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      28.08.2014 13:45
      Very helpful


      • "Engaging read towards the end."
      • "An opener to the American justice system."


      • "Bit slow pace in the initial pages."

      When disability is under legal scrutiny

      THIS IS NOT MY FIRST NOVEL BY JODI PICOULT. Her books are always a delight to read, and this novel has the best plot gauging it from my previous readings such as of My Sister's Keeper, Perfect Match and Second Glance.

      House Rules is an engaging novel that allows readers to understand the emotional and psychological conditions that confront the characters which is very effective to get the interest of finishing the book (I think so...). Initially, for the first 100 pages of the book, I was tempted to temporary abandoned reading it. But then reaching the middle part of the book, my enthusiasm is building-up considering that I initially did some preliminary conclusions of what happened to Jess' disappearance/death; consequently I found out that, well almost 100 percent I got it right! At that point of my initial assessment of the events, I jumped to the conclusion that Picoult is not clever enough to sustain the suspense element of the story that I was able to predict the outcome of the investigation.

      On the other hand, Picoult is perfectly intelligent enough to motivate her readers to bring their own initial investigations and validated at the end of the story. The focal point of the story is whether a person suffering from Asperger's syndrome can be convicted of a crime or can be acquitted because the suspect is not capable to validate that his action is right or wrong? As the story progresses, I cant resist to do my own judgment from the evidence presented, and Picoult perfectly crafted the story in such a way that readers, like myself who does not have any background in forensic or criminal investigations will embark and hold on to find the truth! Unfortunately, Picoult did not explicitly described the outcome or the verdict but somehow readers will have their own interpretations...maybe acquittal or conviction.

      The criminal process somehow validates my on-going personal discovery about American justice system. Currently, I do regular readings on this subject matter as part of a personal assistance to my cousin's university degree in Criminal Justice and Picoult did well to convince me about the judicial proceedings without going to the real trials. Not only the technical aspect of coming-up with the conviction, but most importantly, Picoult provided an excellent argument to look at, not only the justice system but also the physical, financial, emotional and psychological impacts to the parties involved. Specifically, the author brings a new dimension of bringing these vulnerable offenders or those with disabilities into trial that could bring "reforms" or challenges to the current criminal system. With my final note, Picoult also wanted to confront us and stir our values and principles especially for those families or individuals who are facing the same dilemma of bringing their loved ones with disabilities that cause a long term effect to the carers which is the hardest thing to accept!

      HONESTLY, I was a little bit disappointed of the pacing of the story in the few pages of the book. But Picoult has her own way of presenting the characters which quite effective to fully understand each of the personality involved in the story. If you have already read some of her books, you understand what I am saying here. Normally I want variations of presenting the plot even with the same authors, and this is the reason why I tried to avoid much of Picoult's stories. But in fairness, I like finishing some of Picoult's novels is that she encouraged readers to interact with her, through her "Reading Guide" presented at the end of the book. Being a part-time academician, this kind of book presentation will encourage educators to bring her stories in the classrooms or any debate for that matter.

      Note: This is the revised version of my original review posted in my personal website.


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      17.12.2010 21:11
      Very helpful



      The Houses of the Parliament have both architectural and historical significance

      DURING MY WEEKEND escapade in London in September 2007, I had the opportunity to visit the Houses of Parliament. The Parliament is open to the public every year when the session is on recess from 31 July to 29 September, and during Saturdays in all year round. But if you are interested to attend various debates and public committee sessions, it is open to everyone with prior ticket bookings, or join the public queue few hours before the session begins.

      Since I was a student, I got a discounted price of £8 (from £12), but for kids (aged 5-15) is £5, and family (2 adults + 2 kids) for £30. The tour arrangement was good where we were organised in a group of 20-25 persons with a tour guide. Unfortunately, the tour did not include the tour for Big Ben and the Clock Tower. It took almost one-and-a-half hours to complete the tour, including taking a snack in the small restaurant inside the compound.

      There are so many things to learn from the tour. For example, why the motif in the House of Commons is green and red for the House of Lords? Moreover, what is the significance of the portraits (paintings) of St David, St Patrick, St Andrew and St George inside the Parliament? One of the rooms inside the Parliament reminded me of the 4 important virtues: courtesy, generosity, hospitality, mercy, including the importance of 'religion'.

      The House of the Lords is one of the most decorated room and I could not explain how I feel when I was inside this place where legislations are examine and pass by unelected and unpaid 740 members which include Archbishops and bishops and hereditary and prominent peers. This is also a ceremonial place for the State Opening of Parliament by Her Majesty the Queen.

      The House of Commons is an ordinary chamber which is commonly watched on TV live coverage. Watching the session on TV, I thought it is a huge room but being there, it is much smaller than expected. It has a seating capacity of 437 for the 646 members of the Parliament, including the side galleries for the public.

      Other interesting places include the Central lobby, Queen's Robing Room, Sovereign's Entrance, Royal Gallery, St Stephen's Hall and the Westminster Hall (the original structure). I was mesmerized by the grandeur of the variety of painting collections in every wall of these rooms and lobbies.

      By the way, the Clock Tower is one of the Parliament's best known features, popularly mistaken as the Big Ben. Actually, Big Ben is the nickname of the 'bell' housed inside the Clock Tower, and Augustus Pugin is the name of the clock designer.

      For families planning to visit this government building, it is my personal opinion that the tour is not ideal especially for young kids considering that the majority of the attractions inside the buildings are much more of adults' interest; and too early for kids to understand the British politics! Remember, cameras are not allowed inside the main chambers of the Parliament, except in the assembly area of the tour and the Westminster Hall. The foreign language tours are also available at defnite schedules/times in German, Spanish, French and Italian.

      On the other hand, it is worth visiting its official website to find out more about its schedules and online bookings. The website also provide relevant links for people who could not be able to visit the building. The online or virtual tours, including audio or podcasts tours offer convenient ways to explore the building.

      In terms of accessiblity, there are bus and tubes transports available in the area. Bus stops and train stations are just few steps away from the Partiament. It is a walking distance from other tourist attractions such as Big Ben and London Eye. With regard to entrance fees, I checked in the website that for adult's ticket of 12 pounds in 2007, it is now 14 pounds; while kids' ticket is 6 pounds from 5 pounds, and for families (2 adults+2kids) from 30 pounds to 35 pounds.

      OVERALL, both the exterior and interior of the building have architectural and historical significance, and there are must-see features that need to be explored while visiting the building.


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      03.12.2010 23:29
      Very helpful
      1 Comment



      It was a fun day watching the rallies between players and hearing their growling/moaning.

      After so many years of planning, I finally watched this much-awaited annual British lawn tennis tournament and had a quick tour inside Wimbledon ground. I started my fascination with the sport when I was in Bangkok (17 years ago) while joining with Filipino friends watching its live TV coverage in a cable sports channel. I tried to learn the game, but since I was also playing badminton regularly during that time, it was difficult to change the grip of the racket. A shoulder movement is required for tennis while in badminton is a wrist stroke, so I sticked with the latter.

      It was a monumental experience to be there for the whole day and witness the event unfolding in the cool summer of 2010. It was a frustrating day to some players and fans especially when Venus Williams lost against the Bulgarian player, Tsvetana Pironkova; and Kim Clijsters against Vera Zvonareva and of course the unexpected defeat of the defending champion, Roger Federer who lost against Tomas Berdych. Aside from Zvonareva who won against Pironkova, Serena Williams, Nadal and the British top player Andy Murray, including my favourite player Novak Djokovic advanced to the semis round. It was nice to watch new and unknown challengers during the final round of the tournament, but Nadal and S. Williams won the tournament.

      I got a day ground pass for 17 pounds, inclusive of watching games from several courts, except for Centre Court, Courts 1 and 2. I was lucky to be in the queue for less than an hour and I immediately entered the Wimbledon premises, two hours away from the start of the games (12 noon). I toured around the playing ground and even went inside Court No.2 to snap some photos of the court. I also explored its facilities/amenities, including the souvenir and food shops. I bought some interesting postcards for 1 pound each, including yellow (ceramic flat ball) magnetic holders for presence. The most memorable part of the day tour was to have a free personal souvenir photo shot (with matching court at the background) sponsored by HSBC, and a single print (4X6 size) was ready in few minutes of waiting. HSBC was quite generous because people were also given individual coupons for free strawberry smoothies! Indeed, it was a fun day watching the rallies between players and hearing their growling/moaning inside the court!

      If you are interested to attend the 2011 championships slated on 20th June to 3rd July, you can apply for the PUBLIC BALLOT which allows you to watch the games at Centre Court, No.1 and No.2 courts. There are limited seats available on the eve of the day of the play for the Centre Court (on a daily basis), however it is very expensive and the queue is unbearable. The Public Ballot is open worldwide and the application form can be obtained by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope or an International Reply Coupon for foreign applicants starting from 1st August until 15th December 2010. Only one application per household and this public ballot does not automatically guarantee a seat or ticket. Tickets are by randomly allocated by the computer and not possible to request tickets for specific days or courts.

      Some of the brief highlights happened inside the Wimbledon ground since the tournament started its international championship in 1900 (taken from various sources both online and prints):
      - American player, May Sutton was the first Ladies champion in 1905 and won again in 1907
      - Australian player, Norman Brooks was the first foreign Men's champion in 1907
      - In 2009 (June 30), the Central Court's retractable roof was utilised for the first time
      - In 2010, 48,949 minutes of tennis were played during the tournament before the first raindrops fell in the venue.
      - For 2010 championships, the men's and ladies' singles winners receives 1,000,000 million pounds prize and the total winning money for the entire competition is 13,725,000 pounds
      - Andy Roddick has the fastest serves record of 143 mph and Venus Williams of 124 mph
      - More than 54,200 Slazenger balls are used during the two weeks event
      - Hats and caps are top selling souvenirs amounting to 36,632 pieces, including 22,100 tennis towels
      - Around 28,000 kg of strawberries are consumed at Wimbledon
      - 11.2 million watched the event thru BBC One; and
      - 359 million page views of the official website

      Generally, the Wimbledon ground has the complete amenities and support facilities to ensure players, guests and spectators will enjoy the games. It has big billboards fronting the main entrance of the ground that show the current standing of the players as well as the daily matches with the corresponding courts where the matches will be played.


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        06.05.2009 04:13
        Very helpful



        The best job in the world was not meant for me

        HAVE YOU DREAMED TO APPLY FOR THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD? A job that provides the opportunity to care for the environment and at the same time having a luxurious living in an island, aside from the six-digits pay? To tell you the truth, I dreamed about it three months ago! This is because I am desperate to change my work environment at the moment. I started this research work 3 years ago and Im struggling to finish it. I don't have regrets of doing it, but as the time passes by, my focus and determination to complete it is totally diminishing which worries me sometimes.

        As early as of 2009, Im in the process of looking for possible job opportunities, hoping that at the later part of the year, I will get the "best job in the world". One of them is the job offered by the Queensland Tourism as the "island caretaker" of the Great Barrier Reef GBR), Queensland, Australia.

        The location is not new to me since I lived in Brisbane for 2 years but I did not able to visit this huge marine ecosystem. But maybe this time, I will be able to visit this world heritage site because of this job search posted online which also caught the imaginations of other people around the world.

        WHAT IS THIS GLOBAL JOB SEARCH? I found the online ad through Yahoo!news on the 12th January when Queensland Tourism (QT) announced the new position - island caretaker of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). The online application started on the 10th January and ended on the 22nd of February. Everybody is invited to apply as long as you have the following qualifications.

        WHAT ARE THE QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED? Well, QT emphasized that there is no definitive educational and experience requirements, thus a broad range of experience will be accepted. However, the successful candidate should possess: good swimming skills, enthusiasm for diving and snorkeling, good written and verbal English skills, excellent interpersonal communication skills and engage with other people, with adventurous attitudes to try new things, and the passion for the outdoors.

        Since I have this qualification, without any hesitation I submitted/uploaded a 60-seconds video application which highlighted why I do want the job, including my basic knowledge about this world heritage site as well as meeting the basic qualifications such as swimming and blogging. As part of the submission, I filled-up a brief application form online and forwarded thru the official website: www.islandreefjob.com.

        It took me two weeks to finally recorded and edited my video clip using my Sony digital camera. While waiting for the approval of my application and the video will be downloaded to the official site of QT, I already did preliminary marketing of my ultimate quest for this job by having new blog dedicated to my application, including several posts to my other travel blogs and community sites. After 12 days of waiting, I finally got an email from QT that my video is already available in the official site and I could start asking my friends or anybody to watch and of course to vote. However, the votes will not be the determinant for being shortlisted by the organizer, TQ will solely judge each candidate by their video clip application.

        HOW THE SELECTION PROCESS WORKS? It is expected that 30,000 applications will be screened by QT towards the last day of submission. My application will be one of the candidates to be subjected in the initial selection of the 50 shortlisted candidates and one "wildcard candidate will be picked by online voting. Eleven finalists will take the final interview to be held in the GBR.

        When the application was closed in February, it turned out that almost 35,000 people submitted their applications around the world, where the United States of America got the highest submission, followed by Canada, UK and Australia.

