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    • More +
      19.08.2009 09:28
      Very helpful



      Inviting book good for probing the imagination

      You Choose" by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt

      Nothing is more precious than a child's imagination. Most parents know that no matter how much money you spend on fancy toys for a toddler, they will get just as much (if not more) enjoyment out of a couple of clothes pegs or an old bucket full of sudsy water. Kids seems to be pre-programmed to make believe, to imagine themselves as grown-ups, teachers, policemen or spacemen; for them imagining an alternative life is a way of life.

      This book encourages kids to fantasise about life - and because it's a book, mum and dad can join in too, and perhaps get a little insight into what their kids dream of. It's not a story book - there are very few words within. Each double page spread just asks a simple question like - "What would you wear?", accompanied by a plethora of pictures, cartoon style, of a gazillion different ideas.

      Each double page has a theme - I'll walk you through a few.

      First we choose somewhere to go. If you could go anywhere, where would you go? The picture covers the whole gamut of earthly possibilities - mountains, valleys, forests, cities, towns, villages, desert, seaside, volcanoes or canyons - and much more. Look up in the sky and there planets to visit, or the moon, the blue sky darkening into the black of outer-space, studded with stars.

      Who would you like for family and friends? Two pages of portraits - people of every hue and age, witches, aliens, monarchs, Vikings, or perhaps Father Christmas? There's a picture of a vampire which my three-year old says is "grandpa"; very telling.

      What kind of home would you choose? What would you put in it? Would you travel with wheels or wings? What would you eat? Wear? Shoes? A hat? (Yes, there is a whole page of around 42 hats!). Get yourself a pet (tiger? unicorn?). Job? What would you do for fun? And finally, where would you sleep?

      At first glance, it might not be obvious how to use this book, since there isn't a story. It actually works well on different levels. For younger kids, it is a fabulous source of vocabulary. You can start out teaching your baby "hat", then move on to 42 different types of hat as they grow older (and more hat-obsessed perhaps!). The pages with animals were a firm favourite with my daughter - she learnt the standard dog, cat, lion, monkey etc quickly, and has moved on to the more challenging toucan, chameleon and stick insect. The page with jobs is a little advanced for my three-year old, but means that the book is one we can return to as she gets older. The page with "fun activities" can be exploited for verbs - there are drawings of kids doing all kinds of interesting activities, from building snowmen to karate. The final pages, festooned with people in various beds, is an excellent way to draw a bedtime story to a close, as you can say n'night to everyone from mermaids to pirates (and of course Father Christmas and the vampire feature here too).

      With very young babies, it's enough to point and name - "That's a lion" etc. Next, you can ask "Where's the piano?" and get them to point at the item. Later, you can ask your child "What's that?" and see how many words they can actually say. Even later you can work on ideas like counting "How many cat's are there?" or "What colour is that snake?" and further down the line you could go with "How does Father Christmas feel about going to bed with a vampire?", etc. Its possibilities are limitless, but do need to be parent lead. You could probably use this book all the way up to A level, with "Discuss the social implications of living in an inner city tower block" or "Trace the evolutionary line from the tortoise to the Dalek in 7 moves", etc.

      Anyway, joking aside, this book is lots of fun. It's bright and jolly, different every time you read it, big square and slim, and can be as long or as short as you want it to be. Recommended.


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      • Annie [1999] (DVD) / DVD / 31 Readings / 31 Ratings
        More +
        17.08.2009 09:35
        Very helpful
        1 Comment



        Raucous film with annoying catchy song

        Annie - Fit for Viewing by Persons Generally

        Excruciating, is one word which comes to mind, when thinking of how to sum up Annie the Musical. Raucous, grating and harsh, could describe the songs. Contrived, implausible and sudsy, the plot. However, I've watched this DVD probably getting on for 100 times as it is a firm favourite with my daughter, who is 3, which just goes to prove that genetics don't always work.

        I saw Annie the musical as a stage production when a sprog myself, and I took from that experience a love of the fandabulous song "Tomorrow", as well as the desire to be a 4 ft 3 curly-ginger-headed American girl with a stinky mutt for a bed-fellow. Luckily for my parents, the obsession only lasted till the next musical we went to see, (when I then yearned to be a 4 ft 3 mousy-haired Cockney boy with fleas and unhealthy appetite for gruel). I managed to eradicate the entire plot of the show from my mind pretty quickly, but still vaguely remembered that song for years to come.

        Fast-forward about 30 years to the present. The gift. My mother, evidently re-living the 1970s with ever greater clarity as she advances into OAPdom, decides that a DVD of Annie the Musical will be an ideal present for my daughter - since I was such a fan myself! My instinct is to inwardly groan - although I can't really remember the story at all, there is something about small red-haired American brats that does not call out to me "quality movie". I remove the cellophane packaging with a heavy heart. There are two possible outcomes - either my daughter will love it, and we will watch it endlessly for several weeks in a row (hell), or she will say "that's rubbish!" and turn it off after 3 seconds, offending my mother and sparking a family row that will inevitably end up with us all at each other's throats till bedtime (hell).

        She loves it. It was an instant hit, and she watched it through twice on the first day. After that, we had it on every single day for several weeks, until my daughter had managed to learn all the songs off by heart. Nowadays we don't watch it that often, but by god we belt out those songs together so frequently I think all the neighbours probably know the songs by heart too, which is saying something since we live in Bulgaria. (I suspect some of you are frowning at the amount of DVD watching going on in my household. All I can say is that my daughter is the boss. She knows how to put DVDs in herself and the carnage that results if we disallow one is really not worth the bother.)

        For those of you blessed readers who have never happened across this charming story, "Annie" follows the adventures of a Annie the orphan, who by chance gets plucked out of the orphanage and gets to stay in the lap of luxury at "daddy" Warbuck's mansion, because he wants to look like he's doing his bit for charity. Annie has tried to escape from the orphanage several times, and is a feisty little madam with lots of sneaky tricks up her sleeve, so she wheedles her way into being the chosen one. Although he never intended to keep the orphan full-time, Warbucks predictably decides she's better off with him, and he's better off with her. But, shock horror, Annie doesn't want to stay! She likes the high-life, to be sure, but would prefer to find her real parents, whom she believes are still alive. Warbucks puts out a radio advert to try to find Annie's parents, and, predictably, gets lots of bounty-hunters turn up at his gate as a result of the tidy little reward he's also offering. I won't spoil the plot for you. Needless to say, it's got a happy-ending. Or should I say saccharin-sweet?

        Annie is a musical, and there is plenty of music, and plenty of "dancing" too. The orphanage is populated by seemingly hundred of small bendy girls, who cartwheel across the dormitories and do hand-stands over their pales of water like there's no tomorrow. (Yes, that was a pun). When Annie arrives at Warbucks mansion, the entire household-staff dance with their various cleaning products, which is delightful. The music is dreadful. In my opinion, there is not one single number in this film which is pleasant on the ear-drums. It's harsh - the singing itself is brash and loud, and the style of the music is hard and jagged. At some points I have to hit the mute button, because the music is so painful. The most famous song, "Tomorrow", is definitely the best one. Unfortunately, it's a right bugger to sing nicely and I am forced to render it as a lullaby most nights, an almost impossible task.
        The film is set in 1930's New York, and the set does look reasonably authentic. The costumes are plausible, the street scenes and interiors are not exactly realistic, but don't jar. The best character by far is the gin-swilling, sex-starved orphanage owner, Miss Hannigan. She tries to jump any male who comes anywhere near her (unsuccessfully) and gets pissed in the bath. I'm not sure that she is a particularly good role model for my daughter, but the DVD packaging insists that it is suitable for all.

        The DVD I'm reviewing is the original film from 1982 (there was a remake in the 90s), which was based on the stage show from the 70s, which was based on a US comic strip from the 1920s, which was inspired by an 1885 poem "Little Orphan Annie". (I guess if you dig back far enough it's probably biblical.) Aileen Quinn plays the leading role, and if you're wondering why you've never heard of her, it's because she didn't really do anything else. According to Wikipedia, she sometimes works as a theatre usher in stage performances of Annie in the US. If that's true, it's very very sad. Aileen also managed to win a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress. Poor lamb.
        The DVD runs at two lengthy hours and two minutes. If you are a sadist, you probably want to know about the extras on the DVD - there is a filmography, gallery of vintage advertising etc, songs menu, and the cinema trailers. All exceedingly exciting, I'm sure you'll agree. The box doesn't come with any booklets or other blurby things, but the disc itself seems pretty indestructible, and believe me, I've tried.

        For those of you that need this kind of info:
        * Albert Finney as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks
        * Carol Burnett as Agatha Hannigan
        * Ann Reinking as Grace Farrell
        * Tim Curry as Rooster Hannigan
        * Bernadette Peters as Lily St. Regis
        * Aileen Quinn as Annie Bennett
        * Geoffrey Holder as Punjab
        * Roger Minami as Asp
        * Edward Herrmann as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
        * Lois de Banzie as Eleanor Roosevelt
        * Peter Marshall as Bert Healy
        * Toni Ann Gisondi as Molly
        * Rosanne Sorrentino as Pepper
        * Lara Berk as Tessie
        * April Lerman as Kate
        * Robin Ignico as Duffy
        * Amanda Peterson and Tina Caspary had minor appearance as dancers.
        * Lucie Stewart as July

        1. "Tomorrow" - Annie
        2. "Maybe" - Annie
        3. "It's the Hard-Knock Life" - Annie and Orphans
        4. "Dumb Dog" - Annie
        5. "Sandy" - Annie and Orphans
        6. "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here" - Annie, Grace, and Servants
        7. "Little Girls" - Agatha Hannigan
        8. "Maybe" - Pepper, July, Duffy, Tessie and Kate
        9. "Let's go to the Movies" - Annie, Oliver Warbucks, Grace, and chorus
        10. "We Got Annie" - Grace, Mrs. Pugh, Punjab, Asp, and Servants
        11. "Sign" - Agatha Hannigan and Oliver Warbucks
        12. "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" - Bert, Boylan Sisters, Orphans join in later
        13. "Easy Street" - Rooster, Lily, and Agatha Hannigan
        14. "Tomorrow (White House Version)" - Annie, Oliver Warbucks, Mrs. Roosevelt, and FDR
        15. "Maybe (Reprise)" - Oliver Warbucks
        16. "Finale (I Don't Need Anything But You / We Got Annie / Tomorrow)" - Annie, Oliver Warbucks, Chorus, and Orphans

        Cost: My mum picked up this one from the bargain bin somewhere like Woolworths (RIP) for a couple of quid. I'd look out for it at your nearest jumble sale.

