDs is simply impossible these days. I have nearly two hundred gigabytes of films and TV programmes stored on my PC and nearly thirty gigabytes of music as well as photos and other personal documents. With each DVD holding just short of five gigabytes, a full backup was going to be a) time-consuming and b) using sixty recordable DVDs.

            A better solution was some kind of mass storage device. There are plenty to choose from on the market, but out of all of them, the Western Digital My Book seemed to suit my needs best as Western Digital are a known and reasonably respected manufacturer of hard drives, plus the price, at less than eighty quid from Amazon, was extremely reasonable too compared to other, similar solutions.

            The device is 'plug and play'. Connect the My Book to an available USB port, plug it into the mains and your PC should recognise the extra device after a second or two. All you need to do is copy and paste (or move) your data to the external drive and you're all done!

            The hard drive is extremely easy to use and it's a lot faster than burning to DVD or using a memory stick. With it being an external drive, it's also portable meaning I can take it to a friend's house and let them backup their stuff too, if required.

            Aesthetically, it's not bad on the eye and a reasonable size. It was about the size of a large paperback book (think the omnibus edition of Lord of the Rings) and I had mine sitting on a shelf, amongst some DVDs. Apart from the blue power/activity light, it blended right in and was almost indistinguishable as a computer accessory. Even though it was only a backup device, because it was invisible, I ended up having mine connected to my PC full time.

            I was concerned about the noise level, but it initially seemed as quiet during operation as my laptop or internal drives. My main problem was that, when my PC was turned off, there was a distinct hum/vibration emanating from the unit. As my PC is located in my bedroom, this can be an annoyance and I needed to disconnect the My Book from either the power supply or the PC - either causes the My Book to shut down. Sadly, there was no on/off switch on the unit, so I had to fiddle around with connecting and disconnecting the USB or power cables.

            Overall, the My Book is a decent backup solution. At 1 terabyte, there's certainly plenty of room for storage for the foreseeable future. It's reasonably easy on the eye (as much as an external hard drive can be) and the only real flaws are the humming noise and lack of on/off switch. If your PC is located in study or separate room, then the humming or vibration will probably not be an issue.


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            • Acer Aspire 6930G / Laptop / 72 Readings / 64 Ratings
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              01.06.2009 16:29
              Very helpful



              A good all round laptop at a budget price

              My old (really, really old) Dell Inspiron 1100 was on its last legs. While it was still capable of running my required applications without too much trouble, the battery struggled to last ten minutes once disconnected from the mains. As a replacement battery was nearly £100, I decided just to buy a new laptop.

              I searched some of the forums that I frequent and found that the best value-for-money tends to be spending between £400 and £500, so with £500 as my upper limit, I went on the hunt.

              The Acer 6930G was the best specced laptop I could find at under £500. I sought out opinions from other Acer owners and the response was stacked well in their favour for being reliable, sturdy machines. With that in mind, I had no qualms about handing over £480 to Amazon.

              Initial set up can take some time, especially if, like me, you want to uninstall all the usual guff that manufacturers insist on supplying you with. If you have access to another PC, I'd recommend downloading all the software you require and burning it to a CD or DVD, ready to install once your laptop has been set up to your satisfaction. It'll save you a lot of time. You'll also want to download any updates to Windows Vista, too.

              One thing I wasn't too enamoured with, when uninstalling all the "free" software (trials of games, Microsoft Office etc.), is that the hard drive is partitioned into two segments, each of approximately 110 GB. I really don't see the point and will be removing this extra partition as soon as I can find out how!

              I really like the keyboard. Unusually for a laptop, it's full size, so you get the number pad on the right hand side as well as the normal keys. It's comfortable to use, even for long durations, though it would be nice if it was backlit (but what do you expect for a sub-500 laptop)? The one issue I do have is that the left shift key is not full size, so I keep typing the "\" symbol instead of hitting the shift key. It's a minor annoyance, but something I'll adjust to before long.

              The touchpad, while textured, is sensitive without being over-responsive. There's an area to the right of it, to enable easier vertical scrolling. However, I find this a bit hit and miss to be honest, though it's nice, and indeed handy, when it works.

              Additionally, the 16" WXGA wide screen is bright and clear and, at 1366 by 768, is regarded as being an HD screen, handy for use with the built-in BluRay DVD player. I'm not as impressed with the fact that the screen is glossy. I much prefer a matt screen as I find them easier to see when using the laptop outdoors or in brightly lit areas. This doesn't have a real impact beyond the first minute or so of use, then I found I didn't notice the reflection that much. Image quality from pictures or video from DVD has been excellent.

              Speed-wise, the laptop has more than coped with anything I've thrown at it so far. I've been web browsing, torrent downloading, burning CDs and DVDs, word processing, watching a few DVDs and playing a few games. Both Football Manager 2009 and Civilization 4 have run with no problems.

              Sound-wise, the speakers do a decent, if not outstanding job, of providing the audio. Using Spotify, I thought some of the music was a bit tinny, lacking bass. The sound is Dolby Home Theatre, so it's entirely possible I've not set this up properly (or at all). I've had no such problems listening to audio through headphones, so I would be inclined to believe it's a set up issue.

              The laptop itself feels really quite sturdy, though I wouldn't want to spend a lot of time carrying it around outside of the house. The hinge between screen and the keyboard seems to be a lot more solid than on previous laptops I've owned.

              The laptop comes with Windows Vista Home Premium edition. Personally, I've never had any issues with Vista before and this laptop is no different. The 6390G can shift the windows around without issue. The Windows Experience Index (or WEI, a Vista 'feature') says that the laptop has a score of 3.5, which is slightly misleading. All of the scores, bar one, are high* and this WEI overall score is simply the lowest from the range of tests performed. The lowest, which is the laptop's capability of displaying Windows Vista's Aero interface (the fancy looking desktop effects) was rated at 3.5, whereas everything else scored over 5.0

              Battery life seems standard for a laptop. Internet browsing using wireless drains the battery in about an hour and a half. Turning off wireless networking and only doing some word processing, as an example, extends the battery life to three hours or so. You'd be lucky if you can unplug the laptop from the mains and watch a full-length movie. Obviously, the more you can avoid resource-sucking activities (using wireless, watching video, playing games), then the longer the battery life will be. My maximum, so far, is just over three hours.

