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basboy138

basboy138
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Member since: 01.02.2006

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    • More +
      27.04.2006 19:36
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      An average soundtrack, with a couple of great songs.

      COYOTE UGLY - SOUNDTRACK

      Whether or not you have seen, or even heard of the film Coyote Ugly, you will have no doubt heard some of the tracks from this film. This original soundtrack brings together some songs from different music genres, ranging from country to pop. There are various artists involved on the CD, although the most prominent artist is LeAnn Rimes. She starred in the movie, and so naturally would appear more than once on the album.

      The best way to review this album would be to give you a review of each of the tracks, and then to give you an overall impression at the end.

      Track 1 - Can't fight the moonlight - LeAnn Rimes
      ---
      Born in 1982, LeAnn Rimes is quite a well known country singer. Despite only being 23 years old at the time of writing this review, she has released 11 albums of her own (and one she has released twice!). Her first album, Blue was released in 1996 when she was just 14 years old, but you would never know it from her mature voice.

      This track, Can't fight the moonlight, is the theme song of the film Coyote Ugly. It is a country rock song. It begins with a couple of heavy rock chords, and then flows into something more country. Obviously, as with the vast majority of songs, the music builds up to the chorus. It is very addictive, and you will find yourself singing in in the shower afterwards.

      My rating of this track = 9/10


      Track 2 - Please remember - LeAnn Rimes
      ---
      For more die-hard LeAnn Rimes fans, and fans of more gentle ballads, this is the song for you. It is a slow ballad, with a sad theme running through it. I guess you would call it typically country! Personally, I find this track to be the best on the album. It is extremely addictive, it suits LeAnn Rimes' voice perfectly, and the melody sticks in your mind.

      My rating of this track = 10/10


      Track 3 - The right kind of wrong - LeAnn Rimes
      ---
      Although this is not the them track of the movie, this song is used a lot throughout the film. If you have seen the film, this is the one that the lead character, Jersey, used in her audition at the open mic night, just after her boyfriend had turned out the lights.

      It is a rock piece, with a very unimaginative melody line. My opinion is that it would suit the voice of someone like Madonna rather than LeAnn Rimes, but still she does a good job at getting the song across.

      My rating of this track = 4/10


      Track 4 - But I do love you - LeAnn Rimes
      ---
      This is the last of the songs that Miss Rimes sings on the album, and is a very good example of her work. It is another country rock item, and very addictive. It talks about all the things that she doesn't like in her life, but then says, "But I do love you". You won't remember much of the song, but the punchline is very catchy.

      My rating of this track = 6/10


      Track 5 - All she wants to do is dance - Don Henley
      ---
      Don Henley was the drummer, lead singer, and songwriter for The Eagles. He was born in 1947. This song, All she wants to do is dance, was a top ten hit for Don in March 1985. Although it was originally written about the American political situation, it fits into the film quite nicely.

      This is very much an 80s song in style and content. It is a real change from the first four tracks on the CD. Personally, I don't like this kind of music much. I'm more of a country music fan, which is one reason why….

      My rating of this track = 3/10


      Track 6 - Unbelievable - EMF
      ---
      EMF (which was originally the Epsom Mad Funkers) were formed in 1989 and are best known for their smash hit, Unbelievable. This topped the charts in both England and America. It is very much a pop funk song. There is no way this is my style of music, but I guess the thousands of people who bought the single can't be wrong.

      My rating of this track = 1/10


      Track 7 - The power - Snap
      ---
      Snap are known really for two songs. This is the first, and the song Rhythm is a Dancer is the other. This is yet another song from the early 1990s, and is again a pop funk song. It is used regularly at discos, and is well known to many people. However, in my opinion this is the worst track on the album without a shadow of a doubt. For me, this song lacks imagination. I prefer complex chord patterns, and a melody line as opposed to one chord and a rap.

      My rating of this track = 0/10


      Track 8 - Need you tonight - INXS
      ---
      Originally called The Farriss Brothers, INXS were formed in 1977. This is a very famous song of their, and regularly features as backing music to films and shows of this type. To me this blends in with the previous two tracks, to give a very weak middle part of the album. It can only get better. Fortunately, they cut the song short on this CD!

      My rating of this track = 2/10


      Track 9 - The devil went down to Georgia - The Charlie Daniels Band
      ---
      Now, as a country music fanatic, this album here becomes something very special. This piece of music is a piece of musical mastery. The musicians are top quality with a fantastic violin part, a wicked rhythm guitar line. Just in case you haven't heard of it before, it is worth getting a copy of this one. It tells the story of a battle between a violinist and the devil. Very good stuff.

      In the film, this is one of the songs which the Coyotes dance to on the bar - a scene which is one of my favourites from the movie.

      My rating of this track = 9/10


      Track 10 - Boom boom boom - Rare Blend
      ---
      Rare Blend describe themselves on their website as the place where rock, jazz, fusion and world music collide. To me, this accurately describes this song. It is a real mixture of everything. I have to admit that I hadn't heard of this band before getting hold of this soundtrack, but I will be looking a bit more into their music. There are good musical lines, some good harmony work, and all kinds of little bits….for example the synth keyboards thrown in for good measure.

      My rating of this track = 7/10


      Track 11 - Didn't we love - Tamara Walker
      ---
      Tamara Walker is a little known musician with some country music roots in her music. This song, Didn't we love, is very country, with steel guitars from the start underpinning the whole song. I would compare her voice to Shania Twain, except without the raunchiness.

      The song itself is quite melodic with a great chord pattern leading up the chorus. It won't stick in your mind, but it is very easy on the ears.

      My rating of this track = 7/10


      Track 12 - We can get there - Mary Griffin
      ---
      Here is another artist I had never heard of. She regularly appears at the Red Cat Jazz Café in Houston, Texas. I would describe this song as a rock/funk song, with southern gospel influences. Although I usually don't like this style of music, I find this very easy to listen to, and enjoyed hearing this finishing off the album

      My rating of this track = 5/10



      OVERALL
      ---
      This album is one that I am very happy to have in my collection, but it is not one that I will listen to from beginning to end. The middle section ruins the CD for me. If they had just missed out 3 tracks, and made it a 9 track album, I would rate it much higher.

