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docpov

docpov
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    • Rock Band (Xbox 360) / Xbox 360 Game / 69 Readings / 68 Ratings
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      07.09.2008 12:08
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      (Rating)
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      Great fun to play on your own, with a group of friends or online. Find the musician within you.

      I bet a many of you have stood in front of your bedroom mirror playing the air guitar, imagining you were rocking in front of an adoring crowd, come on own up I can see you nodding from here.
      Rock Band gives you the chance to take that air guitar one giant step further, or the air drums if you prefer.
      Interested? Read on...

      The general premise of the game is a simple one, pick up the instruments and rock out.
      There is, however a great deal more to this game by Harmonix than that.
      If you have played guitar heroes, then you will have some idea of what the game is about, if you are new to the genre, then I will endeavour to enlighten you.
      It could take a while, simple the idea is, simple explaining it in print isn't.

      For this game you will need....

      To play Rockband you will need the game disc, a guitar controller (to play bass as well you will need to purchase another guitar controller), a drum controller and a microphone as well as, of course an X box (Will be available on other platforms shortly.) There is a slightly tricky bit for potential players; the game disc doesn't come with the instrument pack. More on that later.
      So you have plugged all your instruments into the USB connecter and inserted the game disc so you are now ready to rock.
      Well nearly, first you will need to make yourself a character to help through a music career. Once that is done you can play.

      For those about to rock...

      How you begin is up to you. If you happen to be on your own or just have no mates you can embark on a solo career, playing any one of the instruments or singing.
      If you do have some mates you can start a band on local multiplayer. This band can comprise any combination of the instruments from any two to all four.
      Both single player and band options take you on a tour around the world, playing different venues and different song sets until you finally get to the grand finale which is a marathon session comprising all the games 58 songs. You are going to have to allow yourself a lot of playing time for that one as there is no save option halfway through the gig. Throughout the tour you earn money and gain (or lose) fans, the more fans you have the bigger venues you can play. If you fail a song or abandon a gig you will lose fans.
      You fail a song by failing to hit a percentage of the notes. All songs are scored on a percentage basis and you can see statistics of how you did on each part of a song. There is a bonus system. Every so often there is a set of white notes, hit them perfectly and you get a bonus that doubles your current multiplier. Very useful for saving yourself as well if you are in danger of failing the song. In the multiplayer game you can use your bonus to save another band member who might have had trouble and failed the song by using your bonus to bring him back into the song.

      Time to play.

      To play a song you have to hit notes that appear on a runway on the screen. The coloured bars scroll down the screen in time with the music and it is up to you to strum the guitar and press the matching coloured button on the neck of the guitar. If you happen to be playing the drums then the same applies but you have to hit the matching coloured drum and press the foot pedal in time with the beat. If you are the budding vocalist you have to sing at the correct time and tone. Your words and pitch scroll across the top of the screen. This bit is similar to Singstar.
      The runway is overlaid on a backdrop of your character/characters playing a gig, giving the whole thing a lot more atmosphere. This is more for any spectators though I feel, because if you are playing you will need to concentrate on what you are doing.

      That is the general premise of the gameplay. There are four difficulty levels starting with easy, which for the guitar means that you play red, green and yellow notes that come slowly down the screen.
      Medium introduces the blue button and is a little quicker and has more notes to hit.
      Hard adds the orange button and again is faster and has more notes.
      Expert is just manic, full speed with more chords (hitting two or three colours at the same time) than the earlier levels and notes left right and centre, coming at you in an endless stream.
      The same applies to the bass although on most songs bass is slightly easier than the guitar.
      For drums you start off with all four colours and the foot pedal, however the speed is fairly slow and the foot pedal is few and far between. Going up through the levels adds pace and notes and more foot pedal. I think getting the rhythm and coordinating your hands and feet is the hardest bit of playing the drums.
      When you start playing you only have a few songs to conquer. As you beat songs you unlock more as well as unlocking new venues and being rewarded with new things you can buy at the music store, such as new guitars or clothes for your characters.

      Added to that are other game modes such as quickplay where you can choose the song you want to play and tug of war where you play a song against someone else, the winner being the one who hits the most notes.