        WHAT IS THE CATCH FOR THIS HYPE SEARCH? For me, If I could get in the top 50 shortlist, I will be delighted to ask my friends and online community friends to cast their votes - aiming for the wildcard position. If I could get the attention of the organizer, QT, there is a chance that I will be able to get more votes in support to my quest. If I could also persuade the organizer through my blogs and travel sites that Im the right person for the job - willing to learn new things and challenges. My existing blogs and online review sites could enhance my popularity from the rest of the finalists.

        Then if I could get the top 16 finalists, I will be happy to travel to Australia to prove to them that Im the best applicant for the best job. My travel will be shouldered by the organiser from UK to Queensland.

        If I could get the job, I will be able to sign a six-month contract and based on luxurious Hamilton Island, including a house and an office space. My key responsibilities includes: exploring the islands of GBR and discover what this heritage area has to offer especially for tourists and the like. I will be feeding the fish, clean the swimming pool, and collect the mail. I will also be required to do weekly reports thru blogging which entails posting of photos and videos about the area, including regular media exposure.

        Finally, if I could get this offer, I will start my work in July and get a contract salary of £70,000 (A$150,000). If this will happen, I will promise to share my blessings in my home country, helping young children to attend primary and secondary schools. My plan to have a mini-library or information centre in my hometown will come true, benefitting both children and adults.

        Ultimately, if I could get this best job in the world - the island caretaker, this is my big opportunity to understand the importance of caring our seas and oceans - including the living creatures under it. In some way, I could help QT to manage the Great Barrier Reef in a "sustainable manner" and to prevent this place to be "bleached-out in 25 years time due to global warming. If I could bring this dream into reality, by the end of my contract as the island caretaker, I have already visited and explored the 2,600 kilometres of this world's largest coral reef system; covering more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands; more than 1500 species of fish, 4,000 types of mollusk, 400 different types of coral. Finally, I have seen the most dangerous water creatures: sharks, box jellyfish, scorpion fish, and the blue-ringed octopus.

        ON THE OTHER HAND, IF I COULD NOT GET THIS EMPLOYMENT, I will continue to inspire others thru my blogs. Having this application is fun and the opportunity to meet friendly people in the internet - people with the same inspirations in life. People who want to explore and travel; and most importantly people who want to protect our environment and make a difference. But again, If I could get this best job in the world, I will be the happiest living creature to explore this world's largest living organism.

        BUT THIS IS THE BIG QUESTION. WHAT IS THE STATUS OF MY APPLICATION NOW? Unfortunately, I was not lucky enough to impress the Tourism Queensland that Im capable to do the job. My video application was not good enough to convince Tourism Queensland that Im the right person for the position. No regrets of doing this, besides I gained more online friends and surprisingly, I was able to reunite with old friends who happened to watch my clip! With this application, I also created a separate blog which I will continue to post my travels to Australia and updates about GBR. Even I was not selected I will pursue my dream to visit the Great Barrier Reef, maybe not as the island caretaker but a "visitor" or a "researcher".

        The top 50 was announced in March and then finally the top 16 semi-finalists were picked last month. Sixteen finalists successfully made an excellent impression to the organizer and they are currently in Australia for series of challenges and interviews vying for the ultimate best job in the world! Aside from the video application, the finalists were selected based on the 500 words' essay and the psychometric test.

        Today (May 6) is the judgment day when the Queensland Tourism will choice the winner among the top contenders for the job from Korea, China, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, USA, Singapore, France, UK, Netherlands, Japan, Ireland, India and Germany. My personal bet is James Hill, an Australian photographer who happened to work in London for years which I think he has the personality to be the island caretaker.

        Check it out at www.islandreefjob.com for the result later today.

        SO THIS IS IT, I dreamed to be the island caretaker - the best job in the world, but unluckily this position is not meant for me!


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        • More +
          28.04.2009 19:27
          Very helpful


          • Reliability
          • Reliability


          A compact pocket-sized digital unit that has a digital appeal

          SPRING AND SUMMER ARE THE BUSIEST times of the year for travelling and I can not imagine myself of not having a digital camera to take photos during these seasons. Camera is always my priority gadget to be carried along both in travelling and attending important gatherings.

          Despite the threat of Swine Flu this week, I could not stop myself planning my next trip to Scotland (where the first case of the infection started in the UK) in June. This is also the time again to test and prove that Sony DSC W55 has the "x-factor" - topping the digital chart.

          The model hit the market in the early of 2007 and I bought it in April of that year. My brother influenced me to buy this unit after I have used his W70 model when I forgot to bring the battery charger of my old Olympus IR500 during my short visit to the Philippines. There are no major differences in the functionality between these two models (W70 and W55), except for the price which I chose the cheaper one in Curry's at a promotional offer of £149.99, excluding the memory card and carrying case.

          Having used this unit for almost two years now, it really served its purpose - documenting my passion in photography as well as my interest in filming. This is the reason why I want to share my experience on its functionality that is comparable to other brands available in the market today. The highlights of my review mainly focus on the things beyond the basic specifications of the unit. I discovered them by accidental or experimental while exploring its built-in buttons and menus which are easy to navigate. In other words, these are the "x-factors" of the unit that really stands out from the rest of the cyber-shot models, and delivering the same quality of photos taken from SLR units.

          What are these x-factor features and minor inconveniences of Sony DSC W55?

          1. Accident happens and I dropped this unit several times. Due to its compactness and exterior finishing metal casing, it does not really make a mark from the hard fall. Even the wide screen, only slight scratches are noticeable and not affecting the quality of the photos. Because of its lightness, weighing 116 grams, the unit can easily carry inside the pocket or in small compartments of a backpack. Thus, it is more durable than the stylish touch-screen models nowadays.

          2. Due to its design and size, it is comfortable to carry and hold it while taking photos like "paparazzi" style. No instruction manual needed for asking other people to take my own poses or even taking it by myself. In some situation, blurredness can not be avoided, however, using tripod or having a stable location to place the unit somehow eliminate this problem. This is also the time when the self-timer function is used which allows everyone to be included in the photo.

          3. It also survives in extreme situations. I used it while visiting Spain, Italy and France in summer last year and my 2007 Xmas holiday in Canada and the US. The camera could stand in high and low temperatures without affecting the clarity of the images. Sometimes moisture and dust are accumulated at the surface of the lens, but this is not a problem. Make sure to wipe it with a dry cloth or just a quick blow towards the lens. Always turn-off if it is not in use and it keeps inside your pocket or inside a small carrying case.

          4. Having a viewfinder in the camera is an added comfort especially during sunny days when the rays of the sun are directly reflected to the LCD screen which causes nuisances to the eyes. It is more convenient to hold the camera closer to the eyes for steady focus and grip of the unit. Majority of the current digital cameras disregard this functionality.

          5. The presence of a large liquid crystal display (LCD) measuring 2.5 inches (larger than DSC W35 and similar to DSC W70 models) provides an excellent view of the image itself, including access to the menu system of the camera. It allows to show or display useful information such as follows: remaining capacity of the battery and the memory card, histogram and other functionality to improve the quality of the image in terms of colour, ISO and flash levels, and formatting.

          6. It can also capture a minimal number of images without a flash memory card. With a limited internal memory capacity (56 MB), it can only store few images (approximately less than 20 shots), and then easy to transfer these images to the memory card duo media for sharing and printing. The size of the memory card is also compatible with my Sony Vaio notebook's card slot.

          7. Having a 7.2 megapixels allows larger prints (A4 size) and to minimise distortion of the image while using the 3X times optical zoom lens. The camera has a high sensitivity level of ISO 1000 which is beneficial when there is a limited source of light or flash is not allowed. However, maximising this functionality affects the quality of the image and "noise" is visible.

          8. A full-charged Lithium ion battery can take up to a maximum of 380 images. In my experience, I can use the camera for a whole day shooting. The main concern is when video function is used requiring additional power to continue filming, consequently draining the battery easily. For this unit, the battery is rechargeable and included in the purchase which is more convenient than having disposable batteries.

          9. The longevity of the battery is a common concern to all cameras especially when the flash memory card can hold up to more than 300 images, including short video clips. But this is not a major issue if you have an extra battery to back-up as well as having a regular charging of the battery every day. To avoid disappointments while travelling, it is recommended to transfer the photos from the camera to the computer every day.

          10. Aside from still images, the camera can capture VGA (640X480) audio-video clips which can be easily edited using Windows movie maker and shared them through YouTube website. YouTube creates functionality for embedding videos to my existing travel blogsites. In addition for a larger viewing, the cables and software for television set or projector connection are also included in the purchase. My only concern with filming using this unit is that, zooming in/out function can not be used on the time of filming, but will be adjusted before filming a scene or subject which is not a hassle at all. In taking videos, it is manageable to record not more than 2 minutes for easy downloading/uploading, editing or sharing the clips online.

          11. In terms of the quality of the image, there are several ways to test this camera's functionality. The menu system provides all the various options to get the best image depending on the subject being shot and its location. For example, ISO function is recommended for indoor location; landscape mode for panoramic and outdoor settings; snow function can be used in foggy and night scenes; while auto adjustment and program auto modes suitable for normal conditions. The macro function is also noticeable which gives an excellent result. However, this unit is not intended for this feature but still it can captures a closer angle of the subject (almost 1.5 inches to the subject, without using the zoom lens). Other functionalities include colouring modes, lighting modes, flash levels, red eye reduction, and zoom in/out.

          Unfortunately, there is no panoramic function in the camera comparable to my old Olympus IR500. Another minor dissatisfaction of the unit is taking moving objects and during dark/night scenes which always show blurry results. Unluckily, until now I could not find the right adjustments to get a satisfactory outcome. Another thing to remember is always "turn-off" the flash or set it in an auto mode especially outdoor location. Excessive exposure to light somehow ruins the clarity of the photos and frequent usage of flash deteriorates the battery life.

          12. Finally, shutter speed and aperture are two main functions in this unit that are also having big influence in the quality of the images from SLR (single-lens-reflex) cameras as the majority of the professional photographers are patronising nowadays. In this unit, these functions are automatically set which the shutter speeds are within a range between 1- 1/2000 seconds and the available apertures are f2.8 (wide) and f5.2 (telephoto). In simple terms, shutter speed is the duration of time when the shutter is open to allow light to reach the image sensor; while aperture determines the size of the opening of the lens to allow the light to enter. It means that this unit has the characteristic that allows users to adjust the levels of sharpness and contrast (depth of field) in taking photographs.

          OVERALL, THIS SONY DSC MODEL did not disappoint me until now even that I have already bought an Olympus 790 for underwater shooting and as a back-up partner in exploring the world of photography and film. This is a compact pocket-sized digital unit that has an appeal for both photo hobbyists and professional users in terms of functionalities and appearance.


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          • blogger.com / Internet Site / 103 Readings / 104 Ratings
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            19.10.2008 19:32
            Very helpful



            Discover your BLOGspot now!

            AS THE INTERNET DOMINATES our daily communication, blogging is also becoming an on-line mechanism to commune (virtually) with other people, consequently keeping in touch and constantly connected to any place around the globe with the rest of the internet users or with referred as 'bloggers'. It fascinates me from the time when I learned about it 4 years ago.

            Being a blogger is a way of sharing my thoughts about every thing that affects my way of living - from travel experience to academic works or from what I have read from printed materials on current debates and do share my views. My blog is being powered by blogger.com (or Blogspot.com) which also enhances my entrepreneurship skills to gain extra cash by linking my membership with consumer sites (dooyoo, trivago or ciao) as an extra benefit of having one or more blog sites aside from on-line networking or socialising. It is becoming a part of my way of life. I could not imagine myself without it and being hopeless not to log-in and post my diary/journal, desperate to share it with anonymous readers.

            There are few basic things that I want to share for becoming a successful Blogspot member and keeping in touch with friends and a worldwide network for possible e-commerce opportunities. As the term implies, blog is derived from two words, 'web' and 'log' which means that this is a website that requires registration. Logging-in requires user name and password to be able to have free access to the provider.

            Aside from Blogspot (established in 1999), there are so much links and web providers for free blogging which I also maintain membership with them and being linked to my Blogspot account to increase my visibility to the search engines like Google, Yahoo, Technorati and MSN.

            Yes of course! At first glance, it is quite complicated to start a blog site. Frankly, for ordinary internet users, it is disappointing to have it ago, even myself which is quite knowledgeable in web building/construction. Patience is the key to explore the site and to be counted as a blogger! Before Google acquired it in 2003, opening an account is by having a legitimate email address (yahoo or hotmail), then decide for a password (at least 8 characters long) and accepting its terms and conditions as a member. To date, you can have an account by using an existing google email address with a new website address: Blogspot.com

            There you go, naming the blog is the next stage and finally choosing the template is quite exciting - making it personalised thru the existing designs. Blogspots template is the main reason why I decided to maintain 7 blogs within one Blogspot account. Managing them is not a rocket science, but somehow Blogspot provides a dashboard to make navigation (posting, editing and lay-outing) easy, manageable and less time consuming.

            Customizing a Blogspot account requires creativity - dividing the page with various elements and dragging them is to arrange them accordingly at your own liking. Please note that too much gadgets somehow affect navigation within the site or too much information annoys readers, consequently discourage them not to visit your site again. Gadgets serve as subsection of the page which contains links, images, videos, logos, feeds or third-party functionality that also influence the visibility of the blog in the internet search engines.