        Conclusion: If you have a female toddler in your household, buy it. You will get a free baby-sitting service with only minor drawbacks as mentioned in the review. If, however, your children are male or over the age of 6, I'd perhaps see what Disney has on offer this week.


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        • babyandbump.com / Internet Site / 34 Readings / 33 Ratings
          More +
          15.08.2009 09:32
          Very helpful



          Fantastic website for women interested in babies

          What kind of Website is it?

          Baby and Bump is a forum website - there's nothing else on there, they're not trying to sell you anything, there are no articles, no news, nothing but forum posts, and a chat room. If you think that sounds boring, you're wrong. This website is totally and utterly addictive and is where I idle hours of my days away. Of course, you have to fit into a certain kind of box to want to use this website - it's aimed at four groups of people - those who are hoping to get pregnant, those who are currently pregnant, those who have suffered a miscarriage, and those who have children.
          The main forum is divided into sections for each of these three groups, and there is also a general "lounge" type section for those posts which don't fall into any of the other categories. Each of the main sections is subdivided into other areas.

          For example, in the "trying to conceive" or (TTC) forum there are boards for those who are waiting to try for whatever reason (financial, medical and so on) but who still want to talk babies, those who are actively TTC, those who have been trying to conceive for over 12 months (long-term TTC or LTTTC). There are sections where you can post photos of home pregnancy tests to ask for second, third, or hundredth opinions on whether there really is a second line, sections to announce your pregnancy. The miscarriage forum can also be found here.

          In the pregnancy forum, there are boards for each of the three trimesters, and even a forum for teens. Another board is for all pregnancy-related topics, and there is a new board for discussing baby names - may be you've picked a first name and want some suggestions for a middle name? Or you've got a few names in mind and want some second opinions - post them here and you'll get a lot of responses.

          For parents, there is a baby forum, which includes discussions on feeding with formula, breastfeeding, weaning, premature babies and post-natal support. For more experienced parents there is a separate parenting board, which is divided into toddlers, kids and teenagers, multiples, nutrition and single parents. There is also another board for more family-oriented posts, but this section tends not to be as popular as the rest of the site.
          In each section there is a board called "journals", which is perhaps the key to babyandbump's success as a website.

          The Journals

          Instead of just posting questions and answers as in most forums, babyandbump allows you to set up your own journal - a kind of online diary where you can write anything you like about your quest to get pregnant, your trials and tribulations of pregnancy or your struggles as a new mom. The journals are a little bit like blogs, but are much, much simpler and therefore easier to use and require less motivation. Most members start their own journal after writing a few posts on the site. When you have you own journal, you basically write whatever you want - about your feelings, ttc activity, doctor's appointments, love-life - anything at all, and other members of the forum will also post in your journal, making a kind of dialogue. It's an excellent way to make online friends. People tend to write very candidly in their journals and share very intimate details of their lives. (Of course, you don't have to do this, but the anonymity provided by the site makes it quite safe to do so). As a result, there is a huge support network on BnB (as it is known by its members), with many members writing comments about having better friends online than they do in real life. Journals are just like forums posts elsewhere - you can add photos, links, youtube videos and smilies as you want. The difference is that you "own" the thread which is your own forum, and members often refer to their journals as their "house". Members who have built up strong friendships this way often pop into each other's "houses" several times a day to say hello, share news and see what's going on. It's a very lively forum and it is extremely rare to see posts go unanswered.


          The vast majority of members are women, which isn't surprising given the subject matter. There are a few male members though, and there is a forum which is men-only too. Most of the women on there would prefer to think that there weren't any men reading the stuff they write though! (Men, you wouldn't want to read it anyway, believe me!) Age groups are mostly late-teens to early 40's, with most members being in their 20's and 30's. The teens tend to stick together in the teen section, as they usually have different agenda from the "older" members.
          Most members come from the UK, but there is a large proportion from the US, Canada and South Africa, as well as the odd member from just about everywhere else.

          Joining the Forum

          It's free and simple. You need to supply an email address and password, and you can then fill in some personal details if you so wish. (It's easier to make friends if you do). You can add an avatar, a forum signature (most people choose photos, tickers and blinkies - affiliate links are not allowed), and you also get a profile page which you can alter the colour scheme of and add extra photos to. You can choose what kind of subscription to each thread you want - i.e. if you want an email notification or not.

          Other Forum Things

          There are 3 private forums, which you need to apply to the moderators if you want to join. They are girls only, men only and over 18's. I'm a member of the girls and over 18's forum, but to be honest I don't use them much. They are a good place to rant or post rude anecdotes, but not something I find I need in my life right now!

          There is a private message service, with the option to download your messages.
          The look of the forum is simple and user-friendly. It's a uniform pinky-purply colour throughout (except for your profile page, which is customisable). There are a lot of Google ads up, but the vast majority of these disappear when you become a registered member. The site is fast, although there have been the odd blips in service, mostly due to server upgrades a result of increased membership. The search function works well.

          There are an awful lot of abbreviations used by members, but the site has a handy function which underlines them and explains them with a tooltip, so there's no need to feel confused.

          How I Use the Site

          I started using BnB when I was trying for my second baby. I had never really listened in biology lessons at school and was beginning to wonder why it was taking me such a long time to get pregnant. BnB came up when I googled something about ovulation, and I immediately got hooked. BnB members range from those who got pregnant after a one-night stand to those who have been TTC for more than 10 years and who have undergone various forms of IVF. As such, there is a huge knowledge base there, and there will always be someone who has experienced the same things as you and who can offer a supportive shoulder. Very quickly I made friends with a bunch of women who were mostly in the same situation as me, and one of them encouraged me to start my own journal.

          My first, TTC journal started in May last year, and was a real eye-opener for me. I learnt a huge amount about my own body (and a lot about other people's) and discovered that I was making quite a few mistakes. Sharing the anguish of failing to get pregnant month after month with women who really know how you feel definitely eases the burden. After 17 months of trying, I eventually fell pregnant after 4 months of BnB membership. I closed my TTC journal and opened a pregnancy one, and all my friends continued to follow me on this new step of my journey. I'm now keeping my parenting journal up, and it's still as addictive as ever. I would say I probably write in my own journal 2 or 3 times on average, and probably get 8-10 posts from my online friends in return. Likewise I have about ten friends whose "houses" I visit on a daily basis. I also use the forum for breastfeeding advice, as well as the toddler's forum. We don't only chat about babies, Just in case you were wondering! Most of us have been friends for more than a year and we talk about everything from jobs and holidays to shopping and pets. As a mum of 2 who is stuck at home most of the day, I find BnB to be a lifeline- it stops me feeling lonely, makes me laugh and gives me so much support.


          If you are trying for a baby, pregnant or a new mum, this website will have lots to offer you. I warn you though, that the members are so warm and friendly that if you join you will get sucked in very quickly and will soon be an addict. I know new mums who log on in the middle of the night when they get up to feed their babies!


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          • More +
            13.08.2009 09:43
            Very helpful



            Great story book for toddles/young children

            --And Whoosh, they were gone!--

            Room on the Broom is one of my favourite children's books. As a mum and an English teacher, I am rather picky about my kids' reading material; there are certain criteria that a book just must meet in order for me to give it my stamp of approval. In no particular order, the book must have good stimulating pictures, not be too long or too short, poetry must scan, choice of words must be appropriate to the reading age of the child, the ending should suggest that bedtime is the next step (because mummy really needs to sit down with a glass of wine), and the pages ought to be relatively indestructible or at the very least taste foul. Whether or not there is a good, logical story in there is of lesser importance, especially when your three-year-old is a complete lunatic and doesn't understand logic anyway, (which is most of them).

            But! This book does have a neat story too, so that's an added bonus for us grown-ups! In short, a witch (a good one), whilst riding on her traditional broomstick, loses various bits of clothing and accessories. As she hunts for her wayward apparel, she meets new anthropomorphic friends and they hop on the broom too, to join in her avian adventure. After the fourth addition to the broom, it breaks under their immense weight, and they all tumble down to the ground. Almost immediately, the witch is snatched up by a mean old dragon who wants to eat her. Luckily, her new-found friends collaborate to disguise themselves as a big scary monster and frighten the dragon away. The witch celebrates her narrow escape by magicking up a new broomstick for herself and her chums, but this time it's the new deluxe version with all the mod-cons. For those who like moral stories, I guess it's all about team-work. I prefer to think it's about fraud being a means to undreamt of materialistic wealth, but perhaps that's just me.

            Julia Donaldson is more famous for writing the Gruffalo series of books. Room on the Broom is of a similar ilk, so if you and your kids like the Gruffalo you'll like this one too.

            The pictures are by Axel Scheffler, who deserves a mention for having a pretty cool name, if nothing else. But his artwork is fab and this book definitely meets my high expectations for having stimulating scenery. I think pictures are so important in kids' books, as not only do they help them remember the story (which in turn aids comprehension and learning), but they also ignite the imagination. From the parent or carer's point of view, pictures give extra scope for talking about the book - you don't always have to stick to the printed word if the pictures are detailed enough for you to expand the story a bit. Scheffler's illustrations are gorgeous - they are fun, beautifully coloured and shaded and full of lots of lovely little details, without overcrowding the picture.

            The length of the book is just right, at 12 double page spreads, with each page being slightly larger than A4 (landscape). Each spread is done out a little differently, so there is a varying amount of text, and positioned in different areas of the page, which helps to maintain interest. The book usually takes me about 5-10 minutes to read aloud, but I can stretch it out a bit longer quite easily by using the pictures as a talking point, and it's also quite easy to do a faster version by just missing out the odd verse here or there (be careful not to get caught out cheating like that though).

            The poetry is great - lots of fun and with just the right amount of repetition. Too much repetition is boring, but it's a shame not to have any at all, since kids learn so much more quickly when it's used. Each time the witch has to land her broomstick to find her lost clothing, we hear "Down! cried the witch, and they flew to the ground, they searched for the XXXXX but no XXXXX could be found." And as they take off again with the witch fully-dressed and a new friend on the broom, we hear "The witch tapped the broomstick and whoosh" they were gone!" The poetry reads really nicely - the words gel together well, they scan, Donaldson uses alliteration effectively ("moors and mountains" and "fields and forests they flew" etc), and the climax of the story allows the reader to put on some good old silly voices of growling and screeching that all toddlers will think absolutely wonderful.

            The ending is not the most bedtime-friendly end in the world, but it's ok. I prefer a final page where all the characters are tucked up soundly in bed, so that my girl is put in the right frame of mind. However, this books ends with the witch and her buddies flying off into the moonlight, with an owl watching them go, so it's easy enough to suggest that they are all flying off to bed since it's night time.