              So far, for the price, I can't recommend the laptop enough. The specs are very good for the price (though I think this laptop is due to be superseded quite soon) and when you consider I've not even touched upon the built-in webcam or the fingerprint security (amongst other features) then I'm sure you'll agree that all translates into a laptop that's a very good budget all-rounder.


              This review refers to the Acer 6930G with the part number: LXAUU0X151. There are different versions of the 6930G with different part numbers.

              *WEI scores for Windows Vista range from 1.0 to 5.9


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              • photobox.co.uk / Internet Site / 51 Readings / 47 Ratings
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                30.03.2009 12:39
                Very helpful



                Online store for making the most of your digital photos

                Last year, during a trip to New Zealand, I took over six hundred photographs. I've never had a lot of interest in photography, but I was really pleased with some of the shots and I thought that I needed to investigate a way of doing them justice rather than sitting on my hard drive.

                I investigated quite a few different websites that offered various services related to photography, but I was intrigued by Photobox offering a 2-for-1 deal on Photobooks. These are essentially hard-bound books with your photos printed in them.

                I promptly signed up to the site which gave me 40 free prints (standard sizes only), just as a signing up bonus. Signing up was easy, just a few details followed by an email and my account was ready to use. The site is easy to use, nice to look at and, importantly, quick to use. I had an issue during my early days in trying to find the things I wanted to order, but I've either gotten used to the site or the navigation has been tweaked to make it easier to find items. It's probably a combination of both, actually.

                In order to be able to order any of the items off of Photobox, you have to upload your photos first (or you can link to a Facebook or Flickr account). Uploading from your PC is one of the most time-consuming things about the site. I find that it's easier to make any decisions before doing a bulk upload and often copy everything I need into a temporary folder and just upload all the contents of this folder rather than try and browse through lots of folders making decisions on the fly. Additionally, do any photo manipulation you need before uploading pictures. Red eye reduction etc. needs to be done first, before any upload takes place. Luckily, the tools available for uploading photos are easy to use, but the transfer speed will be determined by your own internet connection. You might need a cup of tea and a book handy if you're uploading lots of photos!

                When creating my Photobooks, I wasn't entirely sure what I hoped to accomplish. It was only after I'd uploaded my photos to the site and played around with the book creation tool that I began to see the possibilities. In the end, I created a book that told a story of my travels across New Zealand complete with as many pictures as I could get in with appropriate comments attached to photos or groups of photos. For the free book, I took my favourite pictures from the holiday and printed them, one to a page, in a bigger size for my enjoyment. In the end, because I'd not restricted myself in what I wanted to include, my photobook cost me approximately £37 including postage and packing (plus a free one) but they start at £22.99, if I recall correctly. When the package arrived through the door, I was astounded by the final results.

                Until this point, I had kept my photos under wraps from friends and family. Now, with my Photobooks, I had something with which to do the shots justice. The reaction I got when I showed the two Photobooks to family, friends and work colleagues was nothing short of unbelievable. There was a lot of appreciation for the photos themselves, but in addition, a lot of people were asking about the Photobooks. Some co-workers are getting married this year and are considering Photobooks as an extra way to display their own pictures (as well as their 'official' wedding album).

                The amount of tools and nice little touches on the site is really quite staggering. The photobook tool itself is extremely easy to use, offering lots of layout options, though I found that it could be a bit small at times, often making your text labels hard to read. If Photobox were to develop a desktop version that was a little easier to see, this would be a HUGE plus point. Luckily for me, some proofreading caught a couple of typos that could have tarnished an otherwise perfect product. When ordering prints, you get a little smiley face beside each picture that lets you know how the picture size will translate to your chosen printed size and this can change as you crop photos in real time. It's been my experience that even the medium smiley face (usually on photos taken with my mobile phone rather than a proper digital camera), the photos still turn out really well on 6 by 4 ½ prints.

                Photobox also gives you plenty of storage for your photos and this increases with each order (a kind of loyalty thing, I guess) which means you can keep your photos uploaded for quick re-printing (and this goes for your photobook designs as well).

                Since my original order, I've shopped quite a few times at Photobox. Some of my New Zealand pictures are now in full 16" x 12" glory, awaiting a suitable frame. I bought a female friend a photobook last year for her birthday, filled with her own photos from the New Zealand trip (that earned me quite a few brownie points, I can tell you) as well as many standard prints from my personal library (printed at 6 by 4 ½ inches to accurately reflect the resolution of digital cameras). There's much more available at Photobox than this small selection and new products are added all the time (and, naturally, some are removed).

                Packaging is excellent with all photos coming in a cardboard envelope as well as a standard photo envelope type thing which makes it hard for Postie to bend (plus it's labelled 'Do Not Bend'). Bigger prints come in a solid cardboard tube that can be easily re-used to beat siblings over the head when they give cheek. Do not try this at home, kids.

                I've given up on places like Jessops, Boots, Snappy Snaps and the like. I can order prints online through Photobox and have them the next day for a standard postage cost or go for something a little more extravagant at a reasonable price and be confident in the quality of the final product. Even during the weekend, it seems that printing continues! My last order, made on a Sunday at 2PM was printed and dispatched by 6PM. So far, I've nothing but praise for the service and final product from Photobox.


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                  09.03.2009 17:46
                  Very helpful



                  An oral history of the zombie war.

                  Supposedly, the war is over. I mean, technically it is and has been for ten years, but there are still millions of zombies active across the globe and, each year, cleanup crews venture far and wide, mopping up the infestation where they can. Billions are (un)dead and each survivor has their own story...

                  Author Max Brooks writes from the perspective of an inspector in a United Nations Post-War Commission who has been given permission by his superiors to write a book documenting the war (which is set in the near future) because the official report was heavily censored.

                  As such, the novel is told from a series of viewpoints by people who were active during the conflict, generally in chronological order (so we start with the suspected outbreak in China and the story behind patient zero) and describes how the zombies spread across the globe and how each country adapts to deal with the new menace (or not in some cases). Some of these oral accounts come from people instrumental in the struggle for their respective countries; others are simply tales of survival.