            For example, I came out with unique but a common word that comprises my blog name: 'digitalenvironmentalist' - easy to remember and in my surprise, it is picked-up by Google search as one of the top links. All of postings in the site were tags with the same word directed to my site itself. I also used a template which is simple with catchy lay-out and colours (black and white). The templates only bear the things that interest me like photos, videos, reviews, travels, and other gadgets that record people visited my site or allowing readers to post comments or short messages.

            It really depends on the motivation for having one blog powered by Blogspot. If your main objective is just for having a site where you could record personal events, then it is likely shows something that you could include daily journals, some photos and maybe important links to emphasise your entries. If you love travelling, then you could use the blog as a travel diary coupled with images and videos. As an entrepreneur and you want to promote your business on-line, then maybe your site could have information about the product you want to sell or important market information for interest buyers or users. All of these things are being captured by my blog.

            My site provides information on travels - locally and overseas. It contains images taken during my travels, and links to my membership to different review sites such as dooyoo, trivago and ciao. I called it my e-consumer sites which you can not find to other blogs. What you could find to others (as majority does) are adverts of Google searches which are annoying to see in a blog. Well, it is owned by Google so it is normal to have it advertise, however, you can avoid this and makes the blog as personal as you can without having ads appearing on screen. And it works for my blog!

            I also maintained relevant links that have something to do with books, music, and films - something that connects to my interest and hobbies. There is a link that contains films that I watched and also a link that provides information on books that I have read. It is fascinating because I could link to my reviews posted in dooyoo. In addition, my images are also linked to membership to trivago which also influence my on-line earnings since last year.

            Receiving comments and messages from readers, either nasty or positive ones are encouraging to maintain a blog. It makes me motivated to continue promoting it with my other blog sites powered by Wordpress, Yahoo, MSN Live, Friendster, Multiply, Travellerpoint, Travelpod, and Blogdrive. Aside from these inspiring comments, I have to say that there are other more reasons why I am a fan of Blogspot.

            Quickly, there are 3 things I gained from my Blogspot account:

            1. The site is an effective strategy to help my old friends to find me thru google or yahoo search engines. Three months ago, I received an email from a former high school classmate - not seeing him for more than 20 years and he found me because of my blog! How amazing it is to be connected again and to re-establish on-line networking. I also created networking that helps my travelling around the world easy.

            2. The site enhances my e-commerce earnings. Blogspot allows links which I used it to promote Trivago (travel site) to other users. For example, Trivago gives additional incentives for its members to introduce or invite users to visit Trivago. For every first visit of a user to Trivago thru my Blogspot, I gain extra 20 points and be converted to pounds! In other words, I could create more traffic flow to Trivago using my Blogspot site, then more extra money coming without really working on-line. Thus, directing my readers to Trivago, not only giving me additional income but also promoting my images taken during my travels as posted in Trivago. Since I have 7 blogs within Blogspot server, I could generate 7 times more readers to Trivago.

            I also created another account for my friend's business: catering/restaurant. The site also provides a venue to facilitate communication with the community, including free public ads.

            3. The site promotes on-line global networking for a common cause. It is very interesting to take part in Blogspot Annual Action Day. It started last year, 15 October and last week I showed my participation by posting a journal on the theme: poverty. It is very inspiring to be part of this noble act of Blogspot which inspired members to do the same without expecting something in return.

            To prove what Im saying here, find my BLOGspots by using the links listed below. Be inspired to have one now and explore the power of Blogspot or Blogger!





            PLEASE REMEMBER, not only positive outcomes for having a Blogspot but there are also negative consequences for maintaining it. But being an optimistic person, I already emphasised the good points and the advantages of Blogspot and not dwelled on the shortcomings of the site itself. As a whole, blogging promotes positive outcomes which derive from what is your own motivation for having one. There were reports that individuals were legally penalised for having a blog due to the nature of information posted in the blog which might jeopardise others' business or reputation. Don't ignore to read the 'terms and conditions' of the provider, and write 'responsibly'. Enjoy your BLOGspot now!


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            • More +
              11.10.2008 02:40
              Very helpful



              Unforgettable places await everyone

              "By their very nature islands are often unforgettable.
              Their stark beauty and peaceful solitude bear witness to the drama of their creation "... Steve Davey

              BEFORE BBC BOOKSHOP IN BELFAST was closed permanently last year, I bought several books and DVDs for a half price from the store. In particular, I collected 3 out of the 4 exciting series of books written by international travel writers, Steve Davey and Steve Watkins; and photographers, Marc Schlossman and Clare Jones. Briefly, these travel books include the following: Unforgettable Islands to escape to before you die, Unforgettable Journeys to take before you die, Unforgettable Things to do before you die, and Unforgettable Places to see before you die which I am planning to purchase this Xmas. First, I will be sharing to you the fourth title published in 2007, entitled Unforgettable Islands to escape to before you die!

              Why the Unforgettable Islands? Well, just to give you first a background of my origin. I was born and raised in one of the 7,107 islands of the Philippine archipelago? Where is Philippines located, by the way? Having a review of geography, my home country is just 3 hours away from Japan and Singapore by plane and almost 5 hours from Australia. Also, this is where Mylene Klass' mother and Nicole Scherzinger's (Pussycat Dolls) father came from. People who are living in the Philippines are known as Filipinos and the country got its name from Spain - colonized "Filipinas" for more than 300 years.

              In other words, I am an islander who loves the beach, coconut trees, waves, sunset, coral reefs, forest, cool breeze and rivers! The environment I grew up was quite similar as portrayed in the Shipwrecked or Lost TV programmes, except that there is no competition and no fear for survival. It is a place I always called "home". This is the reason why the book reminded me of my home - a place where illustrated inside the colourful 256 pages of the book.

              When I found this book during my first visit to BBC store, I was fascinated by its cover and the title itself. A feeling that draws me to browse the book and finding out why it is unforgettable. I searched it thru Amazon to see if I could get a cheaper deal using my dooyoo voucher; unfortunately the price is the same at £18.99. Few months later, I found out the BBC store is closing down and offering for 50-70% discounts. Without a second thought, I bought the 3 titles.

              The author, Steve Davey and with the assistance of Marc Schlossman for the images of the 40 islands featured in the book, vividly describe his personal experience visiting these islands for almost 11 months. Some of the islands where covered in the first three series of his publications which I will be reviewed in the near future.

              I don't want to give you all the contents of this book, but rather I will provide you the outstanding elements of the book that a traveller and photo hobbyist like me could get unforgettable insights of the featured islands which I am also dying to explore them before I die!

              Generally, the book is perfectly packaged in a form suitable for a coffee table display. The image featured in the hard cover is taken from Stockholm, Sweden. The author's introduction is very well written emphasizing the value of visiting these places, without affecting the eco-system of the islands. He acknowledged both the positive and negative effects of tourism to these vulnerable places, and the same time the rewarding hospitality and generosity of the people living in these islands surrounded by bodies of water.

              On the other hand, the lay-out is simple where the texts and images were laid-out for easy reading. Each of the 40 islands featured in the book are illustrated between 8-10 pages, where photos are in different sizes with individual short caption. For each island, extra information is added explaining on how to reach the place in terms of the best time to visit and the mode of transport to reach the island. Few pages at the back of the book cover important contacts that the author recommended to communicate, including useful websites. It also contains a map showing the locations of each island as a table contents graphically laid out at the first few pages of the book for easy browsing.

              When I finally finished reading the book, the first thing that entered my mind was on the decision of the author to embark visiting these places in a span of 11 months. As a traveller, visiting a place is always motivated by fascinating features and priceless experience of being there in the island as described by others who have been there and also the promotional campaigns thru available on-line or printed materials. I am not sure if the author was persuaded by what others have said or what he had read about these islands. Maybe, as a travel writer, he was looking for distinct characteristics of each island that might encourage other people (like me) to experience what he had or maybe trying to persuade a segment of the urban society to visiting some places that they would never considered before.

              In order to understand the motivation of the author to publish these 40 islands, I decided to examine the characteristics of each island as being discussed by the author. These are the interesting points that I have found out and vividly demonstrated in the images printed on it.

              * The island has unspoiled beaches, wildlife (flora and fauna) or biological diversity.
              * The island has interesting history, including the way of living: culture, tradition, settlements, inhabitants, religion and beliefs
              * The island has unique geological formation that attracts people for climbing, cycling, walking
              * The island has a archaeological significance, including sensitive marine environment with endangered species
              * The island has beautiful landscape, including cityscape and urban form and architecture
              * The island is accessible for all means of transport, especially by air
              * The island has "photogenic" charisma - a delight for both professional and amateur photographers.

              I also observed that the quality of the images inside the book portrayed the significance of these places, without major alteration of the print. In other words, the photos do not bear any special effects which enhance the colour and presentation of the images. What you see in the pages of the book, are what you get when you visit these places - very natural view of people, structures, motion, textures, and surroundings. I was really impressed with images taken in Thailand, Fiji, Santa Barbara (USA), Sicily, Portugal, including the Philippines.

              Why this publication stands-out from the rest of the travel books that have read? Aside from the reason of having visited the countries (not the islands) mentioned, the book is unique in a sense that the author gave his personal reflections about the travel as well as the photographer captured the natural sceneries thru the images. There was a chemistry between the writer and the photographer to bring out the best features of these islands - to captivate the hearts of travellers like me - destined to explore the planet Earth. In a way, it serves as a travel guide as well but more on the aspects of the physical features of the islands - exploring the unspoiled beauty.

              Are you hopeful that you have already visited some of these places during your holidays or are you planning to visit them in months to come and still undecided to have it a go as your next top priority holiday destination? Well, personally I have only visited 2 of the islands, namely: Stockholm (Sweden) and Hongkong (China) out of the 40 places mentioned in the book. But Im desperately dying to explore the rest before I die especially the following: Bacuit Archipelago, Palawan (Philippines), Big Island (Hawaii), Phang Nga Bay Island (Thailand), Bali (Indonesia), Ibiza and Formentera (Spain), and the Society Islands (French Polynesia).

              It is an unforgettable reading this book that provided me a glimpse of beautiful places that Mother Earth can offer. Despite the economic crunch, everybody deserves one or two places to visit before the year ends.

              UNFORGETTABLE ISLANDS, unforgettable places, unforgettable moments and memorable experience of a life time await everyone!

              ISBN: 978 0 653 49 351 8
              Publisher: BBC Books
              Year: 2007
              Price: £18.99
              Website: www.stevedavey.com; www.marcshlossman.com


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              • More +
                31.08.2008 11:44
                Very helpful


                • Reliability


                A tiny piece of technology that entertains me all the time!

                "It looks small outside but huge inside to provide
                a place for my favourite performers..."

                MUSIC IS AN INTEGRAL PART of our way of living. It is an art form that transcends differences and boundaries. It is indeed a human expression being passed from one generation to another. With the technological advancement, music is much easier shared and very much enjoyed by everyone. From the ordinary turn-table to a radio cassette recorder, and from walkmans to portable media players, our favourite songs can be played at our own convenience, either inside our homes or while walking in the parks.

                In the latter part of 2001, music became closer to our daily routines - 24/7 activities of work and play when Apple, Inc. launched its iconic brand, iPod. To date, iPod showcases the latest trend of portable digital audio players - from screen-less to touch-screen gadget, including its latest product line, iPod touch. It is fascinating to know the evolution of this stylish music gadget. Apple, Inc. has marketed several models - commonly known as "generation" which differ by functional features, storage capacities and sizes as briefly enumerated below (source:Wikipedia):

                1. Classic: It has four generations, from the mechanical scroll wheel to the coloured screen and photo viewing.
                2. Mini: It has two generations, from the click wheel to longer battery life-span
                3. Nano: It has three generations, from flash memory connection to video-viewing capability
                4. Shuffle: It has two generation, from no screen to smaller clip design
                5. Touch: The latest/first generation has wi-fi and multi-touch interface with access to Youtube and iTunes.

                AT FIRST I WAS NOT INTERESTED to own one of these generations. Few years ago when Shuffle model was available, everybody feels "crazy" for acquiring one as a status symbol of being trendy or "in" with the young generation! Despite being an impulsiveness buyer, I was completely successful to avoid iPod's craze and contented of having my laptop and mobile phone play my favourite music. But Apple, Inc. is really good in marketing and every year new models are distributed to meet the high demand of buyers. When the iPod nano (third generation) hits the high street in 2007, I was one of the consumers who plan to grab it as a birthday/Christmas presence for myself. But I was lucky to have it "free" before my birthday. It was not a gift from a friend or a relative, but it was a winning prize for my 10-seconds video clip submitted to one of the on-line travel sites as part of its 10-year anniversary promotional celebration. The iPod nano was not totally free as a prize. I spent approximately £6 in preparing the clip (for the props), as well as paying the courier service of £35 for the import tax. The organizer of the contest declared the exact market price of the gadget when it was posted from Canada. Well, at first I was disappointed, but then I eventually thankful and obliged to pay the tax, otherwise it will be sent back to the organizer. Anyway, I paid less for my pod (compared to the prevailing price of the device from £99 to £120) to accommodate my 1,000 various songs - from love songs to pop, and from local to foreign artists.