      The good songs however are very good, with the second track being one of the all time greats which I will never forget.

      I would rate this album as 5 out of 10. If you want to hear it, I would recommend getting it from the library, and probably not worth buying for yourself.

      I hope this review has been useful to you. Thank you for reading.



      D

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      • Nokia N70 / Mobile Phone / 37 Readings / 34 Ratings
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        29.03.2006 09:42
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        A great, easy to use phone with loads of features!

        NOKIA N70
        ---

        Every year, I receive a free phone upgrade through Orange, and this year I went into the shop not having a clue of what I wanted. I looked around at all the models available, and decided I would go for something that was more than just a phone, that could organise my life for me, and do much more. I ended up taking home the Nokia N70.


        IN THE BOX
        ---
        Inside the box of the Nokia N70, you will find the phone itself, and a few other accessories. The first is the charger. It is a standard English 3-pin charger, with an adapter for European use too. There is a CD-Rom which can be used to connect your phone to your PC. I'll explain more about that later. You also have the battery, and a 64Mb memory card too, together with a very comprehensive instruction book. This book is more like a reference guide. When you want to do something, you refer to the book, and it will tell you how. You can of course read it from beginning to end, but to be perfectly honest, there isn't a lot of point. There are quite a few features to this phone that you will never use. It is much better to use it as a reference guide.


        CONNECTIVITY
        ---
        As I just mentioned, this phone can be connected to a PC very easily. Installing the CD software to your computer enables you to connect via a USB cable. You can then synchronise your contacts and your calendar with Microsoft Outlook, look through any installed programs and pictures, and change anything you like on the phone. Really, this means that you just control your phone from the PC. You can download and upload ringtones, and this can be in midi format, or in MP3 format. This is definitely a useful tool.

        Your phone can also connect to the Internet using a 3G connection, or using a normal WAP connection. As you try to connect, you are told what is available to you, depending on the strength of the transmitter in your area.


        POWER ON
        ---
        So, from powering up your phone with a very small button on the top, what can you expect? The phone is laid out in an easy to use menu. First, you can access your contacts. This can store addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and can be synchronised with your PC. You can add new contacts easily here too.

        The next option is your call monitor. You can select between you call history, missed calls, received calls, and dialled calls. You can choose to delete anything here at any time, and it is a very user friendly system.

        Next comes the messaging system. Whereas on some Nokia phones you have to select different options to change between SMS and MMS (text and picture messages), this isn't so any more. You can write a text message here and it selects the type of message you need automatically. You can also read your unread messages, and check your e-mail if you have set that up on your phone. If you have 3 unread messages, a number 3 appears on your display next to the message icon, so it is very easily to glance down and see outstanding items very easily.

        The same numbering system appears with the next menu, which is the calendar. It tells you how many items you have remaining in your calendar that day. You can access your calendar very easily here, and again, it is very user friendly, and can be synchronised with your PC.

        The next menu shows your three favourite applications, which are fully changeable to suit your needs. I have on mine LMA2006 which is a football management game, my clock, and my profiles - where I can change between general, vibrate, silent etc.

        And the final menu on this screen shows your Internet connectivity buttons. I have a contract with Orange and so my options will link to Orange world, Information, Fun, Tools, and my own homepage.


        SECOND MENU
        ---
        There is a second menu, which is accessed by a menu button on the left hand side of the phone. This menu is in a windows style display, and you can access applications such as your file manager, picture gallery, camera, log, tutorials etc. Roughly, anything which you haven't got a shortcut to on your main screen can be accessed here very easily.


        SOFTWARE
        ---
        The phone comes preinstalled with some good software, for example, Symantec virus software which is a necessary thing to own. You get a free 6 months subscription with your phone too. You will also have media players, such as RealPlayer installed. This is very easy to use and fantastic at playing your MP3 files. You have a sound recorder, a word processor (QuickWord), spreadsheets (QuickSheet), and even Adobe Acrobat Reader.


        CAMERA
        ---
        This phone actually has 2 camera included with it. The first is the largest. It is a 2 megapixel camera, which takes some very good pictures. I am extremely impressed with the quality of them. The phone screen displays them very well, but uploading them to my PC shows me just how good they really are. They are colourful, bright, well defined pictures.

        The second camera is on the front of the phone, and is used simply for Voice chat. The phone is capable of making voice calls, and this camera is how that works. Personally, I haven't used this facility yet, although one of my friends uses it all the time and says that it works extremely well on this phone.


        TECHNICAL ASPECTS
        ---
        Some people who read these review like to see the technical aspects of the phone, so here they are straight from the manual.

        Battery talk-time = 210 minutes
        Standby time = 10 days
        Dimensions = 108.8x53x17.5mm
        Weight = 126g

        Now the battery is something that needs talking about. 210 minutes of talk time is an interesting claim, and one that I have tested with a 240 minutes phone call! The battery lasted up to 240 minutes, but no longer than that. The standby time however is not so good. I would estimate it to be more like 2 days, which means the phone does need charging quite regularly. I now put it on charge every night when I head off to bed, and it suits me fine. When I stay away overnight, I must take my charger with me. I am quite disappointed with the battery length.

        Another aspect to the phone which is a little tough is the size of the keys. If you have large fingers, if is hard to press the correct key sometimes. I have small fingers, and it has taken a lot of getting used to. You do adapt quite quickly though. I would recommend trying this out before you buy one of these phones.


        PRICE
        ---
        I got my phone through Orange as a free upgrade and so didn't have to fork out the massive prices phones are costing now. This one, on the cheapest 3 tariff can be found for about £210. However, this is just a rough guide and prices vary massively. I would recommend shopping around, but this should give you an idea of what you can expect to pay.


        OVERALL
        ---
        I would recommend this phone. I have used it for a while, and despite the problems with the size of keys and the battery length, I am very happy with it. It is reliable, easy to use, and does everything I ever wanted, and more.


        Thanks for reading my review.


        D

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        • More +
          06.03.2006 14:45
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          Norfolk Royale Hotel in Bournemouth - good location but incredibly noisy!