      To unlock songs, the fastest way is to play through the song sets on single player using medium mode, once beaten you can play the songs on quickplay or any of the multiplayer modes.

      Practice makes perfect.

      There is also a tutorial mode to help you when you first start and a practice mode to help you nail that tricky solo. This is very helpful if you are stuck on a certain song or part of a song as you can slow down the speed to let you get the fingering right and then gradually increase the speed until you can do it on full speed.
      Trust me there are going to be bits that you think you will never master. On some of the harder songs some of the solos are just manic.


      Online.

      The internet allows you to form bands across the world. Join with other bands or get musicians for yours.
      There is an online store from where you can buy new songs. At the moment new songs are being added weekly.
      You can set up an Xbox live online account (if you don't already have one) and buy credits with which you can buy new songs. They will cost you either eighty or one hundred and sixty credits per song or you can buy album or song set packs. It isn't cheap, works out at £1.37 per song for a 160 credit song, but having an ever increasing list of songs available greatly enhances the games longevity.

      The music.

      I am sure from the title of the game you will have surmised that most of the music is from the Rock genre. I will add a full track listing to the bottom of this review.
      The range of material is quite wide and with downloadable songs it is getting wider all the time. At the time of writing there are close to 200 songs available for download from acts as diverse as Oasis, Duran Duran, Devo, Judas Priest, Rush, The B52's, The Police and Avenged Sevenfold to name but a few. This total will continue to grow as more and more songs and acts are added.

      Purchasing.

      The downside, yes there had to be one.
      Buying Rock Band is not a cheap exercise. The pricing is actually outrageous. The fact that you have to buy the game disc and the instrument pack separately is ridiculous as neither is any good without the other.
      Add that to the fact that we have to pay nearly double what it cost in America is almost criminal.
      At time of writing Amazon were selling the game for £39.98 and the instrument pack for £99.98. That is a total of £140 for the whole thing. However that is a lot cheaper than the full RRC and I think with Rock Band 2 on the horizon the price will continue to drop a little.

      Conclusion.

      I love this game, it is great fun played as a band. We spend hours at it and have become gradually better at it.
      Practice makes perfect, they say and in the case 9of this game that saying is certainly true. The solo option is a quick way to unlock all the songs and it is also a great way to practice and become the star of your band.
      It is a great party game and can be enjoyed by a very wide range both of age and sex.
      Even my six year old has a go, maybe the guitar is a bit much for her little fingers yet but she enjoys the singing and has a go at bashing the drums.

      It is the pricing that has forced me to drop my rating by a star. If the game came with the instruments I would wholeheartedly award this fantastic game the full five stars.

      I should mention that there have been grumblings on the internet about the fragility of the instruments, especially the foot pedal on the drums. So far mine are all still in one piece so hopefully that won't be an issue for me or you, the perspective purchaser.