                HOW DOES iPOD NANO LOOKS LIKE? In reality, this iPod does perfectly fits to the catchy name "nano" as describing its size. In engineering terminology, nano is used to denote a measurement of 1x10 (raised to -9) but the term also derived from Greek meaning "dwarf" or from India as "little". Some of the basic physical attributes of the device as follows:

                1. This third generation device has 6 colours shell to choose from for higher 8GB version, namely: mint green, red, black, pink, turquoise and silver. Unfortunately, black and green were my preferred colours, however the contest organiser gave me silver since it was the first version of 4GB and the only available colour at that time.
                2. Having a 2-inch (approximately 51 mm) screen, it is thinner (6.9mm), shorter (3.5 mm) and heavier (42 grams) than the first and second generations of its kind. It is thinner due to its flash memory application.
                3. The clarity and precision of the coloured screen is comparable to the 2.5 inch (64 mm) screen of the iPod classic generation.
                4. Its front plate is made of aluminium while the black plate is stainless steel which somehow slides perfectly inside a small pocket.
                5. Similar to other iPods, it has five buttons integrated in a click wheel, namely: menu is used to scroll backwards the contents of the unit; the center (middle part of the wheel) is used to select a specific item in the menu; play/pause is used to hear the song or stops playing momentarily. If this button is hold in a longer time, it totally switches off the power of the unit. The remaining buttons include skip backwards/fast reverse and skip forward and fast forward which function as the words imply.
                6. It has a pair of white headphones (earbuds) which is smaller from the old models; the headphone jack is located at the bottom of the unit and the dock connecter at the centre. Unlike other earphone connection, the tip of the chord of the earphones is tightly attached to the jack and not easily removed from the device from any slight movement.
                7. The lithium ion battery is hidden! It can not be removed or replaced by simple manual operation. It is soldered to the printed circuit board of the unit. Thus, battery lifespan is one of the issues of this generation, even though replacement batteries are available.

                HOW DOES iPOD NANO WORKS? Unlike other media players, iPod nano requires the assistance of iTunes software to reactivate its internal program. The iTunes software is available via internet thru the iTunes store website (www.apple.com/uk/itunes) which is free of charge. The steps are clearly stipulated in the installation manual as provided in the plastic box of the device upon purchase to successfully download the software. iTunes store allows iPod users to import, play and buy music and synchronise the tunes, audiobooks and podcasts with the device and with PC or laptop.

                1. Installation is hassle-free by simply following the instructions as shown in the PC/laptop screen while connected with the internet. iTunes guides the users to complete the downloading process before the iPod is connected to the computer using a USB cable.
                2. The iTunes program will open and the iPod is ready to be connected. The program overrides whatever music library installed inside the hard drive of the computer and automatically synchronise with the iPod. It means that the iTunes becomes the default music player of the computer.
                3. iTunes automatically transfer the music from the online iTunes library or from the computer to iPod. Since I have more songs in my computer which could not be accommodated on my iPod, I decided to have it manage manually by clicking the desired songs to be added.
                4. Manual adding is by simply dragging the selected file from the iTunes playlist to the iPod. Transferring songs from CDs is also easy and manageable.
                5. Every time the iPod is connected to the iTunes, it also informs the users about the latest free version of the software for updates, otherwise ignore it for future downloading.

                There are also few steps to follow in adding or copying music from CD to my iPod, and disconnecting the device from the PC. For adding music, I have to insert the audio CD to my laptop CD/DVD's drive while the iTunes program is open and connected to the internet. This way, iTunes automatically identify the audio information such as names of the artists, songs and album. I click the 'import CD' button in the iTunes window and uncheck the box besides the songs that I don't want to be copied from the CD.

                In terms of disconnecting the iPod after updating the songs to be stored, an "ok to disconnect" message is seen on the screen of iPod which means it is safe to disconnect the device from the computer. However, if there is a message, "do not disconnect" in the iPod screen, then just simply click the eject icon found in the iTunes window and "ok to disconnect" message will appear on the device's screen.

                In terms of uploading of videos to the device, I have a problem of doing it. Up to now, I don't know why my first and the last video that I transferred from my laptop to the iPod did not have an audio or sound! In other words, it is a "silent clip". Still on the process of discovering it, including on how to transfer youtubes videos to the iPod, instead of relying on iTunes which is not "free" to download songs!

                DOES iPOD HAS ANY OPERATING AND TROUBLESHOOTING ISSUES? There are basic things to remember for some operational difficulties of iPod. Make sure that the iPod is connected to the PC/laptop's high power USB port, not with keyboards or USB hubs because the device will not be charged. In my experience, at least one hour of charging to have a fully charged iPod and can be used for at least 3-days of interval usage. There is a sliding lock besides the connector hub of the iPod to lock the functions of the wheel, and at the same time that it also controls the accidental on-off of the device which could leads to the shortage of the battery.

                Please note that there are instances that the iPod hangs-up and the screen just frozen! Having this issue, there is a need to reset the device by pressing and holding the menu and select (centre part of the wheel) buttons at the same time, and wait for the Apple logo to appear on the screen. For extreme problems, I suggest to contact (by phone or email) a local Apply distributer in the area, or refer to the registered distributor list found in the plastic box. Expect for higher charges and it might be expensive to have it repaired than to buy a new one!

                HOW DOES iPOD NANO ENTERTAINS ME? IS IT WORTH KEEPING? Briefly, as soon as the device is synchronised using the iTunes program, a table of contents or title lists will appear in the iPod's screen: Music, Playlists, Videos, Video playlists, Photos, Podcasts, Extras, Settings and Shuffle Songs. Clicking "music", it provides the "cover flows" of the available albums stored in the device (showing the album cover/image at the right side of the screen); the playlists of recently played, top 25 most played songs and the complete list of the songs. The "extras" include clocks, calendar, contact, alarms, games and stopwatch, etc. I think the games are quite interesting! The settings are used for the modes of playing the music such as shuffle, repeat, volume, brightness of the screen, backlight and for audiobooks' setting.

                So far, this third generation device has a capacity of 4GB which provides a storage space for 1,000 songs, or 3,500 photos or four hours of video. So far, I had already transferred more than 700 songs and one video which occupy approximately 2.9 GB of the total storage capacity and 729MB are still available for use.

                How about comparing it with other generations? Does it really worth keeping? These are some of the reasons why the 3rd generation iPod nano is always the "music to our ears"!

                1. Unlike with the previous models, except the fifth generation of iPod classic, this generation uses USB cables instead of FireWire (a connection to the host computer for uploading/updating of songs and recharging of batteries).
                2. It is also supported by MP3 and MAV for audio formats like with iPod mini.
                3. It is the second smallest device comes next to iPod shuffle as the latter is only weighs 15 grams and iPod nano (third) is about 49.2 grams. The dimension as follows: height - 69.8mm (2.75 inches); width - 52.3mm (2.06 inches) and the depth - 6.5mm (0.26 inch).
                4. Similar to the previous models, it has pre-installed games and
                5. It has a video capability however; it does not support voice recording and camera connection which could be available in the old models.
                6. It has a screen/display comparable to the pixel count of iPod classic.
                7. It has a lock control using the click wheel which also used for volume level adjustment.
                8. In the plastic box upon purchase has the following accessories: iPod nano device, white Earphones, dock adapter, USB 2.0 cable and the quick start manual/guide.

                AFTER MORE THAN 7 MONTHS OF USING IT, I really enjoyed it - while walking or during my irregular workouts in the gym. It is very handy and easily slips to small pockets of my jogging pants, jeans or jacket. The size of the earphones perfectly fit to my ears; and the quality of sound/audio is very good which the volume can be adjusted to suits individual hearing level. To protect against scratches from sharp objects, I bought a plastic transparent case or skin, thus to maintain its original colour. It also helps organise my extra activities using its calendar, contact, notes, and timer/clock. Completely, a tiny and handy piece of technology that entertains me all the time!


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                • Samsung SGH-U600 / Mobile Phone / 75 Readings / 68 Ratings
                  More +
                  13.08.2008 01:46
                  Very helpful



                  The thinnest handset for flexible contract deal

                  NOTE: This review celebrates my second year membership with Dooyoo!

                  THERE IS A LONG LIST of handsets to suit individual needs that are available in the market today. The selection is mainly influence by individual's preferences on the main features of the mobile models and the package deals offered by various store dealers and network providers. It is a "pick and match" option where the chosen phone is paired with various network providers - offering a bundle of monthly usage of minutes and texts for cheap deals.

                  When I visited Phones4U store in 2006, I was contemplating back then to have another Nokia handset but when I saw the latest model of Samsung P300 on display, and without any hesitation, I signed a 12-month's term with O2. The contract covered unlimited calls and text for 25 pounds per month. When this contract expired last year, I decided to have a new contract with Phones4U for a longer term - 18 months. Again, I chose the handset that stood out from the rest of the units on display, another Samsung model, SGH-U600. Unfortunately, I could not have O2 network for this handset, but Orange instead for 25 pounds and 225 minutes and 100 texts.

                  Please note that Phones4U requires every contract to have insurance policy at 9.99 pounds per month by direct debit, otherwise I will not be able to get the deal for the unit. I had it a go for a month in desperation to get the contract approved, but after that I phoned the insurance provider (Policy Administration Services Ltd) to cancel it but persuaded me to have the 2.99 pounds a month for the sim card insurance. Well, finally I decided to totally cancel the insurance policy after two months. I am not against insurance for mobiles to covering any unauthorised calls as a result of theft or loss and accidental damage. However, with my lifestyle at the moment, there is no chance that the handset will be stolen or broken. Surely, having that insurance is not worth paying.

                  After 14 months (as of August 9, 2008), I think it is worth sharing the value of having Samsung SGH-U600 which truly delivers wherever I go, whatever things that I really want to do and to be connected 24/7 locally and abroad. If you are looking for an old model that you can effortlessly slide inside your pocket, no doubt, this is the one not to be ignored. SGH-P600 is not a perfect unit however, it perfectly served as a mobile companion and its shortcomings/downsides are overshadowed by its strong features in terms of compatibility, size, appearance, capacity, music/radio, connectivity, power, screen and even camera/video functions. Well, I listed down the reasons why this unit is a valuable gadget and difficult to live without it.

                  **APPEARANCE and STYLE**It has an ultra-slim built in a sapphire blue shell and easy to slide inside the pocket. As a normal snapper, it is comparable to LG Shine model or the latest Samsung G800 but SGH-P600 is surprisingly a light weight gadget with a selection of colours to choice from. With 10.9mm thickness, it is considered as the thinnest mobile available in the market. Weighing 81grams, it is second lightest unit next to Samsung E250 and quite comparable to Sony Ericsson models in terms of weight particularly W350i. It is lighter than the Samsungs U700 and G600. The lightness is a little bit a downside which could be easily slipped from the hands or low pockets. Well, having extra space for other stuffs like keys or coin purse/wallet in the pocket, then it could be prevented from falling/slipping while sitting down.

                  **CAPACITY AND BATTERY**Aside from its lightness, it contains a higher internal memory capacity than Samsungs G600 and U700 and of course comparable to Blackberry's Pearl models. It is better than Nokia's models 2630 and 2760 (11MB) or the slide 6500 which is only 20MB. It is advisable to acquire additional external memory card (microSD up to 2GB). The 60MB internal memory is enough to hold a reasonable number of photos and songs, including video clips. If I want to take more images and videos, then I normally use my digital camera for higher resolution.

                  The life span of the battery is reasonable. Technically, it is designed to have a talking time of 4 hours, but in my experience I don't reach that length of time of chatting, otherwise I will exceed my allowable monthly calls of 225 minutes (around 2.5 hours) if I will test this capability. For simple calculation, I charge the battery every week to maintain my monthly talking/texting time and taking photos/videos occasionally. Charging the unit/battery is using a USB connection which is also included in the purchase. This USB cable connection is compatible with my old Samsung P300 and even E250, except for the latest model, Samsung Tocco, SGH-F480V (which I purchased recently for my third contract under Vodafone) which has a bigger slot connection. I recommend to turn-off the phone to maximise the efficiency of the battery while charging. An image of a battery (fully charged) will appear on the screen when the unit is completely charged.

                  The phone can also accommodate up to 1000 contacts in the phonebook and 200 saved text messages. Incoming and outgoing messages are automatically saved in the My Messages, while drafts can be restored/saved or deleted easily. Contact details can be saved on the phone or duplicated in the sim card.

                  **CAMERA AND IMAGING**Having a 3.2 mega-pixel camera, it is not bad to taking snaps of some places that I have visited during my travels. This resolution is substantially acceptable particularly for ordinary 4X6 prints or for web-page posting. Unfortunately, I did not bother to transfer it to the computer/laptop or not even printed and uploaded it on-line, thus I cannot describe the quality of the images captured by the unit. Synchronisation with PC is done by installing the CD installer allowing the handset shares its data (images, contacts, documents) to the PC.

                  It is clear and manageable to send images or file to other mobiles as an attachment or by directly transferred by Bluetooth. I also tried to take video, unfortunately, the quality is not very good using a full screen option. In terms of the quality of sound, it is audible and clear, comparable to my old Samsung P300. Having this image resolution, it is not inferior against my other old unit Xda O2 (3megapixels) or my latest one, Samsung Tocco (5megapixels). The shots taken during night time or in low light places are not impressive even changing the scene settings.