          This week, I had what I thought would be the privilege of staying at the Norfolk Royale Hotel in Bournemouth. I was on a course with my work, and this was the hotel they had chosen for me to stay at, all paid for so I didn't have to pay a penny. I started writing this review while I was at the hotel, so everything you have here is first hand information while it is fresh in my mind. The hotel is rated by the RAC as a 4 star hotel, and so I was expecting something quite luxurious. However, this is what I found.

          LOCATION
          ---
          The Norfolk Royale is right in the town centre, approximately 2 minutes walk away from the shops, and under ten minutes to the beach. The railway station is not too far either, and it is only 10 minutes drive from Bournemouth International Airport too. To access by car, the hotel is about 1 minute from the A338 Wessex Way. Traffic at rush hour can be very unpredictable, so it is best to avoid any rush hour period. Arriving during any sunny weekend will add another hour to your journey too!

          PARKING
          ---
          Parking is good for hotel guests. To check in, there is a pull-in area at the front of the hotel. You can then check in before moving your car into the car park. This pull-in area can be extremely busy though, so be prepared to wait your turn to check in. It is also quite a tight turn into this area, so if you drive a large car, you may need to have more than one attempt!

          Following the check in, you move your car around to the rear of the hotel, and into an underground car park, which is reserved exclusively for hotel guests. This is quite a good parking area, and although it has a reputation for having tight parking spaces, I didn't find it to be any different to any normal multi-storey town centre car park. To enter the car park, you input a four digit code into a reader, and drive through. Just one tip - don't do what I did and try to follow another car in. The gates will close on you, and they do not stop if your car is in the way! Your car could be damaged quite easily. Make sure you enter your code before you enter, so that the gates stay open for long enough to get you through.

          From the car park, there are steps up to the hotel itself. The route is poorly signed, and there is no disabled access. I expected better from a hotel of this standard.

          THE ENTRANCE AREA AND RECEPTION
          ---
          I was very impressed with the tidiness of the reception. There is information available about the local area including free maps and guides. The décor is in an art-nouveau style, which looks a little dated, but it in very good condition. In this area, there is a bar which serves most drinks, although at hotel prices. If you want to drink, I suggest going to the Moon in the Square, about 2 minutes down the hill, and you will get the drinks for under half the price.

          There is also a concierge desk, although the whole time I stayed, there was nobody at the desk. They were too busy on reception. I could have just tried at the wrong time, and I'm sure if you used this service, somebody would be along to help very quickly.

          From the reception area, there are lifts signed to all floors, and there is also a large staircase leading up the centre of the hotel. As I was staying on the first floor and didn't have much luggage, I used the stairs. The doors at the top of the stairs open and close in both directions, so it is easy to take luggage through.

          THE ROOMS
          ---
          As I entered my room, my initial reaction was that it was quite large, and then the heat hit me. The radiator was stuck on full power, and I couldn't turn it down at all. To counteract it, I tried to open a window. Out of 3 windows in the room, only one moved, and that only just enough to stick your little finger through it. I was not particularly impressed by this.

          The room had a large queen sized bed, a mini-bar, trouser press, tea and coffee making facilites, and telephone. There was a large antique style wardrobe in the room too, and overall I was impressed with the quality of everything in the room. It was just so hot! But, then I tried to draw the curtains, and the pulley system didn't work, so they stayed open all night long. Fortunately, nobody overlooked my room!

          Next, as I walked around the room, I realised that the floorboards were very squeaky. I didn't see this was a problem as it wouldn't disturb me when I was asleep. At least, that's what I thought! During the night, every time anybody walked in the corridor outside the room, the boards squeaked and woke me up. Also, and this is worse still, the boards on the room above me also squeaked, and the people above were, I think, walking around all night! They were probably having trouble with the heat like I was. Finally, having dosed all night, I heard a clatter of trays. It was about 5am and the kitchen staff were getting ready for breakfast in the restaurant, and their preparation room was directly below me. The soundproofing in the rooms was non-existent and they might as well have been throwing trays across my room!

          The bathroom was great. Really good actually. It was spacious, airy, had a bath with a shower over it, and all the usual facilities. I was really impressed with that - so much so that without the squeaky floorboards, I was tempted to sleep in there… but I didn't.

          THE STAFF
          ---
          With the problems in my room, you would have thought I would have complained. Well, I did! The response I got was, "Well it is an old hotel sir. The rooms on the third floor are newly renovated, and don't have these problems". I asked to be moved to a room on the third floor to be told they were all booked, so I would have to stay where I was. I wasn't in the mood for arguments, so just put up with it. I really wasn't impressed with the attitude of the staff.

          The second day, I overheard something at reception which also disturbed me. Another guest had a problem with his room, and asked to be moved. The person behind the counter turned round to his colleague and said, "We've got another one who wants to be moved. It isn't going to be a good day". Now, fair enough to think this, but to say it with a guest there, and without any acknowledgement of the problem , was not at all professional. Plus… how many of us actually wanted to move rooms? Were there any good rooms?

          THE RESTAURANT
          ---
          This for me was the highlight of the hotel. The restaurant was spacious and airy, and the food was just glorious. There was a good choice of food, and a three course meal was just £25 per person. This isn't too bad for the standard of food. The staff in the restaurant were kind, courteous, and helpful at all times. If only the rest of the hotel could be like this!

          OTHER FACILITIES
          ---
          Guests of the hotel have access to a gym which is close to the hotel, and is free to use. There is also a Jacuzzi in the hotel which is very popular, but guess what…. It was out of order. By the look of it, it had been out of order for quite some time! The sauna however was fantastic, and many of the guests were using it when I was there. It was almost like they were looking for somewhere else to be other than their rooms and the reception area. Personally though, I didn't feel much of a difference in temperature between the sauna and my room! The humidity was obviously different though.

          OVERALL
          ---
          Overall, I would not recommend this hotel as a place to stay. The location might be fantastic, but you want to have an enjoyable stay. I have to stay here again later this week with work, but will be asking for a different hotel in future. The restaurant is worth eating in though, in case you are unfortunate enough to stay. The staff in reception need training by the restaurant staff too. For a four star hotel, I was extremely disappointed and there is no way in a million years I would pay the top rate of £150 per room per night!!