      The rock band songs (in no particular order)
      * Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter"
      * Aerosmith "Train Kept a Rollin'"
      * The Who "Won't Get Fooled Again"
      * Boston "Foreplay/Long Time"
      * Mountain "Mississippi Queen"
      * The Police "Next to You"
      * David Bowie "Suffragette City"
      * Black Sabbath "Paranoid"
      * Deep Purple "Highway Star"
      * KISS "Detroit Rock City"
      * Molly Hatchet "Flirtin' With Disaster"
      * The Outlaws "Green Grass & High Tides"
      * Sweet "Ballroom Blitz"
      * Rush "Tom Sawyer"
      * Blue Oyster Cult "Don't Fear the Reaper"
      * Bon Jovi "Wanted Dead or Alive"
      * The Clash "Should I Stay or Should I Go"
      * Faith No More "Epic"
      * Pixies "Wave of Mutilation"
      * R.E.M. "Orange Crush"
      * Iron Maiden "Run to the Hills"
      * Foo Fighters "Learn to Fly"
      * Metallica "Enter Sandman"
      * Nirvana "In Bloom"
      * Stone Temple Pilots "Vasoline"
      * Weezer "Say It Ain't So"
      * Smashing Pumpkins "Cherub Rock"
      * Radiohead "Creep"
      * Beastie Boys "Sabotage"
      * Hole "Celebrity Skin"
      * Garbage "I Think I'm Paranoid"
      * Soundgarden "Black Hole Sun"
      * The Hives "Main Offender"
      * Queens of the Stone Age "Go With the Flow"
      * The Strokes "Reptilia"
      * Jet "Are You Gonna Be My Girl"
      * OK Go "Here It Goes Again"
      * The Ramones "Blitzkrieg Bop"
      * Nine Inch Nails "The Hand That Feeds"
      * Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Maps"
      * Red Hot Chili Peppers "Dani California"
      * Fallout Boy "Dead on Arrival"
      * The Killers "When You Were Young"
      * New Pornographers "Electric Version"
      * Bang Camaro "Pleasure (Pleasure)"
      * Crooked X "Nightmare"
      * Death of the Cool "Can't Let Go"
      * Flyleaf "I'm So Sick"
      * Freezepop "Brainpower"
      * Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives "I Get By"
      * The Acro-Bats "Day Late, Dollar Short"
      * The Konks "29 Fingers"
      * The Mother Hips "Time We Had"
      * Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld "Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld"
      * Tribe "Outside"
      * Vagiant "Seven"
      * Coheed & Cambria "Welcome Home"
      * Anarchy Club "Blood Doll"

      The European version also includes the following tracks.

      * Blur - "Beetlebum"
      * Die Toten Hosen - "Hier Kommt Alex"
      * H-BlockX - "Countdown To Insanity"
      * Juli - "Perfekte Welle"
      * Pleymo - "New Wave"
      * Tokio Hotel - "Monsoon"
      * Muse - "Hysteria"
      * Oasis - "Rock N Roll Star"
      * Les Wampas - "Manu Chao

      Rock on.

      ©Docpov Sept 2008

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      • Opera Web Browser / Communication / 42 Readings / 40 Ratings
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        04.05.2008 17:10
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        A free web browser thats stable reliable and feature packed

        I have recently had a PC disaster, my hard drive gave up the ghost and I lost everything and so the joyous task of reinstalling began. All went well until it came to reinstalling my web browser. I have always used Yahoo in conjunction with internet explorer but on reinstall I had major issues with both.
        I spend upwards of eight hours a day performing various tasks on the internet so my browser is one of the most important pieces of software for me. Now, as Explorer wanted to crash every five minutes and Yahoo were slow in getting back to me to solve my issue with them, I decided to try Opera.

        A little bit of history.

        Opera was first started as a research project for a company called Telenor in Norway. This was way back in 1994. Since then the browser has gone through many changes and come up with new features that have been taken up by other browser companies such as tabbed browsing.
        This version, Opera 9 is the newest release, although there is a new version, 9.5 available in beta.

        The product

        Opera is a browser that enables you to connect to the multitude of web sites around the world. It is fully customisable and has safety features making it safe and secure and the best bit is that it is FREE.
        The browser is fast, that is one of its selling points. It is certainly faster than Yahoo. I don't know how it would compare to firefox or mozilla, but for me it is an improvement on what I was used to so I am happy with that.
        The browser is downloadable from the Opera web site. Download and installation is quick and easy as is registration to the web site.

        Features

        The browser in its raw state comes up as a clean screen, with no advertising at all. Buttons on the toolbar at the top of the screen give you access to various tools along with the address box and a search box. There is a pull down menu on the search box that enables you to use a range of search engines
        There are some tools here that are designed to make your browsing faster and more straightforward.

        Backwards and forwards.
        As well as green arrows to take you either forwards or backwards to previously viewed screens there are blue double arrows that give you a fast forward opportunity. Basically what it does is take you straight back to the first page you visited on a site. This is useful if you have visited several pages and want to go back quickly without having to search for a home page button.
        The only drawback is if you hit the button by mistake instead of the normal back button.

        Magic wand.
        This feature is a one hit login button. You have visited a site and logged in before, you have asked your browser to remember your password and username, with this feature you only have to hit the wand button and it will log in for you.