                  The book wins on many levels for me. I like that it's a global view, rather than the United States-centric view that's often portrayed in other books and films. The multi-person oral history aspect really does give it an air of believability despite the subject matter and there are just so many ideas out there to consider including the ramifications of a person somehow getting transplanted with infected organs. Well, they become zombies apparently. Or what happens when zombies enter the sea? They continue to be active and wander the ocean floors, eating the sea life and occasionally appearing on the beaches. Scarier still, what happens to society when it comes under attack from such an unstoppable force? Well, according to Brooks, it shows a side that not everyone would be pleased to see.

                  I was surprised at how readable the book was. While I liked the ideas behind WWZ, I had assumed that the story would be fragmented and hard to get involved with because of the number of characters/stories within the book and the jumping around that would occur in order to be able to tell the tales.

                  Thankfully, this was not the case. There are a large number of characters, but I found that there was little confusion as each character has their own 'voice'. There are a huge number of ideas put forward within the book, not solely to do with the zombie myth, but the impact of such an uprising across the world. Each story is complete within itself. While there is a film adaptation in the works, WWZ would work equally as well as a television series, with each episode being one of these self-contained oral accounts.

                  I wouldn't consider myself to be a huge fan of the zombie horror genre, but I really enjoyed this interpretation of the zombie genre and was hugely impressed with the scope of the story-telling and the amount of ideas contained within it. Usually, I can pick and choose the bits I liked best, but I thought there were very few weak portions throughout the whole story, with the one exception of the blind Japanese man, and even then it's not bad per se, just the weakest story.

                  For those interested in something a little bit different, this is a definite recommendation.


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                    24.02.2009 17:26
                    Very helpful



                    Call of Duty 4 set in a World War 2 setting, only much, much poorer.

                    I was never a huge fan of games set during World War 2 and although I had enjoyed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I wasn't particularly taken by CoD5. Even when fellow members of a football forum I frequent were being very vocal and enthusiastic about the game, I still wasn't rising to it... until I found myself off work over Christmas, bored and with little to do. As first person shooters are my genre of preference, I trundled down to Game with my wallet in my hand and...

                    I paid £30 for CoD5 - the most I've spent on any PC game, ever.

                    I hate it.

                    It's terrible.

                    Graphically and aurally, you really can't fault it. It does look good (though it is based on the CoD4 game engine which is brilliant) and the Eastern Europe and Pacific settings look very realistic. Sound effects are decent, if not outstanding and the voice acting is good for a game of this type. The voices of the two main supporting characters sounded very familiar to me. I quickly identified one of them to be none other than Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland). It was only after I'd completed the game that I realised the other was Gary Oldman.

                    With a reasonably new PC, you should be able to run the game using the higher specifications. On my 1 year old PC (see specifications at end of review), I was able to max out most settings and play the game at a resolution of 1680 x 1050. Sexy!

                    With regards to the single player campaign, level-wise, I think the game suffers in one instance from the invisible corridors it forces you down. During the Russian/German levels, this isn't a huge issue as you're moving down city streets etc. but in the Pacific levels, when you're in the middle of a jungle, things seem forced and artificial and it's frustrating to try and outflank the enemy, only to run into an invisible barrier or six inch high fallen tree that you can't step over.

                    Just like CoD4 (and possibly earlier versions, though I can only admit to playing CoD4), there is a little variation in the missions, though I don't think there's as much or is as well implemented as CoD4. It also seems to me that CoD5 is simply a version of CoD4 set in an World War 2 environment. CoD4 is widely regarded as being one of the best games of 2007 and possibly a contender for one of the best FPSs of all time and the developers this time around have simply cashed in on that success rather than build upon it.

                    There's also an issue with the fact you have to be the point man... it's your character that has to push forward and hit the trigger points, otherwise your (re-spawning) compatriots will just huddle behind the same cover and get shot, before re-spawning and cowering behind the same cover and getting shot... etc. Part of this problem is due to the fact it's not immediately obvious what you're meant to do or where you're meant to go. You can find yourself running through the battlefield, throwing grenades only to find that you're suddenly faced with dozens of the enemy and your so-called mates are still ducking behind that burned out car at the other end of the field because you haven't hit the trigger point. Thanks a lot, boys. My frustration levels at playing this game and encountering this "unique playing experience" were causing me to swear loudly and repeatedly.

                    Even with the amount of time I wasted playing the game and not hitting the trigger points, the single-player campaign seemed awfully short. CoD4 was a short single-player camping too, but at around eight or nine hours it was about 30% longer than CoD5. Consider that I'd also bought GTA4 for £25 that has at least three times the single player game time as CoD5, then you have to wonder why this game is so short.

                    There is a multi-player aspect to COD5, but the frustrations I felt with the single player game (trigger points plus short playing time) meant I really didn't want to delve into it. There's also a special zombie game mode that unlocks when you complete the game, but I played that twice and then uninstalled the entire thing from my PC.

                    The Call of Duty series is developed by two development teams - Treyarch and Infinity Ward. Infinity Ward are the original developers (and the team behind the excellent CoD4). It's Treyarch that are responsible for this travesty. I've been disappointed and underwhelmed with PC game purchases before, but I can't recall one ever leaving me this frustrated and angry.

                    Recommended Specs:

                    CPU: Pentium 4, 3 GHz or equivalent
                    Memory: At least 512 MB (1 GB for Vista)
                    HD: 8 GB of free space
                    Graphics: 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 or ATI Radeon X1600
                    Sound: DirectX 9.0c compliant card

                    My Specs (where different):

                    CPU: Core 2 Duo 3 GHz
                    Memory: 2GB
                    Graphics: GeForce 9800GT


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                      12.01.2009 19:35
                      Very helpful



                      Excellent FPS for the PC, offering great VFM over single and multiplayer experience.