          Thanks for reading my review.


          D

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          • Navman iCN 550 / GPS Sat Nav / 28 Readings / 27 Ratings
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            28.02.2006 19:24
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            A slightly overpriced by fantastic GPS receiver

            With my job, I have to do quite a lot of driving on a regular basis. I know the route like the back of my hand, but every now and then, when there is an accident on the way, I need to turn off and find a new way. It isn't always easy to look at the map, and keep my eyes on the road at the same time. I had heard about satellite navigation systems (sat-nav) and decided to take a look at them. I had no idea what I was looking for, so asked around.

            Having looked at all the options, and the budget I had available, I decided to choose the Navman iCN 550, including the optional traffic module. It is a choice I have never regretted.

            **IN THE BOX**

            When you open the box, you will find the following:-

            Navman iCN 550
            Car charger
            Mains charger
            Windscreen mount
            Instructions
            Guarantee
            Advertising for other Navman products
            CD-Rom
            USB cable


            **CAR INSTALLATION**

            I bought my Navman from Halfords, and they were also advertising installation from £30. My first thought was that this was quite extortionate, especially when it said on the box that it was ready to use in less that 5 minutes. I asked why they charged so much. It turns out there are two installation option. One of them is where it is wired into the car, so that you can just turn on the engine, and there it is! The other is where you either use the internal battery, or connect it to the cigarette lighter. I used, and still use the second option.

            To install the kit, the windscreen mount works with a suction system, which attaches to the windscreen very easily. The fit is tight, and very secure. The sat-nav then fits into the mount. If you want to, it is now ready to use from the internal battery. However, you can also run the car charger cable to your cigarette lighter, and power it up. Even when the unit is in use, the battery is being charged if it is plugged in - a little like a mobile phone would be.


            **SOFTWARE**

            The unit comes equipped with street level mapping for the whole of Western and Northern Europe. This is where the unit differs from other sat-nav kits. I have never come across another one where this amount of mapping in included for free. Other maps are available for sale over the Internet, and they are very easy to install. If you install the CD-Rom into your computer, it automatically runs and installs software onto your computer. My connecting your sat-nav with the supplied USB cable, maps can be added and removed without any problems. Software updates can also be downloaded and added to your sat-nav very easily.

            The software on the computer takes a little while to get your head around, but the help files are very comprehensive and after a little while, it becomes second nature.


            **FEATURES**

            Now we get onto the nitty-gritty of what this Navman actually does. The main menu contains the following options, which describe everything very well.

            - go to - - - this is the first option. By selecting this option, a route is planned from where you are now to any point of your choice. You can select a destination by "My Home" which you can preset and change at any time by using another one of the menus called Preferences. You can also select destination by "Address or POI". POI means point of interest, and this can mean anything from a castle to a petrol station. You can select "Favourites", which are also changeable very easily, and "Recent" which lists all recent destinations. Like I said before, it is very easy to use.
            The address option brings up another menu. You can select a destination by town, street, postcode or point of interest in any country, just so long as it is installed. For example, I recently was meeting somebody in north wales, at the junction of two roads. My sat-nav was able to select this exact intersection very quickly and very easily.

            - map - - - this displays the map on the main screen. The map is actually the default display at all times, as it is usually what you will need to see. You can orientate the map to point north the whole time, or to go in the direction you are facing. A compass needle in the top right of the screen shows you where north is, although like most things on the sat-nav, this is also changeable.

            - multi-stop trip - - - If you are going on a journey with more than one destination, maybe for deliveries or something else along these lines, this is the option for you. You can add destinations in the middle of your trip, set waypoints, and update it at any time at all.

            - preferences - - - Here, you can change almost every option you will ever need, and more. You can change the voice of the person speaking to you, giving you directions, or even switch off the voice altogether. You can change routing options, such as taking the quickest route, or the route avoiding motorways. You can change map options, set up safety alerts which stop you using the sat-nav while you are driving (which incidentally is illegal), look at the GPS status and see which satellites you are receiving, change your measurements from miles to kilometres, change the language, and much more.

            - traffic - - - This option is only displayed if you have the optional traffic module installed. I will talk about this in the next section.

            - route information - - - Here, you can look over your route, view a list of instructions, such as turn left/right, see a summary of the route including estimated distance and time for your journey, and you can cancel your whole route here too and start again.


            There are also some important features which have their own buttons on the front of the device. There is a one touch button to find the nearest petrol station, and the nearest car park. Ideal if you are somewhere you don't know. There are also buttons to move around maps, zoom in and out, and view your list of instructions. There is a button which takes you to the menu, and an escape button for the times you go wrong!

            **OPTIONAL TRAFFIC MODULE**

            Driving on the roads that I do, for example the M25, it was essential that I purchased the optional traffic module. It clips on the back of the windscreen mount, and is really small in size. It uses the same power supply as the module, connected with a small cable, which is all supplied with the module.

            The module picks up radio signals through a normal small aerial, and translates the traffic news into alerts on the sat-nav. If there is traffic on your route, you are advised of it, along with a description of what the problem is. Then, using the 'traffic' option from the main menu, you can choose to avoid the traffic, and the device recalculates another route.

            For me, this is an option which is well worth getting hold of.

            **PRICE**

            A sat-nav with this many features, maps, and functions does not come cheap. I went to Halfords, and bought it for £599. With a bit of bartering, I managed to get the traffic module thrown in for free, but I believe it would have cost approximately £30. Unlike some kits, this is the total price. There is no subscription costs. The traffic module has unlimited use for no extra cost at all. This in itself is quite a bit money saving from some other kits.

            **PROBLEMS**

            With all this technology in one little box, there are bound to be problems. So far, the only problems I have found are minor ones, but they are still there. The first to mention is the GPS signal. At the start of your journey, it can take a little longer than some other kits to acquire a GPS signal, sometimes up to a minute. I would prefer this to be a matter of seconds, but then again, maybe I expect too much! While you are driving though, the kit manages to keep the signal extremely well.