                  Technically, the phone is capable of various shot modes, scene settings and effects which are common to other models/brands. For example for shot modes, it can do panoramic orientation and multiple shots which also found in Samsung U700 model. Other special effects such like black and white, sepia or changing the colours of the photos are not available in the unit, but these functions are added features of Samsung G600 model.

                  **MUSIC AND SOUND**I seldom use the music player of the phone. I do love listening music using my laptop's Microsoft media player and CD/DVD driver or my iPod nano. To test the external memory card, I requested my friend to upload some songs and it seems that the quality of sound is perfectly alright with the earphones. As an alternative to my iPod, I use the FM Radio mode of the phone when doing my regular jogging/walking. The FM radio function is being activated when the earphones are attached to the phone, otherwise it will not work. The play options and audio (volume) level can be moderated using the buttons found at the central circular pad of the phone or at the left lower side of the phone. The selection option button is also used for self-tuning of FM stations available in the area. If the radio is on and there is an incoming call, the radio is interrupted and the call can be answered. The phone has a voice recorder which is an excellent option for short audio recording.

                  **FEATURES AND FUNCTIONALITY**This model is an Orange signature series phone the phone keys' layout is not much any difference from old Samsung models. The front view shows the main key functions buttons as follows: power key, earpiece, display (screen), volume keys, mouthpiece, multi-function jack, alphanumeric keys, and dial/delete/menu exit keys.

                  It has a circular knob located at the centre which serves as the web access/confirm key and the navigation keys (up,down, left and right). In addition, there are two soft keys (left and right) for short functions of menus and contacts, including back, cancel and select keys. These soft keys are similar to a touch screen feature and quite very sensitive for quick navigation without sliding the phone. Sliding or pushing the upper part of the phone will expose the alphanumeric keys and other special function keys for dialling. At the rear part of the phone shows the mirror, camera lens and flash, camera key function and the memory card slot.

                  It has a "homescreen" function for quick access such as for sending messages, taking photos and exploring Orange World's browser. The homescreen also provides several icons for a list of options for direct access to the various features of the phone, or showing any missed calls or received messages and reminder for appointments.

                  Exploring the menus of the phones, there are (12) major icons presented on the screen, namely:
                  (1) Applications: functions for bluetooth, image editor, java world (games), and smart search for messages and calls.
                  (2) Music player: functions for playing songs and FM radio
                  (3) Settings: functions for time and date set-up; phone setting and displays; screen and light settings, and network services such as call diverting and barring; and security (PIN, sim lock, password, mobile tracker)
                  (4) Organizer: calendar, voice recorder, clock, calculator, converter, and timer
                  (5) Address book: contact list, speed dialling, management for copying contacts and memory status for both sim card and the phone itself
                  (6) Messaging: Incoming and created messages, templates, multimedia, memory status for SMS
                  (7) Call history: statistics for missed, dialled and received calls, and sent and received messages from contacts
                  (8) Camera: taking photos, camcorder/video recording
                  (9) Media album: folders for the Images/photos, videos music and sounds taken and downloaded; including the data/files found in the external memory card
                  (10) Orange World: Access to the Orange website's browser and other URLS.
                  (11) Alarms: Setting up for specific alarm for reminding personal appointments (up to 5 different reminders)
                  (12) Sound Settings: ring tones selection for incoming calls, keypad and message tones, and silent mode

                  **EXTRA SERVICES FROM PHONES4U AND ORANGE**There are advantages for having a contract than "pay as you go" arrangement particularly for maintaining regular communication with family and friends both locally and abroad without interruption by not topping-up monthly. Unknowingly, there were hidden charges applied by Orange which were not explained to me by Phones4U when I got the deal. I only discovered it when I finally signed-up for on-line access of my detailed billing statement. There is an additional charge for having detailed billing statements by post. It is recommended to review the charges every month, particularly when the charges exceeded the contract amount (25 pounds a month). It is also a good practice to call or contact the Orange customer service by dialling 150 in the handset.

                  The contract also allows me to use my handset overseas/abroad. Activation for this feature is manageable by calling the Orange a day prior to departure. International calls from UK or vice versa are excluded from the contract. It means I have to pay extra based on the prevailing tariffs. For example, if I will call from Italy, calls cost 38p per minute and receiving a call will cost 19p per minute; while sending text messages cost 30p and free to receive messages. For sending photo messages less than 50KB will cost 60p and 75p for larger messages.

                  THERE ARE MINOR inconveniences with my Orange contract which are tolerable and manageable. Orange network connection is not strong especially in enclosed spaces (like basement or underground floors) compared to O2 and Vodafone networks. Since it is an Orange signature series phone, it is locked - I can not use a sim card from Tmobile, O2 or Vodafone. Unlocking the unit will cost me 20 pounds (if Orange will do it) or 10 pounds by Chinese phone retailers.

                  By the way, Phones4U gave me a free unit of Motorola F3 (with Tmobile sim card and free 20 pounds top-up) as part of the contract. Having this contract allows me to upgrade the unit when I reached my 12 months payment or buy-out my remaining payments and have another contract for new unit. Since I am not fully satisfied with Orange network, I decided to have the buy-out arrangement.

                  Last week, I got my new unit, Samsung Tocco (SGH-F480V) for 250 minutes/100 messages a month which is really a good deal for valued existing customer like me and avail the best deals which are not applicable for 'pay as you go' condition. Existing deals for Samsung U600 requires a minimum of 10 pounds top-up monthly and get the unit for only 99.99 pounds or on-line purchase from Amazon costs 120 pounds.

                  INDEED, SAMSUNG SGH-U600 truly delivers and choosing this handset made my daily activities manageable and hassle-free.


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                  • vistaprint.co.uk / Online Shop / 145 Readings / 135 Ratings
                    More +
                    13.10.2007 11:14
                    Very helpful



                    VP offers high standard quality products but with hidden charges

                    "Vistaprint (VP) offers very cheap and discounted
                    high-quality on-line printed products
                    for everyone but on the long term,
                    customers are being charged more than that
                    of the original price."

                    ON-LINE SHOPPING IS INCREASINGLY dominating the market today. Believe it or not, every household with broadband connection has experienced transactions and purchases through the internet. Majority of these activities are done using either direct debit or by credit cards. At a glance, it makes things easier and it is less time consuming; however, it is scary due to unscrupulous usages and charges that most of us are not aware of. Until you find out that it is happening to you!

                    I attempted several on-line purchases and majority of these transactions were with Amazon using my dooyoo vouchers. Some of them were clothing websites, and recently with photo imaging/processing services, VISTAPRINT (VP) in particular.

                    ***What's in it?
                    Vistaprint (VP) offers on-line printing of personal and office stationeries like rubber stamps, letter heads, invitation cards, post cards, business cards, return address stickers, notepads, sticky notes, etc.

                    According to the website, VP has more than 18 offices worldwide and specialised for customised printing through the internet in places like the UK, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Ireland, Canada, Spain, France, and the United States. After searching from the web, it seems that this is an American firm, however I could not find a definite contact details about it which is quite unusual for an on-line service. This leads to poor customer relations in dealing with complaints which the company is under fire nowadays despite having a toll-free contact number.

                    ***Why VP is so popular and irresistible?
                    I don’t have any idea that this site exists after I received my orders from Amazon. I found a brochure inside the package, having a bold red letters: FREE. Well, as a consumer/buyer I want to avail such offer and being naïve (sometimes), maybe it is true to believe that there is still 'free' in the consumer world! Sorry for myself, there is no such word in the business these days…it always have hidden charges, thus we are paying more than of what we have actually received. And with the worst scenario, we ended up paying for nothing!

                    The company also provides discounted rates for Amazon customers. Maybe this is the reason why it is so popular and attracts more buyers thru Amazon.

                    Aside the marketing strategy employed by VP thru Amazon, it is also tempting to take part and have an account with them for having a website that it is user-friendly. Yes, it is easy and free to open an account; unfortunately, you can not delete your profile from the site anymore if you decided to terminate your account.

                    It requires a valid email address and a password to have access (sign-in and login) to the site. Postal address, bank details and other personal information will follow when you are already set to go for an order.

                    As I said earlier, it is a user-friendly where the consumer page account has simple functions and links to navigate to various features of the site. For example, each product has its designated link, including my personal account. The account has basic features that contains the history of orders/prints and matching documents for promotional purposes. It has access to the free templates and designs provided by VP, personal account information (password, email, names, and company address), electronic documents, and document proofs for easy editing and re-ordering. There is also a link for managing images/photos and logos for easy uploading and downloading of personalised lay-out. I find it easy and convenient in using these functions which makes your orders meet your requirements in terms of lay-out, fonts, colours, and size.

                    Honestly, VP offers a set of collections of high-quality design templates particularly for business cards and labels. This is the reason why I was tempted to place my orders without any hesitation. These templates are easy to edit for my own images and graphic design. The quality of the paper is another plus factor that really stands-out for an order.

                    VP knows very well how to convince people to try their products. Why? They will send regular emails about on-going offers, and mostly you can avail up to 50% discount off of their products. Most of the time, it is totally 'free', except for the postal service.

                    Other benefits for having an account that everyone could join include: referral and partnership programmes and VP Rewards. How does it work? For every referral transaction, the account holder received an equivalent Vistacash and 25% off for future purchases. The partnership programmes allows purchasers to take part as a business associate to sell VP products on commission basis with free 250 business cards for qualified partners.

                    Finally, the VP Rewards – the UK premier membership club! This is really tricky because I don’t know this club exists because it does not have link in the VP website itself. This rewards membership is the root cause or we say the 'culprit' of VP's scam image. I don’t know that my account has been approved to take part on this membership club after I received my credit card billing statement. I did not receive any communication regarding this club and to be charged at £9.95 every month for nothing! According to the site that members can save more money from VP purchases which I don’t understand because I don’t have access to site, even though I am charged monthly. They don’t advised me of my membership ID and other details relating to my membership, because at the first place, it is a scam and they take advantage of my trust by placing orders using my credit card. Anyway, I will discuss this later in my review. Please hang on.

                    ***How to order from VP?
                    I did two orders with different products. My first order was a return address sticky labels worth £2.35. I only paid for the postage and VAT. The original price for the label was £4.99, plus postage and VAT for 140 pieces of stickers. The order arrived 2 days after my on-line confirmation. My second order was a customised postcard for 100 pieces amounted to £27.92 and delivered after 7 days upon order. The original price was 21.99 but since it is customised, they charged extra for the uploading of my personal graphics and photos. An order with an upload (image or graphics) costs additional fee of £3.49 for coloured ones and pdf files for £1.99. The uploaded images or graphics can be used for other products or future orders for no extra cost.

                    You might be thinking that it is quite expensive for such a post card. For simple calculation, my personalised postcard bearing my own photos and lay-out (both front and back) had cost me 28p (£0.28) which is still cheaper than the postcard available in the stores/gift shops.

                    All orders are being paid either credit or debit cards. Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Switch and Solo are the primary accredited cards by the site. During the confirmation of the orders and payment, every customer are being asked to type in the details of the card, including 3 security code numbers and expirations before the order will be processed; consequently to be delivered by either first class or ordinary postal service.

                    ***Why VP is an on-line scam?
                    My orders' payment was successfully charged to my credit card account. The description showed in my billing statement that the payment will be directed to Vistaprint.co.uk. No doubt about it.

                    Honestly, I don’t checked my transactions regularly because I confident that the charges reflected in my monthly statement are validated and derived from my genuine transactions considering that I only use my credit card for Easyjet bookings, phone bills and Photobox.co.uk printing. Anyway, I was wrong after I discovered two months ago that there is unsolicited transaction reflected in my bill that has been there for almost 5 months after I had my purchase from VP. The irony of the matter is that, the charges were not coming from VP, but from VPRewards.com which later on I found out that there it stands for VistaPrint Rewards.

                    My only worry after I discovered this unapproved debit transaction from my card is that, how VP was able to track down or manage to do multiple charging which I did not advise them to do it. I did not receive any email or notification letter about this rewards scheme. It only shows that the site has a tracking or monitoring mechanism to allow them to bill every customer continuously without the consent and approval of the customer using a different name as VPRewards.com.

                    My anger went up when I finally checked my statements that VPRewards had already charged me £9.95 per month for the past 8 months amounting to a total of £79.60! Unknowingly, VistaPrint is draining my savings and I am determined to get this money back the soonest.

                    I immediately sent emails to VP explaining my problem. They replied telling me that my complaint will be answered in due time and until I havent receive any feedback from, except that the promotional emails
                    flooding over my inbox stopped already. The contact number found in the site is not working either, even they have a toll-free number available only during early morning hours which I did not bother to call them.

                    I calmed down after I phoned my bank about the transactions and they promised me to settle in due time. The bank knows this kind of internet fraud and I am not the one having experienced this problem, I think a lot of u of there still struggling to deal with it.