                      The Call of Duty series of FPS action games is primarily known for its depiction of World War 2 campaigns. I've never been particularly interested in this era in a gaming fashion, so have tended to shy away from the CoD games. However, episode four of the successful series was entitled "Modern Warfare" and takes place in a war-torn world of our near future. The single-player game, for the most part, puts you in the boots of two protagonists, "Soap" MacTavish and Paul Jackson as they embark on their respective missions in Russia and an un-named Middle Eastern country respectively.

                      The single player campaign is excellent... the combination of storyline and the bond you build with the characters helps you get involved in the story, so when the heat is on, you really do feel your heartbeat going as bullets ricochet around you and grenades land dangerously nearby. While the single player campaign is quite short (I played through it in about seven hours), it is enjoyable (although I thought the story got a little cheesy in places), with a little variety in the game play to keep things interesting and a few interesting game tweaks and "cheats" available after you've completed the game to give an element of replayability. Despite using the same game engine as the more recent "Call of Duty: World at War", the game doesn't suffer from the same flaws inherent in the later game, seemingly due to better design from my observations. There is still an element of you, the player, driving the team on by hitting trigger points, but this is not really that apparent and in an area, if there are three separate routes to the exit, the team will split up and make their own way there, once you have activated that trigger point.

                      The multiplayer is where the game earns its stripes, though. My own personal opinion is that the single player experience is why you buy a game (with the obvious exception of multi-player only games like Team Fortress 2) and then any multi-player aspect is simply a bonus to be enjoyed, should the single player be any good. However, CoD4's multiplayer is a superb gaming experience in its own right. The maps used, for the most part, come direct from the game, with a little tweaking and there are maps that range from very small (suitable for 3 vs. 3 matches) to large (games with 20 vs. 20 are not unheard of). I find that most maps are ideally balanced at around 10 vs. 10, irrespective of the many game types on offer. Part of my enthusiasm for the multiplayer might well have to do with the group of people I normally play with (where it gets very silly, very quickly), but even as a stranger on servers, most people make you welcome.

                      Unlike previous versions of the game, CoD4 uses a proprietary game engine developed in-house by Infinity Ward and it really does an excellent job. You don't notice the detail as you're running around, ducking behind cover and legging it like a scaredy cat when the enemy throws grenades in your general direction, but taking a minute to have a look shows that Infinity Ward have put together a very capable game engine that not only looks good, but seems to perform very well even on lower specced machines.

                      The audio, too, is very good but you really don't notice this until you play the multiplayer aspect where the sound is very important. Your opponents, half the time, are located purely by listening to the sounds of their footsteps as they walk across wood or stone or metal. Gunshots can also give away your location, so consider a silencer or perhaps sneaking up and using a knife instead of that long range headshot you were considering.

                      CoD4 is not a game that is revolutionary in any way... it's a bog-standard first person shooter, albeit done exceedingly well. It's certainly a better game than its successor, "Call of Duty: World at War" and arguably as good as the recent A-list FPS Far Cry 2, which was terribly disappointing. If you don't already own CoD4 and are looking for a PC FPS, then CoD4 is fifteen of your English pounds, well spent.


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                        08.01.2009 17:40
                        Very helpful



                        Site full of financial and copnsumer-related advice.

                        No-one likes paying over the odds for anything and I'd hazard a guess that most people like a bargain too. That's always been the case (don't we all know of "Rip-off Britain"?) and is even more relevant now in these "credit crunch" days. [Why not just call it a recession and be done with it?] These days, consumers are getting savvier, but where do they get their information from? For UK consumers, the most popular and well-known site is Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert.

                        For me, the site can be split into three main pieces: the front side, where Martin does his journalistic thing, the forum where the public can get involved and the weekly email full of tips and bargains.

                        The "front side" is bursting at the seams with easily digestible information that's understandable and without jargon for the most part. There are sections that cover almost every financial situation you'll come across and they're free to access. Helpfully, each section also has direct links to the MSE forum where Martin posts up-to-date alerts and pieces of information. There are also some really nice tools to help you with your budgeting such as the Tart Alert (get emailled when your interest free period on your credit card is about to elapse) or the Demotivator (want to know how much you'll save if you give up your daily mug of Starbucks coffee?) and these really can help, especially in the planning of your budgets and money saving exercises. Some of the advice is nothing more than pure and simple common sense e.g. if you have lots of clutter, sell what you can, but it can help to have it come from a recognised source.

                        The forum is a handy accessory to the main site where Martin's articles can be discussed and pretty much any kind of financial dilemma can gain advice and, as with any forum, its strength (or weakness) is a direct refection on the membership. For the most part, this is not an issue but I can't help feel a little concern at the posts (and to a certain extent, posters) in the "Up your Income" and "Debt Free Wannabe" forums where so-called money making schemes are passed around, writing reviews on Dooyoo is only one example. Depending on the potential income offered, these can be dissected for loopholes to exploit and it's not unheard of for these sites to be "gamed" (e.g. cartels, churning encouraged etc.) To be perfectly honest, this seems to go against the ethos of the MSE site and forum and I personally find it extremely distasteful. Similarly, that people are looking to earn a second income or pay off debts in excess of £15,000 using the pennies gained from sites such as Dooyoo or survey sites is, quite frankly, rather worrying in my opinion. That's the negative side... the positive side is that there are loads of people willing to help out with various consumer and finance related queries. The usual caveats about taking care when asking for this advice are as applicable here as any other forum, but it's a good place to hear what the public has to say.

                        The email is sent out each week and the latest one to drop into my inbox is entitled "£99 Xbox 360, student loan shock rate cut, £30 iTunes for £20, £10 hotels, phone & broadband £14/mth, 25% off Pizza Hut and more...", just to give you a taste of what you might expect. The good thing about signing up is that you won't be spammed by MSE or any other site as a result of giving them your email address, so it's safe to add at work (as I do). The email, in HTML format, is sadly as messy looking as the site and forum, but the quality of content still makes up for the rather cluttered look.

                        I've used the site many times over the years, seeking advice and information on many different topics, such as investigating loans, changing bank accounts, upgrading my mobile phone on O2, spending money abroad and asking for consumer-related advice when a mobile phone broke within warranty. I have always come away impressed with both the site and the members on the forum who, for the most part, are fantastic and very helpful.