            The traffic module has one drawback to it, which is that it doesn't work on battery power. Your kit needs to be connected to the car power source. Also, if you connect it to the power source after you have started your journey, it sometimes still doesn't manage to start up correctly, meaning you have to close down the whole kit and start again. To solve this problem, I make sure I am plugged in at all times while I am driving. Avoid the cause of the problem and you don't have a problem!

            **SUMMARY**

            I would recommend the Navman iCN 550 to you. Although not necessarily the cheapest option, it is so comprehensive that to me it is worth the extra money. Despite one or two minor problems, it is easy to use, and does exactly what you want it to.


            Thank you for reading my review.




            D

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            • More +
              16.02.2006 19:12
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              A fantastic seaside harbour town

              In November 2005, I was lucky enough to take a two week trip to California. I flew into San Francisco with no idea where I would end up, or what I was going to do. It was a trip of a lifetime. I had this dream of finding a quiet American bar, a bit like Cheers, where everybody knew your name. Of course, I was never going to find this place in a big city like San Francisco, so I hired a car and drove down the famous Route 1.

              After about 200 miles, I was tired, and decided to stop at the first hotel I saw. Shortly afterwards, was a Best Western hotel on the outskirts of a sleepy town called Morro Bay. After checking into my room, I asked at reception if there was a place to eat, and was recommended a place right on the banks of the harbour - The Great American Fish Company. I drove down into the town, and ended up by spending as much time as I could there. It quickly became one of my favourite places in the world, and as much as I think it should lay undisturbed, I wanted to tell you about it.

              **LOCATION**

              Morro Bay is on the pacific coast of California, almost exactly half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is close to a famous castle, called Hearst Castle, and also to the Big Sur coast. Just inland from Morro Bay, you find the mountains. These mountains have a huge effect on the environment at Morro Bay, keeping the temperatures warm all year round.

              The nearest major town is San Luis Obispo, which is 12 miles to the South East. It has an airport with links to San Francisco and Los Angeles, although as with most places in America, you need to car to drive around as public transport leaves a lot to be desired.

              **THE ROCK**

              Certainly the biggest feature of Morro Bay is Morro Rock. This is a huge rock which sticks out into the ocean and is the centrepiece of the town. The rock is a volcanic plug, but there has not been any volcanic activity for a long long time. The rock has been quarried, but eventually in 1969, the quarrying was stopped, and this leaves the rock as it is today. Originally, the sea completely surrounded the rock, but it was attached to the mainland to create a harbour, which I will talk about a little later. You can drive right up to the edge of the rock, giving amazing views out onto the ocean.

              The rock is home to many different kinds of wildlife, including nesting Peregrine falcons, pelicans, cormorants, squirrels.

              The rock also creates some fantastic surfing conditions on the north beach of Morro Bay, which are used by international surfing competitions all year round.

              **THE BEACHES**

              There are beaches along the coast in both directions from Morro Bay. They are state beaches, and so well looked after. They are covered in golden sand, and there is almost no trace of any litter! Birds love the beach, and you occasionally get seals playing on the sand too. They are safe places on the whole, but watch out for freak waves which can take your feet from under you. Be careful with small children!

              **THE HARBOUR**

              There has always been a natural harbour in Morro Bay, created by a natural sandbank just out to sea. This was used to great effect in the past, but to secure the harbour's future and the safety of the ships, the Rock was attached to the land, creating a much more safe environment. It is the only safe harbour between Monterey and Santa Barbara - an area covering 200 miles of coastline. It is quite a small harbour, in that in can only accept small fishing craft, but this adds to the ambience of the area. Entering a small fishing village is like entering the gates of heaven (well, almost!), and it adds to the sense of community in the area. Everyone helps each other out, everyone knows each other, and takes care of each other.

              Just in case you were thinking of getting to Morro Bay by boat, you should know that the U.S. coast guard regards the harbour as one of the most dangerous in the entire United States, so be careful!

              **PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK**

              I had already made reference to the best place that I found. It is called the Great American Fish Company, and is a family owned restaurant. It serves not only fish, but also steaks. However the highlight of this place for me was the bar which is attached. It is very small, but everybody knows everybody, especially in the winter when there are less tourists around. I went there one night, and got chatting to a few people including a very good barmaid, Nicole. Then I drove on, and came back a week later. As I walked in, they all knew my name, what drink I wanted, and they all offered to buy me one. It was just incredible. Very highly recommended.

              There are other places to eat, ranging from small to relatively large, and asking the locals in the best way. I can only recommend places I went to. So, there is the compulsory Burger King and McDonalds, both of which are a little out of town. In fact, the main part of the town, alongside the harbour has so many restaurants and bars that you can't count them!

              One thing to watch out for is that the bars will close at around 9pm. Nobody does anything after this time. You eat around 6pm, and not much later. You drink until about 8 and not much later, unless there is a football game on. So, don't expect anything late at night. There is no nightlife, which is part of the charm of the place.

              **HOTELS**

              Again, you have a wide selection of hotels to choose from, and they are very reasonably priced. I can obviously only really talk about the hotel I stayed at, which was just a little out of town. To me, this was the best place to stay. It was 5 minutes drive from the centre, and right next to the main road (but quiet!). It is the Best Western El Rancho which is well worth staying at for friendly staff, clean rooms, and a great choice of TV channels for when everything has shut down.

              Closer to town, there is another Best Western hotel just up the hill from the harbour, but as you drive in, there are all kinds of hotels. You can't miss them. They range from bed and breakfast accommodation to 3 star accommodation, but I don't remember seeing anything of a better standard than that. All the major chains for this standard are represented, and there are quite a few independent hotels too.

              **THE BIG NEGATIVE**

              So far, I have portrayed Morro Bay as a slice of heaven, but there is one aspect to the town which you can't help but see. Overlooking the harbour and the rocks, there stands no less than three chimneys from the Morro Bay power station! It provides the power for the small area around Morro Bay, and in its favour, it provides jobs, and money for the area. This might sound stupid, but I had been there 2 days before I even noticed the power station. The rest of the place is so gorgeous that you just never think about it!

              **SUMMARY**

              You must visit this place if you are ever in California. It is just an awesome place, and I will be going back there as often as I can.