            The pages are not particularly sturdy in this book. It's quite a large size, but the paper is of a normal thickness, not reinforced for tiny podgy hands to grasp. As such, if your child attempts to turn the page too quickly, it will likely tear. My daughter tends to eat books she gets bored of, and we've had this one for about a year without a nibble to a corner, which is proof that it is worth conserving for another day and another read. In fact we read this one nearly every evening and it's still looking remarkably unbattered. I tend to hide books which I get bored of reading but this one has remained a firm favourite with both myself and my daughter - more so than the Gruffalo, in fact.

            The book is suitable for children from age 2 upwards. The upper age limit would depend on the child, but I guess around 7-8 years would be about right. RRP is £5.99, which is very reasonable I think.


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            • More +
              20.10.2008 21:57
              Very helpful



              Follow bedtme bear's adventures with pop-up levers

              Bedtime bear

              The Bedtime Bear is a pop-up book for bedtime. It's a book for toddlers, with minimal words and loads of pictures, which is always a good combination for illiterate miniatures. It's a medium sized, square book. On each double page spread you get a four-line verse of "story" and a busy illustration with a selection of intriguing things to pull, turn, slide or open.

              The story is inconsequential. I can't even tell you what it's about, as it is quite vague and magical. I think it's about a journey towards bedtime, but I wouldn't bet my house on it. The story really doesn't matter, because this book is all about the flaps and pop-ups. It's aimed at little ones, who probably don't give a monkey's about the actual plot, so the book works just fine. You'll have to excuse my lack of literary analysis though, as the more I try to understand what the story is, the less apparent it is to me.

              Let me walk you through the book page by page.

              We start off in the jungle. The illustrations are lusciously verdant, there's a tiger on a bike, a mouse in a barrel, and a snake hiding behind a bush, entitled "jingly, jingly", bizarrely. Pulling the pop-up lever reveals a lion playing the triangle - a-ha! Now we know where that jingling in the jungle is coming from! There is a sign pointing us to the North Pole, which is where we end up on turning the page, logically enough. (Don't use this book for teaching your kids anything about geography...)

              At the North Pole, we find all the usual suspects - lizards, rabbits and a fox. There are also several polar bears, boringly. You can open up the igloo to find a smelly skunk, or pull the pop-up lever to reveal a sheep in a jeep, who will drive you to the next page, which is the Mouse Motel.

              Inside the dining room at the Mouse Motel, you can make the dumb waiter go up and down and look at the minging delights on offer for the guests, who, apart from the predictable mice, include the lizard, sheep and a cockatoo from the North Pole. Do you fancy worms on toast? No? Perhaps soapy sausages or bugs on a bun? Luckily there is a kangaroo carrying a silver platter of fish fingers and chips - phew! My daughter's favourite! The next sign post points to bed - it's looking good, your toddler will be tucked up in no time!

              Oh no. Before we get to bed, we have a page of arriving at your house. After all, we probably couldn't afford to stay in the Mouse Motel with that kind of cuisine on offer. You can pull the chimney up and discover that there are monsters in your bedroom - sweet dreams children muahahhaa! You can open the windows of the house to see who else lives with you - frogs, a monkey and a crocodile. Bedtime will be a breeze after this lot! Now, the next sign post also points to bed. Must be getting close now?

              No. Of course, we have to have a bath and brush our teeth. So we have a page in the bathroom, where we can find an owl (in a towel), a bison (in the basin) and a wombat (in a bath hat). The sign post points to bed - surely no more delaying tactics are possible?

              Bedroom! Hurrah! It's the final page, your bundle of joy will soon be slumbering and you can sit down with a beer in front of the telly - bliss. This page features an assortment of animals from throughout the journey, and the only "slightly" scary thing is that crocodile, who is sliding underneath your bedroom door, as crocodiles are wont to do. Books that have pictures of children sleeping soundly in bed with their favourite cuddly toys are worth there weight in gold, as they put the idea of bedtime quite firmly in your child's head, making bedtime slick and quick. I don't usually dwell too long on the crocodile aspect.

              My little girl loves this book, primarily because it does things. She loves opening the flaps and pulling the levers, although quite a few of them are placed too awkwardly for her little hands to cope with. (She's two).Whilst the levers are reasonably sturdy, the pages themselves are fairly flimsy, which has meant that the surrounding area on most pages has got ripped as she tries to pull the lever too hard in the wrong direction. This might be partly to do with the fact that shredding expensive books is fun, but she has not admitted this out loud. The pictures are bright, stimulating and funny. It's a book with a sense of humour which adults can appreciate, and let's face it, if you read to your children as much as I do, you need lots of books which will not jellify your brain.

              So, to sum up. It's fun, short, silly, a bit flimsy and illogical. Definitely worth having on your kid's book shelf.


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              • Pingu (DVD) / DVD / 20 Readings / 20 Ratings
                More +
                11.09.2008 13:28
                Very helpful



                Naughty plasticine penguin gets up to mischief

                Pingu "Bouncy Fun" DVD

                Pingu is a darling little Penguin, aged 5 and full of fun. He lives in an igloo with his nuclear family - mother, father and little baby sister, Pinga. Pingu's best friend is Robbie the seal, and his girlfriend (yes, they start young in Penguin Land), is Pingi, whom Pingu met at school.

                Pingu is a plasticine creation. The animations are excellent in that they are fluid and funny too. If you're over 30, you might remember Tony Hart's Morph - the plasticine creature that inhabited his art table and caused mayhem whenever Tony wasn't looking. Well, it seems that plasticine animated creatures must have a naughty gene, as Pingu could teach Morph a thing or too about exploiting plasticinity! Pingu morphs himself not only to get out of trouble, or make it easier to reach things; he also morphs himself to express emotion. When he's happy, his beak protrudes into a trumpet shape and he hoots "Nug Nug!" (according to the website), or if he's excited in the snow he rolls himself into a ball. If he needs something high up, he becomes taller and thinner, and likewise can also be splatted down to a pancake if necessary. This is where the animation really comes alive - the comic timing is excellent and the postures so utterly ridiculous I defy you not to laugh at them.

                Pingu is really really naughty. This is why kids love him, and adults can't help sniggering too. If there is any trouble to get into - bouncing on beds, getting covered in glue or stealing Pinga's favourite toy bear, Pingu will get stuck right in. Mother and Father are serious but loving penguins, and although they do get a little frustrated at Pingu's antics, they always try to find a fun way to divert Pingu's attention towards something less destructive. Pinga is a very cute little baby penguin, who still has the colouring of a baby. I have to admit I couldn't tell whether she was supposed to be a boy or a girl, so I had to check on the Pingu website to be sure! Robbie is Pingu's sidekick. He's got loads of energy and leads Pingu all over the place into trouble. He's pretty good at catching fish, being a seal, and is just a typical boy - he likes barging around and getting into trouble but has a heart of gold. Actually Pingu and Robbie are very similar in character, which is unusual seeing as one is a bird and one is a fish. Pingu's granddad also features quite heavily. He lives down the road and is a lovely old chap who really likes to aid and abet Pingu in his devilishness.

                In "Pingu Bouncy Fun!" DVD we get 9 short episodes of Pingu. Each episode only lasts about 5 minutes, so they are very good for toddlers with short attention spans. Pingu is an animation without speech, although the animals do talk to each other. They use each other's names, and they speak their own language, which some people reckon is Icelandic but which is, in fact, gibberish. It doesn't matter - you don't need any words to understand the stories, which is another reason why it's good entertainment for very small kids (although not educational in any way, shape or form!)

                Here are the episodes. I won't divulge any spoilers here; the titles are pretty much self-explanatory really.

                1) Pingu's Bouncy Fun. Pingu wants to bounce up and down on his bed, but Mother is not too pleased!
                2) Pingu Finishes the Job. Pingu makes a coffee table, with a little help from Father.
                3) Pingu Digs a Hole. It's been snowing heavily, so Pingu decides to dig into the snow.
                4) Pingu's Valentine Card. Pingu makes a card for his girlfriend, but baby sis does most of the work!
                5) Pingu Wants to Fly. Pingu and Robbie attempt to get air-borne.
                6) Pingu's Windy Day. Pingu tries to catch what the wind blows away.
                7) Pinga's Lost Rabbit. Heroic Pingu tries to save the day, but Pinga isn't interested.
                8) Pingu's Moon Adventure. Pingu, Robbie and Granddad travel to the moon, kinda.
                9) Pinga Sleepwalks. Heroic Pingu tries to get Pinga back to bed.

                Rather annoyingly, the DVD box quite clearly states "10 Fantastic Stories", whereas in fact there are only 9. Bit of a cheat that. The DVD box itself is quite cool though. Made of solid blue plastic, it also features a carry handle, so you can, um, carry it somewhere. You might think this rather pointless, but my daughter actually does love to carry it around. But she is two.

                If you get really into Pingu, you might want to search for more videos on YouTube, but I advise doing so without your children in the room. I was quite shocked to find episodes with Pingu weeing all over the bathroom floor and hallucinating on drugs! Since my daughter delights in copying most of Pingu's antics, I was quick to hit the stop button! The Pingu website is pretty neat for kids though. You enter your name for a personalised treat and can read about the Pingu clan, play some silly games and watch some highlights.


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                • Nokia 2630 / Mobile Phone / 19 Readings / 18 Ratings
                  More +
                  08.09.2008 16:14
                  Very helpful



                  A nice looking but not very smart phone

                  If you're looking for a new mobile phone, ask yourself what you're really going to need it for. Are you an oldie-worldie Luddite who wants a phone which just makes calls, stores numbers, sends texts and wakes you up in the morning, or do you want to trade shares online, download warcraft games, film short award-winning movies and remove champagne corks from chaps' eyes? If it's the latter, you would be better off spending your hard earned cash on something a bit more splendid than this phone. If, however, you're a Luddite like me, then this phone will suit you just fine. It looks pretty neat doesn't cost a packet. Added to that, you also do get a few "modern" applications and features chucked in which enable you to kid yourself that you do have a super-duper uber modern phone, when in actual fact you don't.

                  The Basics

                  Making calls. Yup, this phone is pretty good for calling people on. You can store names and numbers as you would expect, as well as adding email/terra firma addresses, job title, nickname, formal name, favourite colour and so on to a contact's details. The extra details get stored on the phone memory rather than your SIM card, so don't go into the sea with the phone in you trunks in case you lose Posh Spice's "formal name" only to get embarrassed later on the same day when you meet her by chance at a royal tea party and can't remember what it is.

                  Sending Texts. Yes, this works too.

                  Alarm Clock. You can select whichever tone you desire, or download a new one from one of those premium rate numbers if you get bored with the selection on offer. You can choose how long the snooze button snoozes for, and you can have a repeat alarm set up for certain days of the week, which is quite handy.