                        Everything about MSE is free to use and it's nice to see that the MSE site does admit that it's financed through the use of affiliated links when doing comparisons of financial products such as credit cards etc. The site claims that these recommendations are not influenced by affiliates. I can neither confirm nor deny this statement... the MSE recommendations I've looked at (mainly credit cards) often match that of other sites, such as The Motley Fool.

                        In terms of information and advice, you really can't fault MSE for the most part. Design-wise, I think it's quite messy and garish and often appears badly laid out until you're used to the whole setup, but I prefer a "clean" design with little frills such as Wikipedia, for example. The rather busy layout is especially noticeable in the forums where it can be hard to see useful information like private messages or breadcrumbs (to find out where you are in the forum) as they're not exactly where you expect them to be if you're used to other forums.

                        You can't really go wrong with MSE as an information source. Some of the basic, general advice from Martin and forum members is excellent and if you're as clueless about financial jargon as I am, you'll find that the articles are not full of it and are written using plain language where possible. The email is a handy addition that might not always have what you want, but can offer up some tempting surprises from time to time.

                        For most people, MSE is easily a four star site, but the gaming of sites such as Dooyoo by a minority of members plus the rather cluttered layout of some pages on the site means I'll knock a star off.


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                        • Fallout 3 (PC) / PC Game / 35 Readings / 28 Ratings
                          More +
                          07.01.2009 21:14
                          Very helpful



                          Superb FPS/RPG hybrid with loads of nice touches.

                          Right from the very start, Fallout 3 offers a new twist on the RPG genre. Rather than "roll dice" or randomly generate numbers alone, your character's attributes are also determined by some little scenes that play out during the early part of your life in Vault 101 (a large nuclear fallout shelter that's big enough to support an entire community). This is a nice touch and it did help me get immersed in the game, but it can be frustrating for those that like to get involved in the game immediately.

                          After a traumatic event in your Vault life, you emerge into the real world for the first time, each step taking you literally further from your past. The real world proves to be tough going for an eighteen year old, a post-nuclear wasteland in the Washington DC area with mutated animals proving a nuisance, pockets of civilisation few and far between and plenty of raiders willing to take your bottle caps (currency) off your hands. Still, you have your goals to accomplish, so onwards and upwards!

                          For fans of the previous Fallout games, despite the change in genre from being a point-and-click RPG with an isometric view to first/third person/RPG hybrid, there will be a lot of familiar terms to get re-acquainted with, including the G.E.C.K., dogmeat, the Enclave and the 'feel' of the game remains consistent with earlier outings. Despite the rather gloomy and adult nature of the game, it's not without humour and there are plenty of incidents that caused me, at the very least, to give a wry smile while others are laugh out loud funny.

                          Bethesda has done a magnificent job in creating something that can equally appeal to both fans and newcomers to the series alike. Even with the change in technology to a first person, real-time affair, there are still plenty of RPG elements involved such as attributes, character levels, quests etc.

                          With the scope and depth of the game, there is plenty for gamers to see and do. Beyond the disappointingly short main plot thread, there are plenty of side quests to discover and a huge map to explore. Additionally, it seems as if plenty of thought has gone into the game mechanics, to improve the game play experience. For example, if you have discovered two places of interest on opposite sides of the map, you don't have to walk between them in real time. You can simply fast travel between them, which takes a lot of game time, but only a second in real time. You could still walk if you wanted to, though, and it is the best way to discover some of the cool things in the game.

                          No game is ever perfect though and Fallout 3 is no exception. I thought that the game itself was far too easy and I'd hit the maximum level of experience long before the climax of the game, making all but the most difficult combat encounters a walk in the park. Despite that, I was also disappointed that there wasn't more room for exploring the game after the main story thread had been completed due to a major plot point at the climax of the game. I guess it does give the game a certain amount of replay value, but after building up all that "experience" would you want to go back to being a level one character, even if you do decide to be "bad" rather than "good"?

                          I have spotted a few issues that might well be bugs, mainly related to items I can sell to characters, but nothing that has a huge impact on the game and may well be fixed by upcoming patches.

                          I played Fallout 3 on my Windows Vista PC with 2GB RAM and a 3Ghz Core 2 Duo processor and got great performance, with pretty much every setting set to high levels. The game is good graphically, but perhaps not amazing. That's not really an issue because the engine does the job in shifting things around quickly when necessary and I thought it was easy to get immersed in the game due to the graphics and audio even with the anachronism of having the game set in 2277, but seemingly with a 1950s vibe to it given the music and other elements dotted around such as the burned out cars etc.

                          I paid less than £20 and have had a load of fun from the game... in excess of thirty hours from my first go through the game and more if I replay the game. There's also the G.E.C.K. editor that Bethesda have recently released, enabling you to create more content for the game, should you choose and upcoming downloadable content (though I am unsure if PC gamers will have to pay for it). That makes it superb value for money in my book. Given that other recent A-list PC games have been extremely disappointing (Call of Duty 5 and Far Cry 2 as prime examples), this is where to invest your hard-earned cash if you're looking for a PC game with depth.

                          My Specs:
                          3GHz Core 2 Duo processor
                          2GB RAM
                          GeForce 8600GT graphics card
                          Windows Vista

                          Recommended Specs:
                          Intel Core 2 Duo processor
                          2 GB System RAM
                          Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 512MB RAM (NVIDIA 8800 series, ATI 3800 series)


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                            02.12.2008 11:29
                            Very helpful



                            THE place to stay for the budget conscious in Wellington.

                            I've stayed in the YHA Wellington a few times over the years, the first in 2002. I liked the hostel enough that when I decided to spend a few days in Wellington at the start of 2008, I never even considered other hotels or hostels in the city.

                            I booked online at www.yha.co.nz which is a very easy-to-use website and all tariffs and availably is clearly marked, though I recall getting frustrated because, looking for a single room, I was told such a thing was unavailable. However, a single room was available for two out of the six nights I was at the hostel and is a flaw in the booking system. This is/was consistent for all YHA hostel bookings, not just Wellington, so it's wise to play around with the booking form if you can't immediately get what you're looking for (or alternatively contact the hostel direct).