              Thanks for reading my review.



              D

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              • More +
                15.02.2006 17:55
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                A great hotel, great location in a great city!

                In 2005, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to one of my favourite places, Venice. Previously when I have visited, I have stayed on Venice Lido, but this time I wanted to go for something a little more central. After a little searching on the Internet, I found the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal.

                **LOCATION**

                The location of the hotel can't be beaten. It is just under 2 minutes walk from the Piazza San Marco (St. Marks Square), and it overlooks the Grand Canal. The restaurant, which I will talk about in more detail later, has seats right on the waterfront. If you know Venice, and know of Harry's bar, the hotel is right next to it. If you don't know Venice, Harry's bar is one of the most overpriced bars you will ever find, established by an American, but well worth a visit while you are there.

                **GETTING THERE**
                Access to the hotel is very easy. Of course, you can just walk in from the street. It is very close to the San Marco water bus stop too, which is extremely convenient. From the airport however, you can spend up to 2 hours waiting for, and catching the bus. These can be very crowded from the airport too, and certainly isn't a comfortable ride. Of course, arriving in style is essential at a hotel like this, and so a private water taxi works extremely well. I picked one up from Marco Polo airport, and it cost me the equivalent of £65 one way. This will take about 30 minutes. However, they take you right up to the door of the hotel, which is on the Grand Canal, where your bags are taken from you. it is easy, quick, and in my opinion worth the extra money.

                **AMBIENCE**

                Arriving in style by private water taxi was, I thought, the most extravagant thing I would do on this trip. However, as soon as I set foot in the hotel, I was amazed at how elegant it was. The hotel is a part of the Summit group of hotels, which are known for their elegance. In my opinion, this hotel is straight out of the top drawer. It is spacious, airy, and clean. There are statues and works of fine art dotted around. Even though I am sure some of the items are quite cheap, nothing here looks cheap.

                The staff add to the ambience too. They are very smartly dressed, and polite. They hold themselves in a professional manner. They speak all major languages, and if they don't speak your language, somebody appears very swiftly who does speak your language. They were extremely helpful with anything I wanted during my stay.

                **CHECKING IN**

                The check-in is very quick and easy. You are asked for your personal details, and need to leave your passport at reception for a short while, with which they carry out their necessary security checks. This process takes a maximum of five minutes. Your bags are then taken to your room for you, and you are personally shown to your room.

                **THE ROOMS**

                The room I had was just a normal room, but as I walked in, it looked more like a suite. The bathroom was simply massive, with complimentary shampoos, conditioners, and soaps. The bedroom area had a king-size bed, which was decorated in a very elegant style which could have been from the 1700s.

                There is a telephone, hair dryer, satellite television, and all the other usual things you would expect from a hotel. Some of the rooms have a view over the Grand Canal, although you will pay more for these. My room looked over the street, and my first concern was that it would be noisy. However, I was not disturbed by any noice at any time of the day or night. The windows are well designed to keep noise out.

                **SERVICES**

                The hotel has a concierge desk, and the staff here are very helpful. They provide maps for Venice, will call water taxis for you, arrange tours around the city, and offer personal advice on the best restaurants and sights in the area. It is an unbiased view, such that when I asked which was the best restaurant I could go to, they were happy to recommend restaurants other than their own.

                Room service is excellent. There is a large menu to choose from and it is available 24 horus a day. Admittedly, it can be a bit pricey, but if you are living a life of luxury, who cares?!

                There is a free water taxi from the hotel to the island of Murano, famous for its glassware. This is a great added extra which is well worth taking. It needs booking about a day in advance because of its popularity.

                There is a very small, but very nice jewellery shop inside the lobby of the hotel. I didn't personally buy anything from there, but the word on the street is that it is a well respected shop, but then again, you would expect nothing less!

                **FOOD**

                For a hotel of style, you would expect a restaurant of style, and that is exactly what you get. The tables are situated outside, right on the banks of the Grand Canal, but underneath a canopy. This keeps the worst of the wind and rain from you if you are unlucky with the weather. The standard of the food matches the environment. The presentation matches the top restaurants in the world, and the quality and amount is the same too.

                If you choose to get your food delivered to your room, it is prepared in exactly the same way, and you will have no complaints at all. Well, almost no complaints. You will notice that everything I have said so far has been positive. There is one negative side to this hotel, and that is the.....

                **PRICE**

                Hotels in Venice are known for being a bit pricey. The closer to the heart of the city, the more expensive the hotel. Therefore, for a location and a standard such as this, you are going to pay for it. Depending on where you book, you can be looking at a price of up to EUR560 per night! Now, I managed to pay a bit less than this. The hotel quite often issues special offers to companies such as lastminute.com, or expedia. It is worth looking here for good rates. My booking was make with expedia, and included all flights. The transfers were an option, but were actually slightly cheaper to buy locally. Remember this when booking!

                The food prices match that of the hotel. I only ate in the hotel restaurant once. There were 2 starters, 2 main courses, 2 deserts, and 1 bottle of wine. The total converted to just over £200. - Obviously other hotels in Venice, although expensive, are not quite like this, but then again, they are nowhere near the standard of this one.

                **OVERALL**

                Overall, this hotel is excellent. Everything is as you would expect a top rated hotel to be. The only drawback is the price, but as in the rest of life you pay for what you get. I have no hesitation in recommending this hotel to you.


                Thanks for reading my review.


                D

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                • More +
                  13.02.2006 20:01
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                  Great voice, great music, and great faith!

                  I discovered Steve Green many years ago when, as a child, my dad used to play his music in the car. Immediately, I began to learn to love his music, his voice, and his passion that shines through so obviously in what he does. Being a singer now myself, Steve Green is somebody who I respect, and who I learn from. He inspires, encourages, and entertains.


                  ** THE PAST **

                  Steve Greens parents were Christian missionaries in South America, and Steve was raised there. He became a Christian when he was young, but it wasn’t until he was 26 that his faith became really real to him. Then, 22 years ago, he establishes Steve Green Ministries, and began to sing, sharing his faith with others through his music. Through the years since then, he has received 4 Grammy nominations, 13 number one songs in the Christian music charts in America, and six Dove awards. He has made 23 recordings so far, but in my opinion this album, Somewhere Between, is his best yet.