                  The Useful Extras
                  Things to do while waiting for a train No.1: explore your phone's untrodden menus. You won't find much of interest though on here! My personal favourites are the calculator (which includes a "scientific" and a "loan" calculator, and the calendar, which allows you to make diary entries with or without an alarm, and, that's all folks! The radio also works ok, and there are a few nifty applications like internet, bluetooth 2.0, converter, budget planner and voice recorder. I never use them though....

                  Disappointing Extras
                  Camera. The camera is very poor quality. Although you can select night mode and zoom (4x) features, they really don't make your pictures look any better. They're grainy and ill-focussed, and frankly not worth bothering with. Likewise, the video camera is unimpressive, has tinny sound and the phone's lack of decent memory (up to 11mb available for everything you need on the phone) makes it fairly useless for recording anything above 10 seconds or so of video.

                  Games. My very first mobile phone back in the 20th century has Snake. No game since Snake has been worth the fiddle of playing on a mobile phone, if you ask me. If you own this phone, make sure you always have a newspaper or book in your bag in case of unexpected delays, because these games will not entertain you for long. There are 3 demo games, (which I have not downloaded the full versions of) - Pacman, Platinum Solitaire and Tetris. The full games are Phantom Spider, where apparently I have become a pilot whose mission it is to fight against the army of the evil tarantula, capturing their evil eyes, (as if I didn't have enough to do already), Snake EX2, which is too fiddly by half and Sudoku. I was pleased to find the Sudoku, as I do like a neural challenge, but sadly the games are far too easy for a veteran Sudoku champion like myself.

                  Look and Feel
                  So, it probably sounds pretty negative by now, doesn't it? But this phone LOOKS lovely. It's really slim-line (9.9 mm thin), has a lovely big screen (128 x 160 px) and is as light as a feather (66g). This is exactly what I want out of a phone - one that looks nice but is actually rather cheap. Perfect combination! Being really slim is also a good anti-theft device, as you can slip it in your back jeans pocket and it will hardly show at all.

                  The phone comes with charger and radio earphones, as you would expect. My charger was faulty and I had to wait 3 days over the weekend before I was allowed to exchange it, so I think my battery has suffered a little bit. However, the battery life is fine. It's not as good as a Nokia I had about 6 years ago in terms of battery life though, which is disappointing. The keypad is reasonably easy to use, if a little stiff.

                  Overall Impression
                  This phone is good if you just want the basics but want a smart-looking phone for a reasonable price. The entire spec of the phone can be found here: http://www.nokia.co.uk/A4405744.


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                  • Flair Sticklebricks / Baby Toy / 23 Readings / 22 Ratings
                    More +
                    07.09.2008 09:15
                    Very helpful



                    Lovely traditional fun for kids

                    Stickle Bricks

                    Now call me a mean mummy, but when my 2 year-old sits down for a Stickle-Brick session I am likely to start acting like a big bully and push her off so I can have them all to myself! In fact, when my little girl was given her first ever bucket of Stickle Bricks (present from Nana last Christmas), it was her dad and I that spent an hour kneeling on the living room floor constructing wonderful edifices such as pagodas (me) and breweries (daddy). Ahem. She was a wee bit too little then, at one and half, but she started really getting in the bricks a couple of months later.

                    Stickle bricks are very brightly coloured plastic shapes and come in many forms. Most of them are square-ish or rectangles, but there are also triangles, frames for doors or windows and a whole host of other strange animal-related shapes too. We have some butterflies and a rabbit, for example! They are in funky primary colours which appeal to young children and make the tricky task of learning colour names a bit more fun and stimulating.

                    What makes Stickle bricks so great for tiny hands is that you don't have to have much dexterity in order to get them to stick together (which is perhaps why daddy can still make breweries after having a couple of Christmas drinkies....) Unlike Lego, where you need to align a bump with a hole pretty accurately in order to achieve a stick, stickle bricks are covered in thin, bristles - kind of like a very large version of Velcro but without the hooks! The bristles slot together any which way, so you can ram them together with no finesse whatsoever and still achieve spectacular results (sometimes appearing to defy gravity!) The pieces are relatively soft - they don't cripple you when you stand on them, but they are sturdy enough not to be bent in half by destructive delinquents.

                    Most pieces are around a centimetre thick, but lengths and widths vary. Some pieces, for example are up to 10cm long. So, as you might be able to imagine, it's possible to build some quite hefty structures if you've got enough bricks. My "Infant Super Builder" tub contains 46 bricks, which is just about enough to build a medium-sized brewery. A word about the tub itself - this is made of a good heavy-duty too, and is fantastic. I say this as so many toys these days don't seem to come with any kind of storage and the bits get lost in the bat of an eye. The Stickle Brick tub is part of the toy itself, as it's brightly coloured and shaped like, well, a very large Stickle Brick! It also has ample room left over; there is no squashing of pieces in order to get the lid on, and no frustrating "only-one-way" order of packing in the bits. Simply hurl them in with gusto and slam on the lid, and hey presto your living room is tidy again. In fact there is enough space to accommodate a few other random toys that might be lying around on top of the telly or in your video recorder slot - very useful for those impromptu visits from the neighbours (you know the ones, them that NEVER have a speck of dust out of place!)

                    Stickle bricks help with kiddies' motor skills, creativity, sorting, colours, and in the case of my daughter, the endless "put things in a bag and take them out again" game, which I'm sure must be useful for something... Actually her current favourite is making a sort of Stone Henge type thing, which is actually quite dramatic! They are fun, cheap, safe and a little bit timeless. I remember playing with them myself as a child (oh, no sorry, that was last Christmas... )

                    Available from all over the place (my mum found ours in a charity shop, brand new!). www.toysdirect.com do a tub for about £13. Suitable for ages 1½-4.


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                    • Pentax Optio V10 / Digital Camera / 20 Readings / 20 Ratings
                      More +
                      06.09.2008 13:40
                      Very helpful


                      • Reliability
                      • Reliability


                      A really good and affordable camera.

                      Pentax Optio V10

                      This is the best camera I have ever had a meaningful relationship with!

                      It's my 4th digital camera in as many years, and I do hope I manage to hang on to it for more than 12 months, as it is fab. I adore it. I want to take it out for a coffee and seduce it. My previous cameras were all Samsungs - no.1 was nicked, no.2 was smashed, no.3 just never worked properly and eventually stopped working altogether just after the guarantee ran out, so for no.4 I decided it was time to broaden my digital camera horizons and try a different brand.

                      My main criterion for choosing a new camera was first and foremost - price. I was also out to get one with a proper charger as I have found relying on AA batteries to be tedious and Tourette's inducing. I wanted a point and shoot with a few whistles and bells but not so many I would have difficulty turning the thing on, and of course a decent zoom, large screen and a tasteful colour while we're at it. I didn't choose Pentax for any particular reason, but I thought it sounded like a brand that knew about cameras, and I had heard of it, vaguely...

                      Good Looking
                      The Optio V10 cost me about £100, which is actually I think round about what I paid for all my previous cameras, but they were inferior technologies. Nice to see cameras getting more affordable anyway. It is a very tasteful grey silver colour and slim enough to look good with a mini skirt on, with a beautifully large 3-inch LCD screen that stays dim until you half press the shutter (my husband took a while to realise this and thought the camera was broken while trying to use it in broad sunlight). There are only a few buttons to get to grips with- 2 on the top and 4 main ones on the back.

                      Battery Life
                      I was advised to charge the camera up for 12 hours initially, but I just couldn't wait that long - it was too exciting. So, I used it for about 2 hours and charged it overnight and it doesn't seem to have done it any harm. The battery lasts for a very long time. Don't ask me how long- it's longer than you can time without forgetting that you're doing it. It's days. The charger is very easy to use and is also very light to carry, which is a bonus. It is just so much better than using batteries, I will never ever ever go back to a battery driven camera! They suck!

                      Set Up
                      You can turn on the camera and start playing right away. You need the CD to set up the software on your PC, but if you are a technophobe you can apparently use the USB cable to print directly to your printer. I am a technophile so I use my PC. It is reasonably fast and pain-free to install, and you do get a pretty good photo editing software chucked in. I haven't' really played around with it as Picasa and Photoshop cater to all my photo editing needs. One rather annoying thing is that the photo-editing software now starts up whenever I plug my flash drive in, even if there are no photos on the memory stick. I could probably get it to stop if I put my mind to it, but it is easy to click the X to destroy, so I will continue to be annoyed by it I guess.

                      Transferring photos over with the software is impressively fast. You can ask it to delete from the camera if you want, and sort into folders, just like every other photo software under the sun. It works well though.

                      Taking Pictures
                      What I really love about this camera is its intuitive focussing. You can set the camera to Auto Picture mode, and point and shoot at anything. But, instead of using an average setting which probably works ok for most pictures but is not quite right for any of them, this clever little chap tries to work out what you're taking a picture of and chooses an appropriate setting for you! The setting it has chosen appears briefly in the top left corner of the screen, which gives you just enough time to notice what it's done before you press the shutter. This works well for some items, like faces and landscapes. There are other settings that don't get picked up too well though, like animals. There is a specific setting for pets, which picks up the colour of your poochie's coat and keeps the focus trained on that colour, so you can take a picture in focus while your poodle is cavorting round your aged auntie's skirt-hem etc, but I find that whenever I point the camera at one of my cats it thinks it is taking a portrait of a person. Not a sin, as I often mistake my cats for people too, but something which perhaps needs pointing out. Auto Picture works brilliantly 99% of the time, but it's good to be able to pick and choose settings too, so that's what we'll do next.

                      After Auto Picture, we have P. for Program. With program you can adjust all those various bits and bobs that your dad used to mess around with on his old box brownie. Don't ask me what they do. Then we have Night Scene, Movie, Voice Recording, Landscape, Flower, Natural Skin Tone, Surf and Snow, Sport, Digital SR, Kids, Pet, Food and Frame. A lot of these are bog standard on any camera and I won't need to bore you about them, but a few are rather unusual, so I'll bore you with those ones.

                      So, Flower. Hmm, interestingly, it is good for taking photos of flowers. It makes the colours stand out brightly and gives the flower a soft edge, apparently. I used the flower option on one of my flowers, but I wasn't that impressed. May be you need practice with Flower, to get it right. Food does something similar.

                      Next up, Surf and Snow. Now this one I like! I did a lot of experimentation while on holiday, taking photos of the sea with and without this mode. The sea definitely looked miles better using this function. Don't ask me how it works exactly, but it's something to do with balancing the colours of the ocean and sky. See the pics at the end for the awesome Adriatic Sea courtesy of the V10.