                            Wellington YHA is situated on the corner of Wakefield Street and Cambridge Terrace, I found the hostel to be ideally placed for exploration around Wellington city centre. It seemed like a fair hike from the train station (which was how I arrived, cold and wet, all those years ago), but it's only about a mile and a half and the bus route from the airport stops about ninety seconds walk away.

                            The hostel is close to a number of really good bars and restaurants and about five minutes walk from the main shopping area. There are also a number of good tourist attractions within a few minutes' walk of the hostel, such as Te Papa, the national museum. If you want to avoid the backpacker crowds at night, it's easy to do as a lot of backpackers tend to stay within a few minutes' walk of the hostels (there are two large hostels in the area, including the YHA). By spreading our wings just a little further, my new found chums and I were able to find a couple of bars and cafes that weren't rammed to the rafters with backpackers.

                            Each time I've used the hostel, I've stayed in a twin room (sometimes shared with travelling chums, sometimes on my own), which were always clean and easily big enough for two people and their bags. There weren't any storage facilities for clothes like a wardrobe or anything except for a few hooks on the door, but there was a desk-type thingy and a chair and the beds were very comfortable.

                            The staff members that I encountered were friendly, helpful and knowledgeable and always approachable. I caught one girl just as the front desk was closing one night and asked her advice about things I was planning on doing while in the city. We were still chatting over half an hour later and ended up taking the conversation to a nearby pub so that the front desk could actually close. Both check-in and check-out were also quick, but still pleasant. The reception area was always busy with people looking for interest tokens or advice or wanting to make a travel booking and the staff seemed to deal with people efficiently, meaning I was never hanging around for too long when I needed to talk to someone.

                            The facilities were great and clean. The kitchen area was large, big enough for several groups of people to cook at one time without getting in each others' way and, handily, the hostel was thirty seconds walk from a large supermarket. The internet room contained about ten PCs and was always busy, though not always packed out. The showers and toilets were always spotless, as was the laundry area.

                            Unlike Surf n Snow hostel in Auckland, the Wellington YHA appears to be very modern in that very little around the hostel showed any signs of wear and tear. Surf n Snow, which undoubtedly clean, did show signs of being a pretty ragged around the edges.

                            Compared to other hostels I've stayed in over the years, one thing I've found constant about YHA Wellington is that it's easy to meet and talk to other people. There are TV rooms, game rooms, kitchens and dining areas where there are always people milling around and as long as you're not interrupting their lunch or dinner, they will happily talk to you. Why some hostels are better for meeting other people and others are poor is a mystery to me, but I've met a lot of nice people at YHA Wellington.

                            During the five weeks I spent in New Zealand in March 2008, the Wellington YHA was by far the best hostel I stayed in. It was clean and modern and comfortable, with the added bonus of being near most things I was interested in and the vibe around the hostel meant it was easy to meet and talk to people. Now, with the likes of Base Backpackers opening nearby (aimed more at younger travellers looking to party), the Wellington YHA is better suited to those wanting a slightly quieter life.

                            Room rates during the time I stayed were approximately NZ$75 per night (twin room) with exchange rate making that around £26 per night. Cheaper options are available (e.g. dorms).


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                            • LG KU990 Viewty / Mobile Phone / 40 Readings / 37 Ratings
                              More +
                              22.11.2008 17:53
                              Very helpful



                              Should have been a good phone, but falls far short.

                              Alarm bells should have been ringing. When I last upgraded my phone from a Nokia to the Sony Ericsson K800i (which had been on the market around a year at this stage), I had to haggle to get the handset cost down to what I thought was a reasonable price from well over £100. This time, the operator was offering a new phone, only on the market for six months, for £30. As the Viewty was something I had been considering as an upgrade, I took the offer without too much thought.

                              I wish I hadn't bothered...

                              Rather worryingly, when launched, the Viewty was LG's flagship phone, promised lots and yet it failed to live up to my expectations right from the moment the battery charged and I was able to play around with it. On paper, the Viewty looks like a great phone, but somewhere along the way, this failed to translate from design to product.

                              Where to start?

                              It's a good sized phone which isn't too heavy, but still feels solid enough in my hand. The back cover doesn't fit as snugly as it might, so when the phone vibrates, the back cover can rattle if it's sitting on a hard surface. The screen is big and all the fonts and icons are clear and readable in all lighting conditions.

                              As a phone, it tends to be OK. It's possible to do the things you would normally do without too much hassle, although sometimes the operating system and touch screen can cause issues. For example, sometimes, after I've finished making a call, the phone software freezes meaning I don't actually hang up until twenty or thirty seconds later. I also found that I had to slow my texting down a little as the phone didn't want to keep up with me. Apart from these issues, which seems to be related to the speed of the operating system (and is too slow), basic phone functions - making and receiving calls or text messages was fine.

                              The interface:

                              There are three options for sending text messages - handwriting, keypad and keyboard. Despite having a touch screen, the keypad is still the easiest to use, but I have real problems with the predictive text offering up some weird combinations. Trying to add an apostrophe and an 's' onto the end of words gives me an automatic '17', for example.

                              Handwriting recognition is good for impressing the nerds, but it can be so temperamental that it's not really worth bothering with and I often spend some time trying to get the phone to recognise letters. I'm not 100% sure if this is a problem with the screen or the actual recognition software, but it's not foolproof.

                              The operation of the phone isn't consistent throughout the various features, so scrolling through a list of text messages uses a different technique to scrolling through a list of photos, just as one example. I found that really annoying and extremely poor design.

                              There are screen protectors in the box to help keep the screen scratch free, but I found the touch screen interface to be much more responsive when I was changing the covers, that I ended up not bothering to stick on the second one. In its favour, the screen is holding up well to not having any protection, even after a few months. It hasn't improved the handwriting recognition though.