                  Steve’s voice has been compared to people such as Josh Groban. He has a richness that is very rare in singers today. He sings gospel music which reaches out to Christians, but also to any music lovers across the world. The arrangements he uses, the way he uses his voice to portray the meaning of the words, and the passion he puts into what he does are, in my opinion, unmatched by any other artist.


                  ** THE ALBUM **

                  This album, Somewhere Between, is a relaxing, easy-listening CD, but with some incredibly challenging words. With the Nashville String Orchestra providing the accompaniment on quite a lot of the tracks, together with light drums, and some amazing guitar work, you can’t help but me memorised by it. There are ten tracks on this album, which was made in 2005. The only negative thing I can find with this album is the number of tracks. It leaves me wanting to hear more, however for an incredible price of £8.99 through Premier Music Club, I can’t complain. Compared to a lot of other CDs you will find (including my own… to my disgrace) this is a really cheap price, especially when you consider the standard of what you are purchasing!

                  ** EACH TRACK**

                  Before I start describing each track, I would like to explain that this is a Christian album. The songs are very much Steve’s worship to God. Although I don’t need to apologise for sharing this faith with you, I do not want to force it down your throat either, so please be aware that it will talk about God quite a lot.

                  Track 1 – You’re My God
                  ---
                  This track is a fantastic introduction to Steve’s voice. The instruments begin very quietly, with his voice extremely prominent. This builds up though into a triumphant declaration of what God means to him. He co-wrote this song with Bob Farrell and Brian Stewert. The line, “The hope of Your cross makes me sing”, explains why Steve does what he does.


                  Track 2 – For Your Pleasure
                  ---
                  It is when you get to this track that you realise this CD is simply about Steve and his own relationship with God. The words talk about how it is only about God, and not actually about Steve at all. There is a gently piano accompaniment starting this track off, but the strings soon join in too to create a gentle, relaxing song. This was written by Greg Nelson, Bob Farrell and Paul Marino.


                  Track 3 – In Brokenness You Shine
                  ---
                  With a full orchestral introduction, and a superb piano line during the rest of the song, the accompaniment maintains the high standard of music. Steve’s voice is slightly different in this song, and it is a song which is fast becoming one of my favourites. The words talk about how, when everything else is falling down around you, God still shines through it all. This was written by Bernie Herms, Doug McKelvey, and Steve.


                  Track 4 – Tu Presencia
                  ---
                  I have never been a fan of songs in foreign languages on English/American albums, and this is no exception. With Steve’s background from South America, you can understand why he has done it, but I now tend to switch off when it is being played. The musical piano accompaniment is superb, and a guitar backing gives a very latin feel, but you have to look at the cover sheet of the CD to work out what the words mean. Tu Presencia means Your presence, which I should have worked out. This was written by Marcos Vidal, Greg Nelson and Paul Marino.


                  Track 5 – Open Our Eyes
                  ---
                  The words of this song ask us to open our eyes to what is to come in the future, when eternity comes. It is a really gentle and quiet start to the song with some great chords in the accompaniment, which I am still trying to work out. It isn’t an easy song to sing, but Steve excels at it. It was written by Doug McKelvey and Brian Stewert.


                  Track 6 – Sorrow Mixed With Light
                  ---
                  There is a great line in this song, “For somewhere in between the beauty and the tears, this is where we live our lives”. Whereas other songs are blunt about what they mean, this one only does it in the chorus. The verses are a bit too wishy-washy for my liking, but seeing as my parents think this is one of the best songs on the album, I guess it is a matter of taste. There is a great guitar player on this song, which the string backing too. It is worth listening to just for that! It was written by Doug McKelvey and Steve. David Cleveland plays the guitar.


                  Track 7 – When The Morning Comes
                  ---
                  This song talks about when all the bad times have gone, I will see You smile. It is quite a good song, although by the time you get to this track, it begins to sound like all the others. It needs something new to get your attention again. This was written by Bob Farrell, Steve, Greg Nelson and Paul Marino.


                  Track 8 – Forgive Me
                  ---
                  Well, I needed something new to get my attention and here I have found it. In my opinion, this is easily the best track on the album. One thing Christians recognise is the sharing of bread and wine in what we call ‘communion’. This song talks about the reasons behind communion. It is a very simple song, written by Paul Marino and Greg Nelson. A basic guitar backing, which is joined later on by strings gives a reflective mood, which fits the words perfectly. I have deliberately not put the words to any of the other songs in this review, but the words to this sum up the CD quite nicely.

                  As I hold Your broken body
                  And drink this bitter cup
                  Help me realise the depth
                  Of Your redeeming love
                  And for all the sin in me
                  Any sin at all
                  Forgive me, forgive me

                  Through the constant struggle
                  That never seems to cease
                  As in life, so is the cross
                  It too was bittersweet
                  As I receive this sacrament
                  A holy mystery
                  I’m amazed You’re sharing it with me

                  You were crushed
                  You were bruised
                  You were scorned
                  You were used
                  So here am I with nothing left
                  But praise for You
                  Praise for You

                  As I hold Your broken body
                  And drink this bitter cup
                  Help me realise the depth
                  Of Your redeeming love
                  And for all the sin in me
                  Any sin at all
                  Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me


                  Track 9 – In You Alone
                  ---
                  This is a very simple song which I have already used myself in a gig. It is about God being in everything we do, and Him being the only One who can be there the whole time, because He is God! It was written by Steve and Bernie Herms.


                  Track 10 – Be At Rest
                  ---
                  Taken from Psalm 116:7-8, this song is a really nice end to the CD. Jeremy Johnson wrote it, and it is the kind of song I can see people using at my funeral. “Be at rest for the Lord has been good to You”.


                  **OVERALL**

                  There are one or two fantastic songs on this album, and I am very pleased I got hold of it. It is definitely a Christian album, and keeps up Steves tradition of great albums. You know, I don’t think he has done a bad one yet! I would recommend it to you.


                  Thanks for reading.