                      Other Interesting Features
                      You can choose to have a stark naked screen while you compose your artwork, or you can have a minimum of information displayed- how many pictures you have left, battery life, mode, date and time, or you can have a whole wealth of info including picture quality, ISO settings and white balance. The white balance is a small graph in the bottom corner of the screen which shows you the balance of light and shade. A well-balanced photo should have the peak of the graph near the middle. Peaks to the left and right show too much white or too much dark, which will affect the overall exposure of the photo. When you have the white balance on, it also shows you within the screen, the exact areas which are being troublesome. If you point the camera at a window on a sunny day, for example, the sky will appear red on your screen. This warns you that, although the sky looks blue to your eyes, if you take the picture the sky will come out white. I like this feature - it explains why I have so many photos from the analogue days with seemingly white skies when I knew the day had been sunny. It's a bit of a faff though, so best left to your artistic moments, rather than trying to capture your kids just as they jump into the pool.

                      Holiday and Home Time
                      A bit of a luxury this one, but you can actually program the camera with two time zones - one for home and one for your holidays. Then when you go on holiday, you don't have to re-set the time on your camera, just press the "holidays" button. Actually this is a total waste of time, as it takes just as long to find the menu with the "holiday" setting as it would to just add an hour or two on to the normal time, but I still used it 

                      Technical Stuff
                      3 x Optical Zoom
                      8 Mega pixels
                      Carry strap included

                      Why I want to Marry this Camera
                      This camera is so easy to use. The large screen not only makes your pictures look lovely, but also helps you navigate the menus. The menus are intuitive, and if you scroll through icons and don't select one, a tool-tip appears on the screen, telling you what that function does. The battery lasts forever. It is light and smart. But, above everything else, it takes amazing photos.


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                      • VTech Playtime Bus / Baby Toy / 50 Readings / 45 Ratings
                        More +
                        12.09.2007 22:31
                        Very helpful




                        The wheels on this bus go round and round for sure, but that’s not all folks! This bus is an educational toy and a half. Your kiddies can do some serious learning, or just play with it and have lots of fun, and so can you mums and dads!

                        Although the bus is aimed at pre-schoolers, my little girl got her Playtime Bus at 1 year, as a gift from my brother. It’s not something I would have chosen for her myself as it does look a bit complicated for very tinies, but in fact it’s been a big big hit and is definitely one of her favourites.

                        The bus is a lovely bright red, just like the old London buses, only not mud-stained. It’s got a moulded handle for easy-grasping by fumbly hands, and has two sides sporting buttons which make the bus come alive. The buttons are on the top and on one side of the bus. The other sides have jolly pictures of people inside the bus but don’t provide any interactive entertainment. This layout works well, as it’s easier for little ones to press the buttons if the bus is actually lying on its side. If it stays upright, it’s quite awkward for them to get those buttons pressed without inadvertently pushing the bus away! When it’s on its side, the buttons can be pressed without fear of a runaway bus.

                        The on/off switch is also located on the side of the bus. When you switch on this bus you get to hear the engine starting up before the inevitable jingly music starts, which actually revs up your adrenalin in a hard to justify manner.
                        Once on, the bus has four modes of play which are selected by a slider on the side of the bus. The modes are “phonics”, “letters”, “quiz” and “music”. Each mode alters the function of all the buttons on the bus, and since there are 44 buttons that makes 176 different responses. Add to that the fact that many buttons change their response the second time they’re pressed, and you’ll understand that this bus will not bore you quickly, even if you’re 34 like me.

                        There are 4 buttons on the top of the bus, and each one is a different colour and shape. This is useful as a teaching aid of course, as you can ask your pint-sized genius to find the orange square, or the blue star. When pressed these buttons have rather marvellous sound effects which I still like even after 2 months of pretty constant use! These buttons either respond by telling you what they are “Green Triangle!” or by making a fab sound effect like the screeching of brakes. The front, round yellow button makes the destination sign on the front of the bus flip round to a new place. There is the zoo, the school and the station, and each has a little jingle. These do wear after a while, but this button is definitely one of my daughter’s favourites. The jingles aren’t all that bad I suppose, and they are quite catchy. One criticism I have though, is that they sing “Let’s go to the zoo, hear the monks go ooh ooh ooh”. Obviously the word “monkeys” was too long so they shortened it to “monks”, which is frankly bizarre. They could have sung “chimps” instead, after all! The loudspeaker sits on top of the bus too. You can choose from ‘loud’ and ‘excruciatingly loud’ (or ‘off’, my personal favourite).

                        Now, the side of the bus is where it gets interesting. Here you’ll find the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet (i.e. the one you use in the UK) set out in two rows, a-m and n-z. The small letters are used, not the capitals. The consonants are yellow, and the vowels are white, so weenies can learn to find them more quickly. The buttons are in the actual shape of the letters, which I suppose gets the kids used to how the letters “feel” and that they have different shapes. Obviously a lot of thought went into the design of this bus.

                        Below the alphabet, the digits 1-10 are set out, in blue, and above the alphabet there are four bus windows with a little person viewable in each one, called ‘character buttons’. Care has been taken to depict people of various hues. The person you hear speaking when you press one of these buttons doesn’t necessarily correspond to the person you see- at the front of the bus sits a boy, but half the time you’ll hear a girl’s voice. All these buttons do different things depending on which mode you select, so let’s look at the modes.

                        The first mode is “phonics”. If you’re not familiar with this word, it basically refers to the sound a letter represents, rather than the name we assign to it in the alphabet. For instance, the letter ‘W’ is called ‘Double U’, but is pronounced like the first sound in the word ‘wet’. The phonics system is very useful in teaching kids how to read, because it helps them build up the sound of a word block by block. If you press a letter of the alphabet in this mode you hear its name, e.g. “Double U”, but if you press the same letter again, you are told that “Double U says ‘Wuh’. This way, kids get to learn both ways of referring to the letters. Really little ones like mine don’t follow all this of course, but it’s still fun to press the buttons as the recordings are quite funny and have little sound effects too. ‘A’, for example, features the attractive sound of someone biting into a crispy apple. The numbers buttons just tell you what number they are, again with a cute sound effect.

                        When you press a letter in “letters” mode, you get a word which starts with that letter. For example, if you press ‘S’ you hear “’S’ is for ‘snake’”. The ‘is for’ bit is very sing-song and another one of the rather irritatingly unforgettable jingles which will haunt you all day long. The numbers buttons do pretty much the same as they do in “phonics” mode, and the character buttons just spout random nonsense.

                        In “Quiz” mode, things get competitive. When you slide into quiz mode you are informed to press any character button to start. Then you get tricky questions like “Can you find the letter E?” or “Would you help me find the blue star?” The kids have to find the buttons from both sides of the bus. This would get a little boring for a kid playing on his/her own, but with a playmate racing to find the right button could be lots of fun. You get two chances to find the right button before the bus gives up on you and passes to the next question. Some questions are quite hard like “Which letter does the word ‘umbrella’ begin with?”

                        “Music” mode is lots of fun. Every letter of the alphabet plays a different well-known nursery-rhyme or kiddies' song, and despite being electronic they don’t make you want to throw the bus out of the window. Best of all, the numbers buttons turn into a mini-piano with an octave plus 2 notes. My daughter Poppy discovered this function- I had no idea! She loves it. Obviously she’s too young to work it all out, but she loves this mode as it produces so much music. If you press the character buttons in this mode they tell you which kind of music they like, and you get to hear a little bit of that style- classical, rock and roll, or jazz.

                        The bus is very chunky and seems to be fairly indestructible. The four wheels all go round nicely, and it’s just the right size for a toddler to push around. It comes equipped with 2 AA 1.5v batteries, which after two months still show no sign of needing to be replaced.

                        Even if turned off, or lacking in power, this bus is a cool bus, just because it’s bright and cheery and easy to play with. You can push it over grandpa’s feet no problem. Recommended.

                        Tesco’s do the bus for about £14, but there seem to be quite a lot on Ebay too, from £2.


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                        • Cats in General / Pet / Animal / 62 Readings / 54 Ratings
                          More +
                          01.09.2007 22:26
                          Very helpful



                          The UK is stray free, but why?

                          To me a category like “Cats – in general” is just as helpful as having a one entitled “People – in general”. Where do you start?

                          Since I can’t talk about ALL cats and generalise about them without pigeonholing them, painting offensive stereotypes or making preposterous conjectures about felines who live in cultures totally different to mine, I will base this review on my own personal experience. It’s not about Cats in General; it’s about Cats I Know, in General, and Where They Live. Or if you prefer, “A Discussion of Strays”.

                          I’m not going to waste my breath trying to convert anyone round to the idea that cats are truly wonderful creatures, as you’ve all already made up your minds I’m sure, and if you don’t like cats you’re probably not reading this anyway. I’m assuming, dear reader, that you already think cats are the bees-knees or the dogs-knackers and are ready to sit back and read be confirmed in your righteousness.

                          I share my life with 6 cats at present. One of them is my own, Henry, and he is big fat blob of softness, apart from when he’s ripping the skin of your legs. The others live in the garden and are all one family: Mum is Polly, one of last year’s kittens is Bertie, and three kittens from this spring are Betsy, Rufus and Omar. There are also a few visitors, Daddy-Cat is Polly’s boyfriend and father of all the kittens, Griswold and Bugly drop in from time to time. Apart from Henry, they are all strays, and in fact, Henry was rescued from the streets by us.

                          I should point out that I live in Bulgaria, where the treatment of stray animals is quite different to that of the UK- there is a huge number of strays here and, perhaps not surprisingly, hardly any rats in town. Strays are fed by locals but are left to their own devices. They help clean up after mucky humans and don’t do any harm, (unlike the stray dogs which form packs and occasionally maul small children).

                          The main problem with having a lot of strays around is disease. Most cats are healthy enough; after all, a sick cat without medical treatment is soon an ex-cat. (But they nearly all carry worms, fleas and sometimes other yucky infections). Strays that don’t receive medical treatment have a better community than those that do, because disease keeps the population down, which reduces competition for food and mates. It also ensures that kittens unlucky enough to be born with faulty genes are not allowed to reproduce.