                              Contrary to popular belief, the Viewty is not an iPhone rival. The camera is meant to be THE selling point of the Viewty, but it simply doesn't cut the mustard. It's a 5 MP camera, but I got better quality pictures from my old K800i which was only 3 MP. I've had a look at the files on my PC and it seems that whatever compression is used on the images, this reduces the picture quality. The file sizes for the Viewty's photos are a fraction of the size of similar pictures from my K800i, despite supposedly having a lot more information in them. Pictures in low light are also very poor. The flash isn't bad, but I found you have to do a bit of trial and error to find the optimal distance from your subject or else the flash washes out the image or doesn't light it up enough.

                              The video camera can be quite good, with an option to take video at 120 frames per second, but you can only play back at 30 fps, giving you the chance to video things in slow motion.

                              PC Connectivity:

                              The LG software is nothing special, but is sadly lacking in capabilities. Compared to what I was able to do with various pieces of software with the K800i, the LG PC Suite can do the basic set up and basic file maintenance. On other phones, having that extra functionality is a luxury, but with the LG's operating software being less than intuitive, extra functionality in the software is a must.

                              In fact, I'd go so far as to say that all phone software should be as complete as the "MyPhoneExplorer" application for the Sony Ericsson K-series phones - make and receive calls while controlling your phone through your PC, send text messages etc. That's proper phone management.

                              A few months after installing the LG PC Suite, it simply stopped working. It will boot up and look to be running OK, but when I try to synchronise with my PC, it fails to connect to the phone. Un-installing and reinstalling the software has not resolved the issue.


                              Even with the phone being sub-par, LG could have improved the overall performance with updates to the phone in the form of firmware updates, but to the best of my knowledge, LG have never released any updates to improve the phone performance or increase image quality etc.

                              Apple do it, Sony Ericsson do it and apparently LG have done it for a small number of their phones, but not for a phone that was, at one time, their flagship product.

                              Memory expansion:

                              Despite the phone hardware being able to take 8GB memory cards, the phone cannot write any more than 2GB. If you want to use a bigger memory card to its full potential, you need to add all your software, music etc. to the card before inserting it into the phone. (This is one of those issues that could be easily fixed with a firmware upgrade.)


                              I have to say that I'm a greatly disappointed in the Viewty, even having paid a paltry £30 for it. I try not to let single incidents colour my view and will often give the benefit of the doubt, but in this case, the poor quality of the Viewty coupled with LG's complete lack of support for the phone has really made me question whether I'd ever buy an LG Phone ever again. I've stopped using the Viewty and am back with my K800i, which doesn't have as big a screen, but is a better phone in almost every department and is much easier to use thanks to the third party software.


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                                08.09.2008 17:03
                                Very helpful



                                Whitewater rafting experience in Queenstown, NZ.

                                Queenstown Rafting offers rafting on both the Shotover River and the Kawarau River. We chose the Shotover option because it seemed to be the tougher of the two rivers in terms of the grades of the rapids on the rivers, but both options are the same price and give the same amount of river time.

                                The rafting experience, for us, began in Queenstown town centre where we were picked up in the bus and taken to the main headquarters at Cavell's Rafting Lodge, just a few minutes' drive up the road. During the summer, there are two departures each day for those doing the half-day rafting - early morning and lunchtime. There, you're "measured" for your wetsuit and other safety gear and given a short safety talk before the main journey to the staging point commences.

                                On the way up to our starting point on the Shotover River, our guide 'Deano' entertained us with his safety briefing by holding up a card that was not unlike those safety cards you see on nearly every flight.

                                "Unlike that briefing on an aeroplane before each flight, this card WILL save your life. Please read it. If you are Australian, there are pictures down the side for you to look at. If you don't speak English, then there are instructions in other languages on the back that I'm pointing at now. However, because you don't speak English, you'll have no idea that I'm telling you to turn the card over..."

                                Deano wasn't done with his jokes either...

                                "What's the difference between a pot of yoghurt and an Australian?

                                A pot of yoghurt has culture!"

                                Deano kept the entire bus amused (apart from the poor Australians, of course) until we were well on our way. That was just as well because the road out to the launch point, Skippers Road, is fairly narrow and there are huge stretches of road where, if you have a window seat (it doesn't matter which side), you'll see sheer drops right beside the track. Obviously, if you're afraid of heights, get an aisle seat and don't look out!

                                Arriving at the launch point in Skippers Canyon, we hung around for a few minutes awaiting the other buses and a few stragglers. The rafting crew started preparing the rafts for the trip downriver and the rest of us milled about in our wetsuits.

                                Once everyone had arrived (including a group of lads who touched down in a rather dramatic and impressive-looking helicopter ride), Deano gave everyone a safety talk. Despite his humour on the bus, he was correct: nearly everything he mentioned in the safety talk and on the card, I put to use later that day, so it's advisable to really pay attention here.

                                Selection for the rafts was done somewhat arbitrarily with a bloke standing in front of the crowd and selecting six people from the crowd. As advised by Deano, my travelling companion and I stood close together so that the selector knew to keep us in the same raft.

                                Once the raft allocations had been sorted, our personal rafting guide, Grant, gave us a further safety talk and allocated seats. We were grouped with two Australian blokes, an Irish girl and her English friend. Grant asked for two people to take point on the front of the raft and the two Australian guys jumped at the chance, before I could stick my hand up. Introductions were made and we clambered into the raft.

                                The first part of the journey was rather lazy as we let the river do most of the work (this is true for most of the voyage and we were only really required to paddle to change direction, speed up or slow down). Taking advantage of the lack of action, Grant taught us the commands he would use to guide us down the river or in case of emergency and what we were expected to do when he shouted these commands.

                                During our journey down the river, Grant was a fount of knowledge about the river which was the centre of a major gold rush in the late 18th century (and there's plenty of evidence of this left behind which Grant pointed out). Surprisingly the rafters allowed a certain amount of japes, so expect a lot of splashing as you pass another raft (or are being passed). When a raft full of Israeli ex-military personnel (the guys who arrived by helicopter) started getting a bit "competitive" with the other rafters, they were soon put in their place when we boarded them, pirate style, and threw them all overboard, before returning to our raft and paddling downstream, much to Grant's amusement. Arrrr, me hearties!