                  D

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                  • Lost (Season 1) / TV Programme / 28 Readings / 24 Ratings
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                    03.02.2006 13:47
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                    Great, entertaining, thrilling, exciting - keeps your mind active!

                    Lost is a series of 25 episodes about a group of people who have been stranded on an island following a plane crash. It follows how they survive, their plans to get off the island, and talks about their lives before the crash too. However, the island is not all that it seems to be. They are not alone.

                    This series is about survival, instinct, trust, with an element of science-fiction and romance too. It is a very well constructed show, which I would recommend to anyone.

                    *Brief overview*

                    Following the crash, Jack, a doctor, takes a lead role within the group of people. They set up shelters on the beach and wait to be rescued, but they soon realise they are not alone. Something very big is pulling down trees, and when a polar bear attacks one of them, miles away from its known territory, they know they have a big task on their hands.

                    The group soon split in 2. One group stays on the beach, and the other goes inland to some caves with fresh water, although they still have a lot to do with each other. They work as a team to solve problems, for example hunting, collecting water, and exploring.

                    Soon, they pick up a transmission from someone, but the transmission is 16 years old. Sayid, one of the group, finds the french woman, Danielle, who sent these transmissions.

                    The group are devastated when one of their group, Boone, is killed, but delighted when Claire has a baby boy. However, when Danielle steals the baby to offer him to "the others", things get a little frantic. The baby is soon recovered though, although Danielle still talks about "the others" wanting the boy.

                    The group build a raft to try to escape, and four of them leave the island - 3 men and a boy, Walt. Walt is eventually captured, and the raft is destroyed. The remainder of the group are left on the island. This is where the series ends, asking lots of questions which hopefully will be answered in the next series.

                    *Price*

                    Although this series was broadcast on E4 and Channel 4, it is now for sale in a complete Series 1 box set on DVD. Supermarkets sell the set for approximately £45. To me, this is well worth every penny. I was hooked from start to finish with this series. Gettint to know the characters, their past, how they develop, their loves, passions, hates, and what drives them on.

                    *Cast*

                    Matthew Fox - Dr. Jack Sheppard
                    Evangeline Lilly - Kate
                    Dominic Monaghan - Charlie Pace
                    Jorge Garcia - Hugo (Hurley) Reyes
                    Malcolm David Kelley - Walt Lloyd
                    Harold Perrineau - Michael Dawson
                    Naveen Andrews - Sayid Jarrah
                    Josh Holloway - James (Sawyer) Ford
                    Terry O'Quinn - John Locke
                    Daniel Dae Kim - Jin-Soo Kwon
                    Yunjin Kim - Sun Kwon
                    Emilie de Ravin - Claire Littleton

                    These are the main characters, although there are some cameo roles from other actors in Series 1, who will appear in Series 2 in greater measure. Series 2, as I write this, is already showing in America, so will hopefully hit our screens soon.

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                    • Maplin / Highstreet Shopping / 26 Readings / 22 Ratings
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                      03.02.2006 13:09
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                      Loads of stores, great service, great website - for all your electronic needs

                      Maplin Electronics is a name which at first scared me, but I could now not do without. It is a chain of stores, with a good website, where you can get hold of all those little bits that nobody else sells, plus a lot more!


                      WHERE ARE THEY?

                      Maplin Electronics have 106 stores dotted across the United Kingdom, ranging from Plymouth to Aberdeen. They have an excellent store finder page on their website - www.maplin.co.uk - and if you can't get easy access to their stores, you can purchase over 12000 products from the website too.


                      WHAT DO THEY SELL?

                      If you are building your own computer, or if you have just broken a speaker cable and want a new one, Maplin is the place for you. They sell adapters for just about everything, 2-way radios, computers, wires, cables, connectors….. If you are cast your mind back to the days of the Tandy stores when you could buy all those little bits, Maplin have taken the best of those, and present them in an easy to find, and easy to buy way. If Maplin don't sell what you are looking for, it very likely isn't made.

                      On top of their selling, my experience from the Basildon store shows that they have extremely knowledgeable staff, and no question is too simple or hard for them. If they don't know, they will refer you to somebody who does, or will find out for you. My experience is with a new sound system. I am developing a purpose built sound system for a church, and they have been extremely helpful in find not only the easiest way for me to do it, but also the most useful and the cheapest too.


                      THE PAST

                      Maplin began in 1972 when two enthusiasts were frustrated at not being able to find things they wanted. They decided to start their own business, more as a hobby at first, and then in 1975 they opened their first store in Westcliff, near Southend, Essex. Business grew very quickly, and is showing no sign of slowing down. In 2003, company sales broke the £100m barrier, and the Internet site is regularly used by thousands of customers each month. My experience shows that despite the rapid growth, Maplin have not lost the personal touch in their quality and service.


                      COST COMPARISON

                      It is hard to compare prices with some of Maplins stock as in some cases they are the only high street retailer to sell them. With some of their more widely available stock, 2-way radios as an example, they tend to be on a par with everyone else. Occasionally they are a little more expensive, but the service to me if worth those few extra pennies. With my sound system project, where else would you find video splitters, VGA cables, screws for computer ports, radios, VGA cables, 3-pin to jack adapters, and sellotape all in the same place?

                      WEBSITE

                      The website at www.maplin.co.uk is extremely easy to use, easy to navigate through and easy to find bargains. Right from the menu screen, you can either search for an individual item, or browse around through defined sections. Purchasing is secure and easy, and delivery is extremely fast. I recently ordered some 2-way radios on the Monday at 4pm, and they were delivered before 9am the next day. To me, this can't be beaten.

                      To find the best bargains, sign up for the Maplin newsletter. As soon as you do this, money off vouchers are e-mailed to you, and although they don't amount to a great deal (£3 off when you spend £30), every penny counts, and there is no point paying full price when vouchers are freely available!


                      OVERALL OPINION

                      If you are looking for components, wires, adapters, or those few little bits for any project or hobby, try Maplin. I will recommend them to anybody for service, quality, range of stock, and availability. The website is also fantastic. Great stores - clean, and easy organised. Ten out of ten for Maplin. Keep up the good work!





                      Thanks for reading


                      D

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