                          For example, this year, Polly was huge when she was pregnant, and when she finally emerged with her kittens from our derelict garden shed she had 3 ginger kittens. They were about 6 weeks old when she first let us see them. When they were about 2 and a half months old we discovered another tiny ginger kitten in the garden, still with his eyes glued shut. He was much, much smaller than the rest so we wondered where on earth he had come from. We tried to get Polly to nurse him, but she turned her back on him and even boxed his ears when we tried once too often. We hand-fed him for a few days and kept him outside, but safe in a cat-box, so his mum might hear his calls and come to find him, but no mum turned up. We decided to take him to the vets to see if they could clean up his eyes, which were looking as gluey as ever. The vet told us that the cat was about 2 a half months old but was underdeveloped. Sadly, he said that one eye was blind, and would need removing as it was severely infected, and there was no guarantee that the other eye worked anyway, and he asked if we wanted to go ahead with the operation. Bear in mind, this is a stray. We really didn’t know what to do for the best, but then the vet said that in all likelihood the other eye was also blind, and that he would need constant care, so reluctantly we all agreed it would be kinder to put him down. He must have been one of Polly’s, and she must have known that he was sick. She put her energy into nursing her healthy kittens and no doubt expected, in her catty kind of way, that he would die. But he struggled on long enough for us meddling humans to find him. Every day I watch Animal Hospital type programmes (from the UK) and I know that in the UK he would probably have had the operation and been adopted out. But here in Bulgaria, no-one adopts cats like that. There are cats everywhere- if you want a kitten just wait till spring and take your pick.

                          Our cat Henry was about the same age when he found us (2-3 months). He was probably an orphan and followed us home from the pub one rainy day. If I hadn’t been slightly drunk I probably wouldn’t have taken him in, but that’s fate I suppose. The next day, I put him back out in the garden, thinking that he would probably run off, but he stuck around and has now clawed his way into my husband’s heart in a way I would never have thought possible.

                          Having a lot of strays around makes for a more dangerous terrain for pet cats. The garden is not a safe place. There are other cats everywhere who think that you might be trying to steal their food or their women, not realising that you’ve got a plate full of kitty-kat back home, a nice warm bed, and no testicles. They don’t know this, so they fight you anyway. The consequences of getting into a fight are also more serious, as the strays do carry nasty bugs.

                          Henry, when only about 9 months old, started limping one evening. His symptoms very quickly became worse and the next day we took up to the vets. The vet discovered that another cat had bitten Henry, and although the puncture was too small to see, he’d picked up some infection the other cat had. The infection then grew inside his leg, causing him a lot of pain, but had nowhere to escape, as the wound was too small. This resulted in a large swelling. The vet managed to drain the wound, but poor little Henry had to undergo a general anaesthetic, and two more trips to the vets to make sure the infection had gone. The vet advised us to keep Henry inside, to avoid risk, but Henry was born a street cat and remains one at heart.

                          Because there are so many strays around, some people think it’s quite a good sport to shoot them, mainly with air-guns. No doubt this also serves to keep numbers down, but also makes the outdoors a whole new battlefield. Henry got shot when he was about 2, and I was 7 months pregnant. He disappeared for 2 days, which he’d never done before, and I moped around in tears wondering what to do. Then, he just appeared in the garden, but I hardly recognised him. Covered I blood, mud and excrement, he limped up to me and collapsed. I scooped him up and called my husband to take him to the vets, thinking he must have been in a terrible fight. The vets told us that, in fact he’d been shot. The pellet went through his cheek and lodged somewhere behind his eye. His one eye was really scary- totally bloodshot- something like a red marble, rather than an eye. The vet stitched up the wound, but had to leave the pellet inside his head, as it was too close to his brain to try and pluck out. He’s now pretty much blind in that eye, although we think he can make out light and dark. (It doesn’t seem to have affected his ability to hunt though- he is still an ace at catching blue-bottles.) In the end, what shocked me most about this experience wasn’t that Henry had been shot; it was the fact that no-one was surprised when I told them. Apparently it’s a pretty common occurrence round here. Stray cats are fair game for some.

                          The family of cats that is lucky enough to live in my garden has a nice life, for strays. I feed them once a day, but they have to forage for the rest. I cuddle them, play with them and certainly enjoy their presence, but if they get sick they are on their own. I saw one kitten today, Omar, limping and had a strong urge to take him to the vet, but I resisted. It is survival of the fittest after all. I have my own, human, family to look after and don’t have unlimited financial resources to care for these cats medically. If I had the time and money, I would have the mum, Polly, neutered, and the kittens too. I don’t, so they will reproduce and disease, fighting and cars will keep the numbers down. If I didn’t feed them, the numbers would be kept down even more, but I do hugely enjoy having them there.

                          On balance, it’s a tough question whether towns should be cleared of strays or not. The elimination of rats is not insignificant, if you look at the diseases that rats carry that can be transmitted to humans. Throughout the history of human civilisation, we have shared our habitat with felines, but only recently have we felt it necessary (or had the technology) to govern their reproductive habits. I have learnt a huge amount about the species from observing a real independent cat family for the last two years, and I’m delighting in having delightful kitties gambolling amongst my potted plants. But for my own cat, Henry, his life has been endangered twice already as a result of the stray situation (and he’s only 2 and a half!). Pet cats are the ultimate sufferers in a town which permits strays. But they are the minority. If cats could vote, which way would they cast their ballots?


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                          • More +
                            26.08.2007 13:41
                            Very helpful



                            It's cheap. It's ok. It's nothing special.

                            Isn’t it startling how quickly you can go from being a complete ignoramus about something to feeling something of an expert? In my case I’m talking about Digital Cameras and specifically Samsung Digimax. No, I’m not running a camera shop all of a sudden, I’ve just had quite an unlucky year when it comes to cameras, and am now on my third Samsung. The first was stolen last November, (along with my handbag); the second was chucked on the floor by my one-year-old daughter in June. I was very pleased with the overall performance of both these cameras (different models), so I opted for another Digimax, (plus I knew I’d be able to find my way round the menus easily, unless there were any big changes in there.)

                            One of the things that really attracts me to the Digimax series is the size of the screen. Some people say that size isn’t everything, and while I’d agree up to a point I think you’d be a fool to say size doesn’t matter at all. In my personal experience of digital cameras, most of the pictures are viewed solely on the camera itself. You take a few snaps of a night out, and the next day you pass your camera round set on “slideshow” and everyone has a nice giggle. Then you delete all but that rather artistic pic of the sunset which might make a nice wallpaper. This screen is a chunky 2.5”, which makes it quite easy to see what’s going on even in bright sunlight, (which is a bonus since there is no view-finder). My previous Samsung cameras had screens that were quite opaque, but this one has quite a shiny/glass look to it, which I don’t like as much.

                            The camera is slightly less bulbous than my previous model, but still sports a weird kind of rotund bit at the side. Although this looks like the kind of spot where a ye-oldy fashioned roll of film might reside, in fact this bit is where you pop your 2 AA batteries. Be warned- buy rechargeable, or you’ll be tearing your hair out. Buy 4 AAs so that you can always have 2 on recharge, ready to go.

                            The camera is very easy to use and an hour or so of mucking around with the menus will help you teach yourself about most of the camera’s capabilities. That’s fortunate, since the instruction manual is a very slim offering. Once you’ve been guided through the set-up process using the CD provided, you’re pretty much left on your own. The CD does nothing except install the relevant drivers etc on your computer, so that you can upload your photos. There is no photo editing software, which is a shame, since I did get a package (albeit basic) with my very first Digimax, even though it was much cheaper and a much lower spec. Obviously Samsung are looking to cut a few costs.

                            Taking photos or shooting videos is simplicity itself. There’s a dial on the top of the camera which you use to select the mode you want: either video, or photo, with various setting options. You can choose from “Auto” (by far the most useful), “Prog”(ram) which lets you use pre-saved personal settings, “ASR” (which stands for Advanced Shake Reduction), which takes pretty nice pictures of sunsets, “M”(etre), which allows you to manually adjust the metering, if you know about such things, “Scene”, which lets you pick from pre-sets for children, landscape, close up, text, sunset and dawn (I don’t think they make a huge amount of difference to what you get with “Auto”, personally, “Portrait” and “Night”. “Auto” works well enough for the majority of pics I want to take, although I do use the “ASR” quite often too, as it does produce quite different results particularly at night. With “ASR” you have to hold the camera slightly longer than normal while the picture is taken, and the ASR technology supposedly helps get rid of any unwanted wobbles that result. This works most of the time, but I find if I’ve had one or two glasses of wine the technology can’t do much about my wobbling!

                            Your photos are easy to view on the large screen- you can browse though or use the slide-show function, as you would expect. There is the usual array of tacky picture frames you can add and you can put speech bubbles on which is quite fun. You can record a snippet of audio to accompany each photo- useful if you want to remember exactly where you were when you took the photo, but I have never found myself using this function. You can use the audio recorder like a dictaphone too, but again I just don’t seem to have the need. The sound quality is acceptable- tinny, just loud enough, but nothing special. You can of course do all the normal stuff with sepia effects and rotating to your heart’s content.

                            Deleting photos can be done by pressing the little trash can button, or by selecting “delete” via the menu. The second method gives you more options, like deleting all or protecting cherished pics so that you don’t delete them by accident.

                            There are 3 choices of quality of photo, and 5 of size. The zoom while you’re taking a photo is up to 5x, and then you get a further 12x zoom in when you’re viewing. This I have found pretty useful as a spying aid. I can take a photo of a house opposite, zoom in to find the bathroom window, then zoom a bit further to watch that hunky guy taking a shower, if I want, not that I do of course.

                            The video option works nicely and is easy to use. The video begins to record on pressing the normal camera shutter, and can be paused midway if your pet poodle stops performing for a minute or two in order to scratch his butt. The zoom works while your videoing, which means you can produce some pretty awesome movies. Really. You can capture a frame of your vid and use it as a still, which is a good trick. This is particularly good if you want a nice “unposed” pic of kids, and you also never get red-eye when you obtain pictures this way. The length of video you can record depends, of course, on the size of your memory card. The camera comes with an internal memory of ½ a goldfish, so you would be wise to invest in a card if you intend to use your camera for anything other than display purposes. My card is 512 MB, which gives me about 7 minutes on super-Waitrose quality, or a staggering 23 minutes on crappo-Woolworths quality. This means I could record an entire episode of Neighbours using my Digimax, if I could afford to pay for the plywood sets.

                            My one big criticism of this camera is that I can’t hook it up to my TV to view my handiwork. My previous camera has this function, and was cheaper, so that rattles me a bit. I was hoping that I’d be able to use the lead I still have from my old camera and coax this one into performing, but those nice techies at Samsung have made the leads completely different. Toads. The camera does have the function to be hooked up directly to your printer (as long as your printer knows what to do with a camera), and when you connect up with your USB lead (provided) you are asked which medium you want to connect to – computer or printer. I find this slightly irritating, as it asks me every time, and I’m sure the technology is sophisticated enough to know whether the other end of the USB is in a PC or a printer?! Perhaps I am overestimating technology. If you have a Windows PC you will get that little box that appears when you put a CD in, asking you what you want to do with these photos. You can copy to your computer (this opens a wizard and is straightforward), and the photos are plonked in your MyPictures folder, unless you specify otherwise.