                                There were a lot of people on the river that day. If I recall correctly, there were at least six rafts (possibly a couple more), each with a maximum of seven people (six rafters plus a guide) and there were also a few people following our "convoy" in canoe, purely for safety purposes. It was all quite sociable, even though we were split up for most of it, trading banter as we passed each other on the river. We even bumped into our fellow raft mates, the Irish and English girls, later in our trip around New Zealand and shared more than a few beers with them.

                                At certain points the water was quite deep and there was hardly any current. Grant suggested that anyone interested could go for a swim. I duly obliged because I was slowly roasting alive inside my wetsuit and enjoyed a few minutes in the cold water, floating alongside the raft. The water was bracing and I would imagine it's not an option that's offered during the winter months. If you have a choice of when you want to do this, I'd suggest the summer as in the winter, the start off point is much further down the river meaning a shorter journey in the raft. I'd also suggest enquiring about taking a drink along with you as I was terribly thirsty in the raft and there wasn't anything on offer (apart from the river...)

                                Grant also suggested (in one of these deep, quiet areas) that we could try and flip the raft. The three girls onboard were vehemently against this, but that didn't stop the four boys on board from trying (and failing) to land everyone in the water!

                                All-in-all, we were on the river for around 3 hours, though the entire experience was really around 4.5 hours from departure in the middle of Queenstown to drop off back in the town centre. I really enjoyed the white water rafting and would thoroughly recommend it. It's not as dangerous or difficult as everyone pretends and I would have liked to have had a few more rapids to go through, but all-in-all I had a fantastic afternoon. Despite the relative lack of danger, everyone involved still takes safety very seriously and it's not as strenuous as you might think (though I still felt it in my shoulders the next day). In order to get a little more of a thrill out of the trip, if you can blag the front seats in the raft, then I'd thoroughly suggest that.

                                Queenstown rafting offers plenty of different options and we only decided on the vanilla half-day rafting option. You can do heli-rafting (as the Israeli boys had chosen) as well as rafting/jet boating combos at a range of price points. I think our rafting experience cost us around NZ$165 which, with the exchange rate, was about £60 and I thought every single penny was well spent. If I were ever back in Queenstown again, I'd definitely be up for further rafting.


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                                  05.09.2008 16:42
                                  Very helpful
                                  1 Comment



                                  Cheap, no frills hotel close to Heathrow.

                                  My flight from Singapore to Heathrow was scheduled to arrive at 1900 on a Friday night and the last flights to Belfast were due to depart before 2000, so my chances of getting through immigration and customs and being able to check-in to a connecting flight were practically zero.

                                  I had to find some solution to my travel dilemma that preferably didn't involve spending a lot of cash. I don't sleep whilst travelling, so I was also looking for a solution that would involve as little extra travel as possible. I had a few offers from London-based chums of a sofa/spare bed, which I refused due to the extra travel time of getting to central London. Luckily a friend of mine, who's a frequent visitor to all manner of airports across Europe, pointed me in the direction of the recently-opened Jury's Inn Heathrow.

                                  I've stayed at a few Jury's hotels over the years including Belfast and Cork and found them to be of a decent enough standard for the price, so this was a good solution.

                                  Jury's Inn Heathrow is just off the airport itself on Eastern Perimeter Road/Great Southwest Road or about five minutes walk from Hatton Cross Underground Station, if you're travelling by Tube. I believe there's a shuttle bus service, too, but I didn't use this.

                                  Check-in was quick and simple, which was just as well as the night was cold and wet and I wasn't in a great mood. It only took a few minutes to get issued with my key card and I was soon in the lift, heading towards my room. The key card worked first time when required, getting in to my room and as security access for the lifts too, which was great compared to my last stay in Bewley's hotel in Dublin.

                                  Initial impressions were great. The room, according to my memory, seemed to be that little bit bigger than other rooms in similar hotels. The bathroom/toilet was of a standard size and typically clean and bright. There was plenty of storage space in the room itself, though as I was only staying for one night, I never actually used it. There was the obligatory writing desk and chair, plus an extra comfier looking chair if you didn't facy lounging around on the bed.

                                  The bed was very comfortable, though to be honest, at this stage, I'd been awake for fifty two hours straight and a bed of nails would have seemed as comfortable. By the time I'd had a long hot soak in the bath to ease away the travel fatigue, I was more than ready for sleep.

                                  Being an airport hotel, it's functional more than anything else. The view from my window, for example, showed nothing more than a back lot in the airport (albeit with Concorde parked there). That was fair enough in my book because it was cold, wet and dark outside in stark contrast to what I had experienced in New Zealand. There's also the fact that, if you're there for a while, there's not exactly much to do in the vicinity in terms of, well, anything that might help kill some time. Again, this wasn't a factor to me as I spent the majority of my time in my room, sleeping.

                                  The next morning, I awoke after a good thirteen hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep. The weather outside had improved, but the view hadn't. I nipped downstairs to investigate the breakfast options, which was in full swing by the time I had stirred from my pit. There were several options for breakfast including full English and Continental, all self serve/buffet. I managed to have both, for the grand price of absolutely nothing. I believe that normally, breakfasts are extra and you can either pay at the restaurant or charge to your room. However, the restaurant was solely staffed by those serving food, so there didn't seem to be anyone there to charge for the breakfast and I walked straight in from the lobby without any skulking around. The breakfast, at least the English one, was pretty good for a self-serve buffet style.

                                  Check out was noon, so I still had plenty of time to return to my room, have another bath and spend twenty or so minutes chilling out with a magazine and watching the news before I had to vacate. The check out process was as easy as the check-in process and the staff were, at the very least, professional at all times.

                                  I managed to get a room for £55 per night I had booked a double. The hotel is fairly new, only opening at the start of 2008, so I cannot remember if this was a special opening offer, but certainly explains the high standards within the hotel (and possibly the slightly-larger-than-normal room sizes).

                                  With travel time to the airport (via tube/foot) less than ten minutes from Terminal One, the Jury's Heathrow was, for me, a good stopping over hotel when flight times were not accommodating. It's a fairly no-frills hotel, but that suited me to a tee and I would thoroughly recommend this as an option for those travelling through Heathrow that need somewhere to stay for an evening.


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