                    I received several forms from the bank advising to file a complaint against the retailer. I filled-up the forms and sent it to them immediately for urgent action. Unfortunately, the charge is still coming in despite my request from the bank to cancel the transaction. I did several follow-up phone calls to ensure that my bank is working on it. I also threatened them to cancel my credit card if the last option to stop these charges.

                    Well, cancelling the card is not a good solution since it will only stop the charges after two months. In other words, cancellation will only take affect after 2 months after cancellation so it will still accept charges within that period.

                    Luckily, the bank successfully adjusted the payment by having 2 months payment credited to my account. Having said that, VP offers very cheap and discounted high-quality on-line printed products, but on the long term, customers are being charged as high than that of the original price.

                    ***What lessons learned from it?
                    Finally, I do acknowledge my mistake for not being cautious of my credit card transactions. It is a lesson for me and for others who did encounter the same experience with VP. On-line purchase is easy but sometimes costly if there are hidden agreements and policy being imposed by the on-line retailers. Prior to my on-line purchase I did not really bother to check with Dooyoo if some members experienced this problem.

                    It is indeed a wake up call for me to be careful for doing on-line purchases and do rigorous search through Dooyoo and other available consumer sites prior to purchase to avoid disappointments. I was confident to have it a go with VP considering that Amazon endorsed it and of course the products are in excellent quality with affordable prices, so there is no reason to ignore them.

                    THERE ARE COMPLAINTS posted in various websites about these unsolicited charges from VP and a lot of people were desperate to get back their money. I don’t know if Amazon is being advised on this problem which I think will affect their reputation considering that it is being advertised through them.


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                    • Samsung SGH-P300 / Mobile Phone / 64 Readings / 62 Ratings
                      More +
                      30.09.2007 19:23
                      Very helpful



                      An eye-catchy and irresistible ultra-slim handset from Samsung

                      "Our first touch was electrifying
                      and unexplainable – that's the way
                      I can describe it."

                      HAVE YOU TRIED TO be engaged for a fixed one-year period with a celebrity model? Well, everyone does nowadays to get a full benefit of hassle-free relationship, easy to manage terms, and be popular with friends. I am referring to my 2006 service contract with O2 and the incredible, slim, stylish and top of the line Samsung handset, SGH-P300.

                      WHY SGH-P300?
                      Prior to my engagement with this eye-catchy S model, I have 2 existing Nokia mobile phones with pay-to-go scheme and all of them have one in common – small and they were once best units in the high street. So, I have to maintain that criteria for new ones.

                      Looking for a new set always requires several visits to the phone stores and this is really a tedious process for me. Not to mention of browsing available on-line consumer sites like dooyoo and ciao to get invaluable feedbacks from distributors and existing users.

                      When I saw this model on display at Phones 4U, I can't get my eyes on it and it was a ''first love as first sight'' moment experience. It was true! Until now my admiration to this credit card or business card size gadget did not change even after my contract ended in June 2007. As the saying goes, ''our relationship is getting stronger every minute, every hour, and every day!''

                      Our first touch was electrifying and unexplainable – that's the way I can describe it. No exaggeration, but I was really struck with the overall package of SGH-P300. As my left hand gripped this thin combined silver-black front cover, and the black leather case rested on my palm, my imagination did not stop telling me to grab the offer at £25 per month – one year open-line engagement, inclusive of the monthly 100 text messages and 125 minutes talking time. Well, one year past and my relationship with SGH-P300 did not fade until now even with a pay-to-go set-up.

                      Why I adore my ex-handset so much even I recently got my 2-year contract for another S model, U600? I don’t want you to be hanging here, so I am very pleased to introduce my classy ex-mobile phone, SGH-P300 and all the basic but dependable features that you need to know!

                      **Design and Structure
                      1. It can deceive you as a pocket type calculator. It is a phone in a calculator housing! It is more than a calculator – it is pocket mobile phone with the size of a credit card (3.5 in X 2.2 in X 0.4 in). You can even put the real credit card on top of it and from a distance, it looks nothing below it. It is the smallest gadget ever made last year and maybe until now – in parallel with its latest version, P310. It is thinner than other current models in the market.

                      2. The black and silver colour cover is an impressive blend; including its black leather flip case with the built-in extra battery (razor thin shape) is tightly packed below it. It has a metal lock below the leather case to fasten the main handset to the case itself. A small rectangular opening is also provided for easy photo snapping even the leather case is attached with the handset.

                      3. The screen display is more impressive having a landscape orientation than the usual portrait lay-outs. The graphic displays are clear enough to be viewed especially in dark places, otherwise it disappear in direct lighting area.

                      4. The keypad is quite comfortably laid-out for easy navigation. There are some specific keys found in the normal phones but these are perfectly rearranged in the keypad such like the special function keys, alphanumeric keys and the four-way navigation menu options as to perfectly fit with the front panel. Unfortunately, for people with extra large fingers, navigation is quite uneasy.

                      5. Other function buttons are located at both thin sides of the handset. The volume button is suitably located at the left side, while the charging port/terminal and the camera shutter button are in the right side. The charging port also serves as the outlet for the earphones and USB connection.

                      6. It has its own dedicated earphone jack that disallow for using other earphones. It is convenient for Samsung users where you could share both the charger and earphones from this model to others. For example, the charger and earphones can be used for models like SGH-Z510 and the latest Samsung U600.

                      7. The SIM card is easy to slide inside the holder, just besides the battery. In most occasions, I find it difficult to remove the card out from the holder.

                      **Features and Accessories
                      1. It has the basic access menu functions found in an ordinary handset. However, it varies on how these accessories are set-up for easy accessibility and navigation. From customisation to web browsing functions, SGH-P300 offers a range of functionality that are manageable and something worth exploring.
                      For example, it has all the customised feature selections for phone setting, sound setting, display setting and short cuts. The main short cuts featured in the main menu function include: call records, phonebook, applications, browser, messages, file manager, calendar, camera and settings.

                      3. The special features of the phone include MP3 player, Bluetooth, photo caller ID option, electronic name card, web browser, e-mailing, and multimedia messaging, including Java function for games, audio and video recording.

                      4. The 1.3 megapixel digital camera function is worth exploring as well. With the various settings to choose from, taking photos is easy as a photo hobbyist and once in a while performs as the 'paparazzi' does.

                      5. With these accessories, it has an internal memory of 80MB and there is no provision for memory expansion. In other words, there is no external card slot for additional memory option.

                      6. Synchronisation option is an interesting function of the phone. With CD installer, a PC or laptop with MS Outlook and WideSync program installed, it is easy to create and update profile through a USB cable or an active Bluetooth connection. You can send messages using the keyboards of the computer, while doing other computer work at the same time. Uploading of MP3 files and photos can be managed accordingly without a fuss.

                      7. Sharing with friends thru bluebooth is also manageable, but it takes a while to transfer a file.
                      Unfortunately, it does not have a FM/AM radio function but MP3 feature provides a very good listening setting which could accommodate up to 20 songs. The volume setting is enough for a clear and audible sound, not much to be compared to a stereo sound acoustics.

                      8. Charging with the leather case allows both the batteries charged. Based from my experience, fully charged batteries take a week to use it with minimal calls but with substantial use for text messaging.

                      9. The JAVA feature offers two popular games, namely Bobby Carrot and Freekick which sometimes I challenged myself to try this graphic entertainment option during my free time. Samsung has on-line service for additional games and other graphic downloads and ring tones for extra cost.

                      10. The calendar function is also not to be ignored especially in my busy routine and it doesn’t miss to remind me of my important appointments ahead of time.

                      11. The video recording is impressive for this thin handset with acceptable resolution for on-line sharing. I did a wedding party recording and surprisingly the sound and clip were perfectly alright, except that the viewing screen was not big enough. Otherwise, it could be transferred to a PC or laptop which I haven’t done yet.

                      **Performance and Mobility
                      1. Due to its size, it can be easily slipped to small pockets, together with wallets, keys or coins. The leather case protects from any direct contact of sharp objects to the panel of the phone.

                      2. The earphones are not suitable for people who want to hear music from the MP3 while doing their jogging or walking activities. They easily slip from the ears for just a slight movement of the head. With the volume at its maximum level, it does not really annoy someone besides you and don’t want to listen to your type of music.

                      3. The outside speaker is just enough for MP3 player in a quiet vicinity, but don’t expect a grand acoustic performance in a busy place.

                      4. The two batteries are perfectly performing well which provide a week of interrupted minimal phone call and messaging. In my experience, one hour talking time with occasional usage of the camera and games, battery life could last for 3-4 days.

                      5. The charger is not bulky compares to other existing models and it can be easily kept during long or short travels/trips.

                      6. I haven’t tried yet to print the photos taken from this handset, but based from other reviews; the print-out was not impressive as shown on screen. In addition, I do night shots and the images are mostly dark and unrecognisable even with the use of the built-in flash.

                      **What's in the Box and Its Affordability?
                      After signing the one-year agreement with O2 thru Phones 4U, a got the following inside the box and specifications:

                      - the slim ultra card phone with credit card/business card size design (86x54x8.9mm)
                      - tri-band/GPRS Class 10
                      - 1.3 megapixel camera with flash
                      - Video recording and messaging (MPEG4/H.263)
                      - Coloured Screen with Speaker phone, email,
                      vCard and vCalendar
                      - Music player and ring tones (MP3, AAC, AAC+,and
                      - USB cable, battery, CD Installer, Manual and a
                      warranty policy

                      The agreement also covered the following: £25 monthly direct debit, inclusive of 100 messages and 125 minutes calling time. No insurance policy. With my contract, I got a free one unit of Samsung SGH-Z510, including a SIM card with £90 payback check. To date, you can purchase the handset from the internet (Ebay) as low as £55.

                      Despite the little flaws in the design and operation, SGH-P300 has survived in my demanding life style and until now it is my stand-by companion especially when my new U600 could not find a signal. There are durable and dependable gadgets out there, but with my one-year engagement with SGH-P300 somehow helped me get connected to the outside world of communication and entertainment.

                      Every one has his/her mobile favourites, but personally I could proudly say that SGH-P300 is one of the best gadgets that I ever had since after my first bulky phone in 1999. As I mentioned earlier, my admiration with this model started at the first moment I saw it in the display stand. No matter what other users say, it will always be in my top list of the most stylish mobiles of all times.

                      FINALLY, HAVING THIS MODEL in the market, Samsung proves that the company is in the cutting edge in producing eye-catchy and irresistible ultra-slim gadgets.


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                      • trivago.co.uk / Internet Site / 93 Readings / 85 Ratings
                        More +
                        01.07.2007 00:58
                        Very helpful



                        A dynamic and independent travel portal

                        MY MEMBERSHIP WITH TRIVAGO started in April 2007. Prior to my registration, I have some reservations of joining the site, thinking that it will only be a duplication of what I am doing with dooyoo and ciao which I occasionally post reviews. Most of these reviews were not really commercial products, but rather service-oriented ones like travels, theatre productions and attractions.

                        Having active profile in dooyoo (one year) and ciao (5 months) for a while, I reached the point as a member of these consumer sites to look for new excitement, challenges, and better incentive packages. In particular, dooyoo can only provide better rating rates and fair award scheme for the weekly crowns, while ciao recognises posting of photos to enhance my reviews, including a non-commercial category for my literary works (poetry).

                        There were only few members of these consumer sites decided to join trivago as indicated by the number of reviews posted in both sites. This was also confirmed when I tried to browse trivago site late last year. This was the time when the trivago (UK) portal is not yet finalised as an independent or separate domain. I will not discuss here how it was formed as patterned from its mother portal in Germany. Trivago (UK) is working independently but members are linked up to one mother trivago domain where you could navigate other portals being administered in Germany, France, and Spain. In other words, it is a 4-in-1 community site for a better e-travel database management and favourable to multi-lingual members or users.

                        For the past three months as a new trivago member and currently at the Level 4 status, I could proudly say that trivago has something more to offer especially for me who has the passion to explore other places around the globe and promoting my hobby in photography and webpage travel blogging.

                        Finally, I will explain why it offers new excitement, challenges and IT DOES PAY ME MORE than I imagined. The answers are found in the acronym which stands to the site name itself –TRIVAGO which means the following:

                        ***T=RICKY BUT EASY. At first glance, the site is not user-friendly. It takes a while to really visualise where to start and what information to expect. Anyway, the homepage has a simple and recognisable icon and has recognisable links about the community, and other features and services that it has to offer. In general, being a travelguide and hotel review site, expect to have a search function for types of accommodation, attractions and their locations worldwide.

                        I did not automatically register but I tried to familiarise first the features/functions and navigate with the places where I have been already visited for the past years. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find out that the site has 99.99% incomplete information about my home country. Well this disappointment turned into an opportunity which means I took it positively and convinced myself to take part in this dynamic community site and I will help the team build up my home country's attractions – promoting it in the long term.

                        Well I finally decided to sign-on and have a go of my membership. The registration takes few minutes and then I have my own profile page which contains information about me (age location, my mentor), including my membership status as Sightseer for Level 1. Other functions include: guestbook, bookmarks, tasks, option, statistics, operations and advanced operations which much easy to navigate.

                        Reaching Level 1, I can do the following: read only or browse for hotels and attractions; add photos, maximum of 5 for every hotel or attraction; promote the site by inviting friends; can create a link from the site to my personal websites or from my other memberships to forums/consumer sites; and can suggest and add web links pertaining to travel guides and tourist attractions.