                            It’s a little on the chunky side and won’t fit into your pocket, which doesn’t bother me, but I know some people care about these things. It comes with a little wrist-strap, but you need to use a proper case, because little bits of dust and grit clog up the dial on the top in no time, and they are not easy to remove.

                            My general feelings about this camera are that it’s ok but it’s not as good as Samsung’s previous models. This goes for the overall design, the extras offered and most importantly, the quality of the pictures. These are ok, but just ok. I nearly always have to run my pictures through Photoshop to improve the colours, which I didn’t use to have to do. The camera has played up on me once- while I was on holiday it just suddenly stopped saving any pictures and I was unable to access photos that I’d already taken. I solved the problem before I got back home by using the “reset” function and reformatting the memory card (there is a menu function for this), but I lost a whole load of irreplaceable moments, which rattled me again. So, I feel that Samsung is not putting the effort in that it used to and I won’t risk getting an even crapper model when I purchase my next camera (scheduled for next Christmas, after the cat chews this one up or something, probably). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad budget camera, I’m just disappointed after being mightily pleased with my previous models.

                            Currently available at Tesco for just under £80. A quick net search gave me a general price range of £90-£120. So go to Tesco’s.

                            Useless info:
                            7.2 mega pixels
                            3x optical zoom
                            2.5” TFT Colour LCD
                            ASR (Advanced Shake Reduction)
                            High sensitivity ISO 1000
                            Ergonomic Grip for Steady Shooting
                            15x zoom
                            Pict Bridge


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                            • Are Ghosts Real? / Discussion / 56 Readings / 51 Ratings
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                              09.08.2007 23:37
                              Very helpful



                              Ghosts, love'em or hate'em you'll be one one day

                              Ask 100 people if ghosts exist and you will get about 1/3 who say they can’t because there’s no scientific proof/explanation for them, 1/3 will say of course, they’ve seen lots, and the other 1/3 will say they don’t know. So who is right?

                              I am the product of a mixed marriage. My dad is an engineer, a true believer in science, a representative of ISO (I Standardize Omnipotently) and lists astronomy, maths and physics as hobbies. My mum, on the other hand, is a true believer in mystery, witchcraft, sorcery, art and the supernatural. (How they ever got together and married is another story). Anyway the end result was me, and I suppose I’ve got a mixture of their beliefs. Like many people, I WANT to believe in ghosts. I do believe, almost, but I would love to have a bit of scientific backing just to make it all a bit more kosher.

                              I’d like to share with you two or three spooky stories and would be interested to know if anyone has experienced anything similar, or can explain away what happened with some hard science.


                              My parents were dating in the 1960s. My dad lived with his mum, and their house was a 1930s semi in Warwickshire. The first time my mum was brought back for muffins, my gran gave her a “tour” of the house (2 up, 2 down). My mum, always interested in arty stuff, was particularly struck by some ornate tiling surrounding a fire-place in the front room, which was little used. She was a bit nervous though, and didn’t say anything until my dad was driving her back home. She chided him for not telling her about the antique ceramics, since he should know she was a big fan. He looked at her blankly and told her that there was nothing but plain bricks around the fireplace. Next time they were with my gran the subject came up, and it turns out the tiles, as my mum described them, had been present when my gran moved in, but had been replaced years before. OK, it’s not a human ghost, but still fairly ghostly, n’est pas? My dad was at a complete loss. No scientific explanation, but he couldn’t deny it had happened…


                              My mum has always been a dab hand at sewing, and ran her own business making theatre costumes for a while. One day she had been commissioned to create some 1st World War Army uniforms. Wanting to get all the details right, she popped down the local library to check out some photos. Whilst she was browsing the books on a lower shelf, a book from the top shelf fell off, for no apparent reason, and landed open. She picked up the book as it had fallen and found herself looking at a photograph of her uncle, who had been awarded a medal for bravery in the 1st World War. (He was blown up while defusing a bomb which had been loaded up in a van and was being driven away from the built up area, subsequently saving the lives of potentially thousands in Coventry.) A coincidence?


                              While at university I shared a house with 5 other students. My bedroom door was next to the bathroom, and was opposite the stairs. (So, you had to pass both my room and the bathroom to get to the stairs from the other rooms). The bathroom door was a bit warped (perhaps in more ways than one!) and stuck so firmly that most of the time we left it ajar, since it required a superhuman amount of force to open it if closed all the way, and the could not be opened quietly. One night I woke up needing to go to the bathroom. I went out onto the landing and turned immediately left only to find the bathroom door closed, all the way. My initial thought was that one of my housemates was ill and wanted some privacy whilst being sick, or something similar. I retreated back into my room, waiting for the moment when I would hear the door opening, with the kick, shove which was always needed and which was always accompanied by a huge creak. After 5 minutes or so of intense listening, I’d heard nothing, so I peaked out. What I saw, (and it’s making my eyes well up with spookiness induced tears just writing this!) was the bathroom door wide open, the light on in the bathroom, and the light-cord swinging as though it had just been pulled. I hadn’t heard a sound. I ran back into my room and didn’t emerge till morning.

                              None of these stories involve apparitions, as such, but I still think they are pretty ghostly. I am torn between wanting to see a real “live” ghost and being so so so afraid that it would probably kill me.

                              My own personal view on the science/supernatural argument is summed up by lovely old Shakespeare “there are more things in heav’n and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. (Hamlet). I think science just isn’t developed enough to be able to explain the supernatural. I also think that somehow it would be a shame if it did.

                              Thanks for reading.


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                              • facebook.com / Internet Site / 44 Readings / 43 Ratings
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                                02.08.2007 23:59
                                Very helpful



                                It's a way to spy on your friends

                                ***Throughout this op “friend” means “facebook friend”.

                                FACEBOOK is a social utility tool.


                                OK Facebook, I think you could re-define yourselves, but that’s only a wee criticism in relation to all the fun that can be had there.

                                Here’s the crack:

                                Go to www.facebook.com and sign up. In order to sign up, you need to supply only your email address and name. However, you’ll have oodles more fun if you feed in a few more personal facts, but this can be done later.

                                Once registered, your next step is to see whether anyone else you know is already on facebook. To do this, you must have a web based email account like Hotmail, Yahoo or GMail. You tell facebook your username and password and in a rather spooky way it reads your address book and tells you which of your acquaintances are already registered. Choose which of these chaps you would like in your list of facebook friends, and they will be sent an email telling them that you have requested to add them to your facebook list.

                                Confused? I mean, if you already know these people, why do you need to contact them?

                                Well, maybe this scenario describes you:

                                I have worked and lived and studied in many places. I have made many acquaintances over the years, but I only stay in regular touch with the really close buddies, or ones that I see every day. However, I would be quite curious to know what Fred from 2B is up to now, and whether Patrick ever snogged Jessica, whatever happened to that leery guy from accounts etc, but I feel an email would be out of place since it’s 25 years since we last spoke and I don’t even know if they remember me.

                                Facebook allows you to keep in touch with mates in a much less obtrusive way than regular email- once you have agreed that you know each other, you are certainly not obliged to initiate further contact (although you can). But if you’re having a crap day or you just passed your driving test, you can post a sentence on your page, and all your friends can read your thoughts. If they feel like responding they can, if they think the fact that you just finished Harry Potter is pretty damn boring, they can refrain from comment.

                                To me, the whole caboodle is more akin to a night down the pub than your normal email experience. When you send an email to a pal or pals, you choose whom you are speaking to. Down the pub, would you address a general comment to only half the table and tell the other half not to listen? When you send an email you are hoping for a response from everybody, even if it’s just two words. Down the pub would you expect everyone around the table to give their comments? No, down the pub, you simply announce to the table “I won £50 in the bingo yesterday everyone!” and would be happy with a couple of comments. With facebook, you announce like that. And in response, you might get a) a pint of (virtual) beer bought for you, b) a request that you buy a (virtual) round, c) a (virtual) pat on the back, d) a sarky comment, or e) a pick-up line.

                                Facebook’s basic aim is to put people in touch. You can do this in the traditional way- private message (like email, but via the facebook façade), public message (called “the wall”) (messages that any of your friends can read), buying things for your friends, most of which don’t actually cost you anything more than a mouse click, e.g. virtual beer, flowers, pets, presents etc., playing games (scrabble, quizzes, chess etc), sharing photos, videos and links, doing silly things like nominating your friends for outrageous awards or casting spells on them.

                                When you subscribe to facebook, the more stuff you put on your page the better it is for your mates. However, by default, all your info, public messages, rounds of virtual beer etc are only visible to your friends, which is the facebook safety valve. Anyone can search for your name, but then all they get is the photo/avatar/image you’ve posted and a list of your friends, plus an area you associate yourself with, if you so choose. So, say you knew Simon Green from Accounts (the leery one). You would be able to search for Simon Green England, but you’d get thousands of results. Skimming through the photos, you might find a likeness. Still unsure, you click on his friends and lo and behold, he’s a mate with Pervy Peter. So you’re sure it’s him. However, if Simon hadn’t posted a photo or area, you’d have nothing to go on. This preserves your anonymity to a certain degree.

                                Once you have mutually agreed friendship with someone, you can then see their entire profile and also more info on their friend list. This is the way you get to find long lost friends. I joined facebook about a week ago, and I have 53 friends listed today. They go back to primary school and cover about 7 countries. Several of them are people I was sad to have lost touch with but had no idea how to contact, and anyway no occasion seemed appropriate. With facebook, any occasion will do! My best find to date was a boy in my class at primary school who I lost touch with about 23 years ago. Through a mutual friend we have got back in touch and it’s great!

                                Once you have the basic installation you can start adding “applications” i.e. games, fun stuff. If you add an application which you then find to be boring or irrelevant you can easily delete it.

                                You don’t have to pay for anything on facebook. You can buy extra credit for certain applications (e.g. you want to send a huge number of virtual beers) but you get credit added daily anyway, so there’s no need.