                        It seems that these functions/tasks are easy to perform but believe it or not, IT IS TRICKY! It is tricky in the sense that it takes a while to familiarise what makes the posting easy and not to be rejected by the administrator level member. For example, uploading of photos is easy in principle but there are required fields to be filled-up and the right orientation to comply with to get the equivalent shares. Always bear in mind the issue of copyright and plagiarism which the site is strictly monitored. If I have to post photos, I have to sign a disclaimer statement that the images are taken by me or I have the rights to publish. The other issue is to find the link to the right region and city where the hotel or attraction is located and have the photos posted.

                        The other trickiness at Level 1 is to reach Level 2: Excursion which allows me to increase my involvement in the site and payment as well. I thought it will take a while reaching the next level. It is similar to ciao community points for coloured dots where there is a minimum shares to reach upper levels and get the corresponding traveller title. The second level requires only 250 shares and the promotion approvals from five members of higher levels.

                        There are several variations to reach this level. First, to post one review which have 250 shares and have it 100% KRB ratings from members. Second, if you miss a perfect share for posting the review, the other option is to upload 5 photos which give 100 shares each image with 50% KRB rating. In other words, 5 photos give this calculation: 100 (5) =500 x 50%=250 shares.

                        All of these figures are perfectly enumerated in the Statistics link which also provides the overall pay-out for all the activities/tasks performed.

                        So therefore, it is tricky to reach every level and to achieve additional functions/tasks that will give me more opportunity to earn more! By the way, I have a mentor which provides extra tips to making my activities easy to perform, aside from the FAQ section that explain everything about posting.

                        Overall, there are more 5 levels to aim for after reaching level 2. At my present, Level 4: Vacation Pro provides me the tasks that are manageable to work with and I am quite contented of what I am contributing to the site at the moment.

                        Level 4 is the starting point where I could really share my time to add hotels, attractions, photos, external reviews and weblinks and now I can also rate reviews which Levels 1 to 3 do not perform. Levels (5-7) beyond Level 4 require administrative responsibilities but it also offer more opportunities and higher shares. These administrative responsibilities dwell more on approval/confirming of photos, external reviews, weblinks, hotels, attractions and promote members with lower levels. As you could understand, the higher levels take more of management task to ensure that the information added or posted are accurate and follow the necessary requirements.

                        ***R=EWARDING. This is to emphasise that the site offers more opportunities to earn more. The more tasks/activities perform in the site, my chance of getting higher pay-out is promising. Frankly, I do it not only to build my own travel database but of course gain financially.

                        Looking at my statistics for Level 4, I posted 6 reviews only, more than 300 photos, 83 partner/affiliate links, 17 hotels added, 19 new attractions, and recommended 68 weblinks.

                        These figures are also enhanced with my participation in the weekly challenge. At first I was not keen of joining considering that my geography with Europe and UK is not good at the moment. But few weeks ago, the challenges are manageable and enjoyable which also rewarding to perform. And recently, additional feature of rating photos is available which also gives me the opportunity to express my appreciation to members who posted stunning photos. It is also feel good to get extra shares from members who see my photos informative and appreciate my hobby in photography.

                        It is indeed a financially rewarding. Believe it or not, my pay-out is equivalent to my one-year payment from dooyoo and twice I got from ciao. However, payment terms and schedule is something that I have not dwell with since I am still on the process for the request thru Paypal service which is not difficult to open an account. I dont know what will happen next, but trivago does arrange the payment from 6-8 weeks for a minimum pay-out of 15 pounds and depending on the disbursement period.

                        ***I=NTELLIGENTLY STIMULATING. Again, performing these various tasks/activities are really stimulating – using my knowledge and skills in computer will work well. For example, performing the partnerlink or weblink allows me to use my knowledge in marketing! I did a strategy that trivago is promoted through my personal travel blogs.

                        Instead of writing reviews about my travels, I created my own websites that contain all my travel journals, including with images. With basic knowledge in webpage design, I successfully link my blogs to trivago which also add extra shares to my account. The weekly challenge is also provides the venue to share your knowledge with other members.

                        ***V=ERY CHALLENGING. As I said earlier, it is a tricky business which is a challenge for me to perform much more tasks I can do to gain more pounds. It is a challenging membership which pushes me to collect more travel magazines, brochures and flyers wherever I go to get more information on various attractions.

                        The other challenge is to get more images of these accommodations and attractions, to some extent, not quite easy especially for attractions that cameras are not allowed. So far, everywhere I go, I always bring my camera (which I do prior to my membership) and much I can do to extend my arms from the car just to get a shot of the place or a historical building along the way.

                        ***A=DDICTIVE BUT ENJOYABLE. I am addicted for the past 3 months now and I think the enthusiasm still growing at a high rate. Most of the time, I do my tasks during late hours and during weekends and even holidays. So instead of going out to spend, I just face my laptop and update my personal blogs that link to trivago, upload photos and search more weblinks, and once in a while participate in the community forum.

                        I really enjoy it at the moment and this is the reason why I reached my level 4 in a short period of time and earned money – equivalent to a round trip ticket to Berlin with easyJet.

                        ***G=LOBALLY E-TRAVEL GUIDE. This is a travel resource portal for guests or for the on-line public but being a member this site offers me the opportunity to share my travel experiences and my hobby in photography. This site is showcasing my previous travel experiences and the photos taken during those travels. Specifically, this is a good venue where I could promote, advertise and market the places that I have visited, especially my current residency in Northern Ireland and of course my home country, Philippines.

                        ***O=VERWHELMINGLY A DYNAMIC COMMUNITY. This is a diverse community that provides not only for reviews of hotels and attractions and travel guide information, but a community that encourages each member to take part in managing its database. It is not only for the trivago database but my OWN travel database that I am sharing with the rest of the members and users.

                        There is always competition in a consumer site. But in trivago, there is a different competition atmosphere compare to dooyoo and ciao or even helium. I do compete by being a hardworking member through achieving the required activities for each level promotion, and at the same time to earn more shares for higher monetary value. I do compete by joining the weekly challenge and take part on it by aiming the highest possible shares in performing for such challenging task. There are NO LOSERS here which other consumer sites have. Everyone is a winner for doing the same tasks or activities to achieve the higher level and at the same time building up my own database.

                        The trivago competition is beyond other consumer sites are doing. It is more than of having 'exceptional' rating reviews or being 'top' read among reviews on the same topic; having the highest number of reads per week; or received the highest community points; and received yellow crowns every week or diamonds every month. It is a site that recognises my effort for performing every task allowed in my level into KRB shares and then to 'pounds'. This is not just posting and rating hotels and attractions or posting photographs but it is a site that pays me for every thing I share with the site.

                        For example (as I already mentioned earlier), my photographs are being paid and being rated; my suggested hotels, attractions, restaurants, anything with tourist added value are being compensated; my private travel blogs/journals and forums memberships linked to trivago are also rewarded; and most importantly, inviting friends to the site is a 'life time' bonus reward – which means I will get a 'non-stop' 30% shares from the total accumulated shares of my invited friends.

                        The trivago site is not a 'popularity' community. I am popular because I do a lot of activities in the site, NOT because I post a review everyday; or read, rate and post comments other members' reviews; or I have a long list of members in my COTs or Buddies and trusted members; and NOT even being a respected senior and pioneer member of the site.

                        There is always 'transparency' on what I am receiving (pay-out) which is publicly available – that means anyone has access to my earnings! It might be too confidential part of my profile, but I realised it is a strategy of trivago to show for both users and members that the site is really paying generously!

                        I am a new member with one invited friend (which I don’t know her personally), with one mentor, one supportive senior member, and most importantly, I have the whole trivago community team that encourages me to assist them building up the database and my own as well. Having this credential, I already achieved a LEVEL 4 status for just 3 months. Others are more hardworking members than I am by achieving this level within a month!

                        After reading this, you might be thinking that there is no 'downside' of the site that every thing is going well with the members. Well, there are problems and issues exist among members and the site itself (such like approvals of hotels and attractions are little slow which requires rigorous checking by senior members), but these things are OVERSHADOWED by the benefits derived from being a member!

                        ***CONCLUDING REMARKS. FINALLY, honestly I do more things in the site from my previous memberships with other consumer sites. It is worth taking especially that the site provides a portal for the places that have visited in the past, and the places where I want to see and spend my vacation in the future, and most importantly the site that appreciate my photographs.

                        For the record, my membership turns 3 months on 4 July 2007 and I already received an earning that is equivalent to what I have received from dooyoo for my one-year membership (June 29, 2006). This means that my trivago earning is enough to give me a round-trip ticket to Berlin, or 1 ticket of a famous West End production with a round trip to Lutton(London) from Belfast by easyJet.


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                          18.06.2007 16:49
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                          An alternative airport for visitors flying in and from Northern Ireland

                          FLYING WITH EASYJET airline from Northern Ireland to any UK and European destinations is always through Belfast International Airport. BIA is one of the major airports in the Irish region that has recently reached a major milestone in its history by having catered to 5 million passengers for the past 12 months. Currently, it is serving 41 scheduled destinations with 26 European and transatlantic, and 15 domestic flights.

                          Comparing BIA with George Best Airport, it is unlikely the former is popular for European flights, aside for being easyJet's hub, it is also the home of Jet2, bmibaby, Continental airlines, Zoom airlines, Air Transat, Wizz Air, and Manx2. Moreover, most of its chartered holiday and few winter ski flights include Austria, Balearics, Bulgaria, Canada, Canada Islands, Croatia, Channel Islands, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, including Florida and Las Vegas (which starts in March 2008).

                          I have been to the airport several times for cheap travels offered by easyJet from Belfast to the mainland UK. The airport is located in Templepatrick, approximately 19 miles (27 kms) away from the city centre; 25-30 minutes by car and 30-40 minutes by public transport depending on the traffic condition. In terms of accessibility of BIA, the Airport Express 300 is the only public utility bus that provides a direct link from the city to the airport which departs from Europa Buscentre. Timetables vary but this bus express service is available from Mondays to Sundays which leaves from Europa buscentre every 10 minutes on peak hours, with £6 single and £9 return fares.

                          Arriving to and departing from the airport is quite manageable considering that the airport is not busy compare to other airports in Dublin or England. By private cars, passengers can jump in/off in front of the airport, and for public transport, there is a bus stop located few meters away – fronting the airport. For passengers who are driving their cars, they can park just across the main building for £3 per day.

                          Check-in counters and other flight services prior to departures are easy to find – a few steps away from the entrance gate. It is very convenient for people who have heavy luggage/bag who don’t like pulling a trolley prior to entering the main building of the airport. Friendly trolleys are available at the side of the building and can be brought along before reaching the departure lounge/area.

                          Upon check-in (at least 1 hour before domestic flight), I normally proceed to the departure concourse (at the ground floor) where I could relax and work on with my laptop. At the concourse, there are a variety of shopping facilities could be found, including internet stations. For example, The Aldergrove Bar, an Irish pub which offers a range of drinks from Guinness to beer, just opposite the Food Village. The Food Village has a range of hot food, including filled baguettes, sandwiches, and pastries. Adjacent to it are other stores like Burger King, Caffe Ritazza, O'brien's Irish Sandwich bar, including the internet station and the Photo-me kiosk.

                          The internet area has user-friendly computers ready for use at £1 per 20 minutes or £3 per hour and 10 pence for B&W laser printing, and with 5 languages translation's feature (Italian, Netherlands, Spanish, French, and German). However, the charge varies on day time basis and requested websites, where the £1 rate is only applicable for MSN and Yahoo browsing. There is a slot for each station to drop the 1 pound coin and a timer is flashed on screen (side bar) to monitor the minutes that lapsed. My laptop has a wifi and bluetooth features and it could easily pick up connection for unsecured internet network. Unfortunately, the available network (T-mobile) requires vouchers or account to reactivate the connection which costs £6 for one hour or £10 for 24 hour service.

                          In my previous flights, I got the 24 hours connection since I had a long waiting time for my flight in Belfast, and at the same time I was able to use this service in Heathrow while waiting for my connecting flight. T-mobile is available anywhere in UK airports which is quite convenient for business people and the like for easy internet access while away from work or home.

                          The boarding card check counter is just the opposite side of the Food Village and this is where all the liquid and sharp materials/objects are being confiscated which could be found in the hand luggage. There are designated bins for passengers to throw their unwanted drinking bottles and prohibited objects. X-ray machines are also found to ensure that every passenger is 'harmless' to travel, even belts, coins and keys are taken off from the passengers' body and subject to inspection. Laptops are also inspected by taking it from its bag/case/back pack and place it separately from other personal belongings.

                          Beyond this card check counter, passengers are free to walk around for final shopping and dining prior to final call. The departure lounge is spacious enough to accommodate the passengers prior to boarding in all 18 Gates. Some of the amenities at this area include: Boots (beauty items), Dixon's (electrical goods); Bar Des Voyagers, (family meals), Café Paul Rankin and Paul Rankin Wine (roasted coffee, salads, pastries, a selection of fine wines, including the all-day breakfast treat), the popular Starbucks, the No Geeks' internet access kiosk, and the Duty Free shops (Les Boutiques, Taste of Ulster, Clockwork Orange). The departure lounge has cushioned seats, high chairs and tables which offer comfort and relaxation while waiting for the flights.