                                Here’s how I tend to use facebook, which by the way, is so addictive it should come with a health warning!
                                · Log in: (homepage) you get a news feed. This page tells you if any of your friends have updated their profiles in any way. This could mean that they have posted photos, comments, added games to their profile or made friends with someone else (who perchance you know too!)
                                · On the right side of the Homepage, you find out if you’ve got any new notifications, friend requests and so on. This is a very important part of the site; because it’s here that you make your links. Every request has to be accepted, so here you find out if Garry agrees that you met in Hawaii in 1997, and you also find out that Humphrey from the Isle of Wight would like to add you to his friend list. This is where I look next. You can also see if you have any private messages.
                                · Next I read my personal messages. They can be anything from a public “Nice pic Vic” to a 5 paragraph private email.
                                · If I have new friends, I check out their friend lists, to see if there’s anyone I know who’s not in mine. I’ve found lots of old mates this way.
                                · Then I might have a bit of silly time. I like to find out what the people I don’t usually email are doing, so I have a range of tools to use. I can just “poke” them (they are informed that they have been poked), do something more poetic to them, buy them a virtual drink, flower, or even garden gnome, challenge them to a quiz on capital cities, (nice when you have no real “news” to share but want to nudge that person. I have a quick skeg down my friends list and prod people I haven’t heard from in a while.
                                · Then I might add a few photos. When you upload photos, you also have the option to “tag” people. This means that you can add the person’s name to their mug shot so that they can then find themselves on your pic and so can their friends. You can comment on your own and other people photos too. Marvellous fun! Nothing like logging in to find that Pervy Peter has tagged you in a photo, and it was something to do with Xmas Eve and a photocopier…. But your photo’s are only visible to your own accepted friends, and you can request to be de-tagged if you think necessary.
                                · Then I look at the clock and realise how late it is!

                                Facebook is only as interesting as your friends. If you have 10 friends on facebook but none of them really take part, there’ll be nothing for you to do. One solution is to make new facebook friends. You can search for people in your area, or you can join a group of like-minded people and search within that group, and presumably you can hook up or shack up with them. Again, the friendship must be mutual before details are shared. As a married woman, I haven’t been down this alley, but I’m sure it’s good fun.

                                There are new applications being added to facebook daily. Not all of them work perfectly, but all in all I would say this is an excellent social utility tool, as social utility tools go. I’ve rediscovered lots of friendships and am having a whale of a time. It may not last, it might be flash in the pan, but I’m a here and now girl and I’m loving it. Facebook is very easy to use but the more used to it you get, the more it will eat away into your life. If you have a dull office job, you could be getting sacked very soon if your boss calculates how much time you spend here!


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                                • More +
                                  04.07.2007 23:37
                                  Very helpful



                                  Excellent teach yourself book if you want your own site up and running pronto

                                  As some of you may know, I’m the owner of a language school in Bulgaria. For some time now I’ve been meaning to get a company website set up, and have been looking at various possibilities ranging from getting a professional web design company to do everything, getting a friend to teach me what to do, or just sitting on my backside hoping that the web fairies will make one for me.

                                  After messing about with a free hosting site (www.bravehost.com), (you can sign up in a trice and play about with either their ready-made templates or have a go at typing in some code yourself), I began to realise that perhaps building a website wasn’t quite so mysterious and difficult as I’d imagined, and that paying someone to do it for me would be a huge waste of money. But I also realised that I’d need a bit of help, quite a lot of time, and a huge amount of patience.

                                  I chose the SAMS teach yourself book after searching through Amazon and reading various reviews of How to Build Website books, and not finding anything that struck me as useful, intelligent, affordable and up-to-date. I abandoned the Amazon search results (of which there were hundreds) and headed straight for SAMS, because I once worked in a university library where all the students were mad keen on the SAMS series and there was always an endless waiting list for copies. There were actually quite a few different titles available from SAMS for web building, but I chose this volume since it includes both HTML (the essential language for writing web pages) and CSS (useful for making your pages look rather fabulous) (more of these later) and is about the right thickness (i.e. not too basic and not too advanced).

                                  I was approaching this project as a complete novice- I didn’t know at this stage what HTML or CSS stood for or did, but I’d gathered from using bravehost.com that they would be the most useful languages to learn to get started, and I was right.

                                  SAMS Teach Yourself HTML and CSS in 24 Hours starts you off right at the beginning with a brief overview of how web sites work and what you need to know to get started. Right in the first chapter you get to create your very first (albeit rather crummy) page and learn how to publish it. Yes, in just 10-15 minutes you can get your first web site up and running! However, you’d probably choose not publish it just yet, since it will consist of just one page with a title like “My First Web Page” in big black letters and nothing more. Still, it’s all rather exciting if you’ve never done it before, and spurs you on to see how far your creativity can take you.

                                  The book is divided in 24 “Hour” chapters (although in reality, it takes a lot longer to get through the material if you want to really learn what you’re doing or experiment with each new skill you learn). After the thrill of the first hour, you’ll probably need a large cup of tea to calm you down before tackling chapter two. Here’s a brief run down of the chapters and what amazing feats you’ll accomplish after studying each one:

                                  Hours 2-10

                                  Aligning text on your pages
                                  Unlike using Word where you can just click on the right-align icon to line your paragraph up on the right hand side of your page, you have to actually type in code to tell your web browser how to display all text and pictures etc on your pages.)

                                  Creating hyperlinks

                                  How to make words on your page spirit you away to a completely different page when you click on them.

                                  Creating Web Page Graphics

                                  What programmes you can use to work with photos or other images (like logos), and how to get them to display on your web page. How to make your page have a pretty background colour and how to make it possible for someone to click on different parts of a picture (e.g. a map) and have them spirited away to different places depending on where they click.

                                  These are hugely informative chapters, and so exciting that you’ll be phoning your mum to get her to look at your budding web site already. At this stage, you can have a perfectly reasonable (if simple) web site up and running without any problem. Up to now, all the lessons have been in how to use HTML or Hyper Text Mark Up language. (For those of you know about these things already, the book insists on using HTML which is compatible with XHTML, so all the code should be nice and not likely to get extinct any time soon.) Although HTML sounds a bit scary for the novice, it is actually quite simple to use and fairly easy to learn. The book provides handy reference sections both at the front (quick reference) and back (in-depth) so you don’t need to worry about actually memorising the code straight away. There are a few faffy bits of code you need to type with HTML, and the importance of obscure bits of punctuation is rather annoying at first, but you get used to it quite quickly, especially if you give yourself plenty of practice messing around. This is why the book is may be a bit misleading in its “24 hours” title, as if you don’t spend the time playing around with this stuff you can’t really learn what to do with it. Still, this is not a huge criticism.

                                  One important point to note is that you can do all this practice stuff off-line. There’s no need to actually publish what you’ve done unless you’re satisfied that it’s scrutiny-worthy. Also, all of this typing of code goes on in Notepad, which is that really basic program that comes as standard on everyone’s computer. You don’t need to buy any software at all to get started with your web pages. You can sort out your graphics and photos in Paint, (if you haven’t got anything more sophisticated). If you use a free hosting site like bravehost.com you needn’t pay anything at all to get your first web site up and published (except for the cost of this book of course!). However, once you’ve dipped your toes into the wonderful world of web design, you’ll probably want to get some nice software to help you design more beautiful pics. This book leads you in the right direction by suggesting both commercial software and websites where you either download software to create graphics and pictures, create them online or download ready-made.

                                  Hours 11-16

                                  Now it all gets rather clever. After the first 10 hours, you’ll be fairly comfortable using HTML and ready to go a bit deeper into what lurks behind webpages. During these 5 hours you learn about CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) which is a language fairly similar to HTML but is used exclusively for making your pages look pretty and uniform. The idea is that you don’t need to type on every page that you want your paragraphs aligned to the right- you create one page in CSS, which is basically a page of instructions, where you define everything about the formatting you want to use. For example, on your CSS page, you define the colour of your text, the size of the text in your headings, the font(s) you want to use, and so on. Then, on each web page you write, at the top, you tell the computer to look at the CSS page to find out how to format everything. You don’t have to use CSS, but if you don’t you’d have to type these formatting instructions on every separate page of your website. No hardship if you’ve only got 3 pages, but if website grows into a hundred or so, it’s going to be a chore. Also, if you suddenly decide that “Times New Roman” is far too boring, you can change your font to “Chiller” uniformly across your entire website by only changing one instruction on your CSS page. The SAMS book is very clear in it’s lessons on learning CSS. Again, CSS is potentially a bit daunting before you get stuck in, but this book leads you step by step by step and holds your hand all the way. However, unlike some teach yourself books I’ve read, it is not dumbed-down, (like the “Dummies” series). The writing style is light-hearted, but always intelligent. Other bits you get to try out in these 5 hours:

                                  Putting Tables on a Web Page
                                  Making Printer-friendly pages
                                  Using Frames

                                  This means dividing your page up into several different pages, so that only part of the page changes when you click on a link. It’s a very useful tool, but apparently some web designers don’t like them. Personally, I think they’re great.

                                  Hours 17-21

                                  These pages provide you with extremely practical tips, now that you’re pretty much an expert at web design. While all the previous hours were indispensable for anyone writing a website, these hours may or may not be useful to you, depending on what you want your website to do. I skipped a few of these, as they were about certain whistles and bells that I don’t need at the moment, but here’s a list just so’s you know:

                                  JavaScript tips

                                  Rather than teaching you anything about this other language (you need another book for that), you get a few sample bits of JavaScript and are shown how to adapt them for your own needs. I used one to have a set of photos rotate through, showing one at a time. You can use this bit of programming if you want to have a banner ad on your site that changes every few seconds, for example.

                                  You can also learn about how to make money on your site by providing links through to google.com; you’ll get paid a small commission if someone clicks an advert that google has supplied to your page. The JavaScript code is supplied by google, you just copy and paste it on to your page and hope that the pennies start rolling in.


                                  If you want to collect information (such as names, addresses, comments) from people, you can get them to fill in a form which is then emailed to you. Or, you can just get them to click on your email address and have their own email program open up with your email address neatly inserted in the right place.


                                  Find out how to put music and video on to your site. Not a chapter I needed, I’m afraid.

                                  Ebay Auctions

                                  How to make your Ebay pages stand out from the crowd. Again, not for me.


                                  How to create a blog. Ditto.

                                  Hours 22-24

                                  The burning question on any new web-designers lips is always – How do I get on google? These last few pages tell you how people can find your pages, how to get listed on google, yahoo and more and how to be neat and tidy in organising your web-site. The book finishes off with a musing about web-sites for the future, but I have to admit I didn’t bother reading that bit.

                                  At the end of the book there are plenty of appendices, FAQs and a good index.

                                  My verdict

                                  I went from being a totally ignorant beginner to being able to write, design and publish my own website in about 6 weeks. This an acceptable time scale in my view, and although I’m not 100% pleased with the way my web-site looks at the moment (take a look if you like: www.realenglishschool.eu), I’m confident that I can tweak it where it needs it, and I know where to go to find out more about getting a really juicy web site. You can spend money on software like Dreamweaver or Microsoft Frontpage, but everyone I’ve talked to reckons that these programs only release their full potential when you have a basic grounding in HTML and CSS anyway. So this book is an excellent starting point- you can stop at the end of the book and give yourself a pat on the back, or you can start ordering your software and JavaScript handbooks and give yourself a new job title.

                                  Heartily recommended.

                                  £17.99 from Amazon
                                  560 Pages


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