                          Accessing the aircraft is a little bit a downside of the airport especially during winter and rainy season, where every passenger has to walk through the open ground of the airport where the plane is temporarily stopped. To avoid long queuing at the main door of the aircraft, the rear door is open for passengers seated at the back of the plane. There is also available lift for passengers to provide access to and from the plane with impaired mobility but need advance request from the airport staff.

                          In the arrival area which is found in the ground floor, there are 3 carousels to accommodate incoming arrivals of checked-in bags. The Delice de France shop is found in the arrival area offering passengers and waiting guests a quick sip of hot drinks and authentic continental bakery products. The Tourist Information desk is also located in the area where both domestic and international visitors can grab updated flyers and brochures on several attractions in Northern Ireland, including accommodations, upcoming events, and transport information. It has a flat screen showing 'must see' tourist attractions in the region.

                          Aside from these amenities, there are other facilities found in the airport such as the baby changing facilities, children's play area, ATM machines, toilets, special assistance facilities (wheelchairs), taxi service, toilets, World News shops, Travelex, Jumbo Jackpots gaming centre, and the Tourist Information desk.

                          Toilets are strategically located in both departure and arrival areas specially in catering areas. There are also toilets beside the Business Lounge at Gate 10-14, arrival halls and in the International Departure Lounge. Male toilets have full-size mirrors for better grooming, aside from the side mirrors located in the washing area, and also Braille signs for disabled visitors.

                          There are four World News shops located in both floors offering best sellers books, magazines, including confectionery, stationery and newspapers, and other travel products. It is recommended to bring your own pocket books unless otherwise you forgot to bring one, then you can avail 2 hard cover books for £20 or £12 for two paperbacks.

                          The over-18s gaming centre has the latest games and interactive machines for everyone's short-time entertainment and to try your gaming skills. There are also ATMs (Ulster Bank and Northern Ireland), and Travelex for quick and easy money withdrawals and currency exchanges.

                          An airport Information Desk is also available to provide flight information, passenger assistance and lost property service. A porter service is also available for immediate assistance through the helpline telephones on arrival at the airport.

                          It is worth to mention that there is a hotel near the airport for visitors who want relax and enjoy the countryside of Co Antrim or just to stay overnight catching early morning flights – a few miles away from the city centre. The Park Plaza is only 25 meters away from the terminal and it offers an affordable accommodation.

                          FINALLY, I always grab the latest BIA's free magazine, Connect Direct on travel updates. The magazine is a premier guide to travel and lifestyle covering a range of articles and featured discussions for passengers to browse inside the airport. Copies of the publication are located in both levels of the airport, particularly found in the Information desk counter in the departure concourse – at the top of the moving walkway before the Food Village area, and at the Tourist Information desk in arrival area.


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                            07.06.2007 20:31
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                            A great place for weekend escapades in Dublin

                            MY PREVIOUS VISITS TO DUBLIN were always a day-time engagement since it is only 4 hours car drive or 6 hours by bus (return) from Belfast. But during the fourth visit to the south of Ireland last Easter, my Irish friends and I decided to stay over night at Skylon Hotel. Frankly, the hotel is not new to us especially for my friends since they had the chance to book themselves few years ago, or they always park the car here during their day time visits.

                            One week prior to the holiday, my friends booked on-line for 99 euros for a triple bedroom night accommodation. A 20 euros deposit fee (for per night per room basis) was paid by credit card and the balance was paid upon arrival at the hotel front desk. After the on-line booking, an email was sent to confirm our accommodation. The email provides the details of the payment made, room rate and description, amount, cancellation and deposit policy, and a brief description of the direction to the hotel (if coming from the airport which takes only 10 minutes drive). I found out from the email that the deposit is non-transferable and no-refundable, thus cancellation should be done 2 days prior to the arrival resulting to no penalty. However, for unavoidable circumstances and can not meet the 2 day minimum allowance and non-arrival/no show-up, the remaining balance equivalent to the first night accommodation will be charged.

                            We left Belfast at 3pm on a fair weather and we arrived the hotel on time to explore the city before dark. The parking was not a problem even though it was fully occupied; we managed to get a space in just few minutes. The front desk personnel were efficient enough to finalise our accommodation, including the three card keys and the free-flowing tea/coffee making items. Carrying our personnel stuff (bags for our clothes, including extra food and drinks); we proceeded to the elevator and happily found our room at the fourth level. The hotel has only 5 floors, thus going up and down is not a problem which stairs are quite convenient to take as they are located at the middle of each floor. The stairs are not narrow, well-lighted and carpeted.

                            Opening doors using card keys sometimes is a tricky business. Since we were in a hurry to lie down and feel the clean bed sheets and pillows after a long travel, it took us a while to open the door. As expected, the room contains 3 separate single beds, chairs and tables, ironing board, drawers and hangers, coffee/tea making accessories, two TVs (the flat one on the wall was not working), towels and toiletries were properly arranged inside the toilet. Luckily, we have a big glass window facing the east which is very good to have a natural light coming in the room. Also, the hotel is quite aware of the noise problem in the building, and it seems that the remote control for the TV is fixed (permanently) in a minimum level just enough for people inside the room to hear without bothering the adjoining rooms. In general, the room is not really big for three people but it has a 'homely atmosphere' where everything we need is in place, except that the toilet does not have an exhaust fan. Anyway, we hurried up, had some sip of coffee, had quick showers and we proceeded to the city centre for a light meal with bottles of Guinness.

                            Well, it is not really a downside of the hotel for being 25 minutes walk away from the city centre. It is situated at the outskirt of Dublin but having a walk towards the centre is not a frustrating thing to do removing some extra calories! Having a taxi ride is an option at 12 euros from the city centre especially during late hours. Along the way, it is noticeable some distinct architectural designs as Dublin is much known for this colourful and bright doors. Like Belfast, it is easy to walk around the city with wide roads and friendly pedestrians. Banks are also accessible for quick euro withdrawals and having an Ulster Bank account; it is quite convenient to use it in the Republic despite the currency difference. We had a nice time walking around the city, visited some scenic attractions having the 'Sightseeing Tour' package of 15 euros per person.

                            During our stay, we took our meals outside the hotel since it is likely cheaper for us to have it outside for a wide range of choices. However, the hotel has restaurants and bars, including the lounges that provide wonderful areas to enjoy its food and drinks - burgers to pasta and beers to juices. In particular, the Cosmopolitan Bar has been renovated to provide meals everyday, while the Rendezvous Room Restaurant serves both breakfast and dinner, including a wide range of wines to choose from. The hotel is also a good venue for meetings, conferences and other business gatherings. It has also an internet connection, with one computer and printer set-up near the front desk area at 10 euros per hour. For people who have their own laptops/notebooks, the hotel is one of the 'hotspots' areas for wireless broadband access provided by Eircom. A brochure is available in the hotel for simple guide in accessing this wireless connection at affordable rates. In addition, there are drink dispensers or vending machines in every floor which quite convenient for emergency need. There are also take away stores, convenient shops and pubs, just few minutes walk from the hotel as alternatives, away from the busy atmosphere of the city centre.

                            FINALLY, the hotel is not really a grand place to stay but it offers a simple homely ambience for people who want to explore Dublin at a limited time. It is very accessible from both airport direction and coming from Belfast. Some attractions nearby include the popular 'Croke Park', 'Guinness' storehouse and the OConnell Street. Lastly, we had a good night sleep despite its location in a major road like Drumcondra Road, and I am looking forward for another short 'homely' experience at Skylon before the year ends.


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                              31.05.2007 19:42
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                              One of the architectural icons in Belfast, showcasing various cultural and arts events

                              THE WATERFRONT HALL is one of the architectural icons along Lagan River in Belfast, just besides Hilton Hotel and few meters away from the central train station and St Georges Market (3rd best food market in the UK). It is an entertainment and cultural venue for the past ten years, and it has been visited by prominent people from around the world, including Prince Charles who inaugurated the building in January 1997.

                              My first visit to the Hall was early last year when one of my colleagues invited me to join him as a guest companion in a one-day conference in Civil Engineering. It was an interesting event since the topic focused on conservation and renewal energy for buildings. The seminar was held in one of the small theatres at the second floor (right wing). As far I could remember the theatre has the state-of-the-art facilities, including comfortable seats, good sound-proofed walls, and well-lighted area.

                              Then my next visit was part of the 44th Belfast Festival (at Queens University) annual celebration, a 15-pound concert of Jose Cura a tenor/conductor. The concert was one of the highlights of the festival and also in the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Ulster Orchestra. The concert was held in the main auditorium the central entertainment area of the Hall with more than 2,000 seats, including a range of modern equipment for sound, lighting and special visual effects. I was not seated in front of the stage, but I had a good view of the member of the Orchestra and the performer at the choir area (Block W), just few meters below where I was seated. I also had a good perspective of the entire auditorium as well from the arena block areas to upper levels (terraces). It was a fine performance, however, there was a little problem with the microphone while the performer engaged himself with the audience which I could not hear clearly what he was saying.

                              In my recent visit (three weeks ago) to the Waterfront Hall was a surprise. My friends invited me to attend the 10th year Anniversary Gala concert an aid event for Marie Curie Care. Without any hesitation, I agreed to join them since the program will be an evening of entertainment, including the performance of Shane Ward and Ray Quinn (X-factor winners), Riverdance, and other local singers. Not to be late in the occasion, my friends and I decided to be there early, an hour before the show - this gave us the opportunity to look at the interiors of the hall. We proceeded to the Ticket Office and collected our free tickets since my friends told me that they got it thru a radio promo contest. The ticket is 32.50 pounds for the seats we got at Arena Block B less than 3 meters away from the stage. While waiting, we went to the second level where a bar/restaurant is located and we had a glass of Guinness. The area is very cosy with a friendly environment, with clear glass wall at one side fronting the River Lagan. We heard the last minute call for the show to start and we headed to the toilets before we went to the main auditorium. The toilets location is quite accessible in every level of the auditorium especially at the floor level which is only besides the auditoriums entrance doors in both wings of the hall. The program lasted for two hours and there was a 20 minutes interval.

                              Not to feel idle or bored during the interval, I told my friends that I will do a quick tour of the hall while they having another sip of Guinness at the same restaurant that we had prior the show. I started at the halls shop where assorted greeting cards, books, jewelleries, collectables and other gift items could be found at reasonable prices. From there, I walked towards the third level where there is another restaurant, quite similar to the previous restaurant. But the difference is that the set-up is much of a pub with rounded table with high chairs with much a bigger space, overlooking the entire stretch of the River Lagan. I did some photographs with no flash to prevent the camera flash to bounces back from the glass wall and create a blurry image. I also found out that the Hall is also the venue for various photo exhibits as displayed in the second and third levels.

                              During the program, I observed that the management is not really strict in using cameras and mobile phones inside the auditorium. Surprisingly, I was able to record the initial part of the program, especially the Riverdance performances. There were members of the halls staff in black uniforms approached some guests (including myself) not to use the camera with flash on. Anyway, my friends and I were perfectly satisfied with the program and it was announced at the end that the event will be aired on TV (the following week) which I had a chance to watch it again (with some parts were already edited) and saw myself seated while holding a camera!

                              Parking is not a problem in the area but a little bit expensive. Patrons can either use the Hilton Hotel or Lanyon Place multi-storey parking areas at the normal rate of 5 pounds. Otherwise, you can come early between 530pm and 7pm and pre-pay just 4 pounds. It is free parking if you want to visit the Ticket Box office within 15 minutes duration. It is a 10- minute walk from the City Hall and 5-minute walk from the central train station. The surrounding areas of Waterfront are popular for people who want to enjoy the quietness of the River Lagan, away from the busy city centre.

                              The modern architectural design of the whole structure/facade is made of clear thick glass, and steel frames which provide an excellent lighting effect in the exteriors of the Hall. Standing outside near the Lagan River, people who are having good drinks in the restaurants could be seen, and vice-versa for patrons could have a clearer perspective of the Laganside area, including the Titanic Quarter. The frontage area of the Hall is spacious with areas where people could sit down and relax or even to smoke (smoking inside public buildings are banned in Northern Ireland since last month) while waiting for the programme to start.

                              The venue has also a good access service particularly for disability individuals and because of this, it received recognitions for customer service from the Employers Federation on Disability and the O2 Ability Awards. Its membership to the Northern Ireland Arts and Disability Equality Charter is on-process which in the long term responsibility the Hall is committed to provide good physical access to the community, including policies, practices and relationships will be evaluated.

                              One of the magazines published by the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau describes the Waterfront Hall as one of the ''must-see city attractions''. This ''contemporary theatrical venue'' dominates the Lagan skyline with its distinctive bronze dome. This 2,000-seater venue has a ''superbly designed'' concert hall and it is also considered as an ''expression of Belfasts confidence'' as a modern European city and it portrays the ''dramatic regeneration'' or redevelopment of the Laganside.

                              FINALLY FOR THE RECORD, for the past 10 years the Waterfront has staged 3291 performances including 1080 conferences and meetings, and sold over 3 million tickets with over 4.5 million visitors.


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