        Tabbed browsing.
        This feature enables you to have several windows open within the same window which allows to switch between them faster.
        If you hover your mouse over the tab you will see a screen shot of the page, useful if you have similar sites open or different pages from the same site so you can see which tab is which.
        When you open a new tab it gives you a new screen containing speed dial.
        This feature is very useful for me as I usually have at least six or seven sites and pages open at the same time

        Speed dial.
        I like this feature. You can have up to nine sites that you use regularly showing as screen shots. Just click on the one you want and it opens a new tab with one click. From there click on the wand and you have opened the page and logged in with two clicks.

        Fraud protection.
        When you visit a site a question mark appears at the end of the address bar. If you click on that the site is tested to see if it is fraudulent or a trusted site. An information box will come up to tell you if the site has been verified by a third party or not and will also inform you if the site is on the blacklist of fraudulent sites. It also tells you whether or not exchanging information is secure or not.
        Once a site has been verified the question mark is replaced with an i. Also if the connection is secure it shows you a locked padlock and the name of the secure site
        This feature can be enabled to check sites automatically when you visit.
        I have yet to visit a fraudulent site so I don't know if the warning box comes up automatically, I would presume it does however.
        An efficient pop up blocker also keeps away those annoying pop ups and so far I have found it to be the most efficient of any browser I have used.

        Site preferences.
        If you want to change the way you view a certain site, a right click enables you to change a wide range of characteristics. These include whether or not you want to allow popups and whether or not to allow cookies. It even shows you a list of cookies to enable you to choose which to allow. There are many choices about appearance and whether you want to allow javascript etc.


        Mouse gestures and keyboard shortcuts.
        Not sure about this yet, haven't tried it out yet. Basically this feature allows you to use certain mouse gestures to perform common tasks quickly.
        For example holding the right mouse button down and quickly moving the mouse to the left takes you back to the previous page.
        There are sixteen different movements that do different tasks. I am not sue that I would remember them all and would probably spend more time looking them up than it would take to perform the task. Maybe it is something that I will look into further as my experience with the browser grows.
        The keyboard shortcuts are the same. There are many more of them, most using the shift key in conjunction with another. There are so many again that I think I would have a job remembering them. That said if I used either the mouse or keyboard shortcuts regularly and I did manage to remember them then they would be a good time saving device.

        Navigation by voice.
        If you have a microphone you can use this feature top navigate using voice commands for simple things like "up" "down" "new page" etc.

        Notebook.
        If you want to save notes on a certain web page or save a section of text you can easily do it using this feature.
        Simply highlight the text you want to save and copy it to notebook and it will be saved along with the web address thus it works as a bookmark along with your note.

        Widgets
        These are little programmettes that run from your browser. There are many different ones ranging from clocks to RSS feeds or even virtual fish tanks.
        A little warning, these programmes do use processing power so if you have an older PC or a low power one if you install widgets you may well notice a drop in performance.

        Download manager.
        This helps you keep an eye on how your downloads are progressing and if there is a problem.

        Bit torrent
        The download tool is included. I know that it is sometimes associated with dodgy downloading but it can have its legitimate uses as well.

        Tools
        There are a wide range of functions to discover in the drop down menus at the top of the screen. This includes a tool to customise your homepage by adding a side bar or a myriad of other settings. There are too many settings and changes you can make here to mention them all.

        Customisation

        If you register at the Opera web site there are a wide range of things to customise your browser.
        You have a wide range of skins to choose from. These change the appearance of the page and buttons.
        There is a vast array of widgets available on the site, hundreds of them. Some useful some entertaining, it is worth a look through, I am sure there will be some that take your fancy.
        You can change your language on the site should you wish.
        Also on the site there is a large community including forums and blogs where I am sure you would be able to find answers to any issues and much, much more information about customisation and new features. Any new features and improvements, many by community members, are available to download for free from the site.


        The downside.

        Yes I suppose there had to be one.
        Something is missing that I find rather annoying. There is no progress bar to tell you how your page loading is doing.
        Most pages I have found load in two or three seconds but some take longer and I am left wondering if the page is going to load or not.
        There is no indication what is happening at all.
        In the overall scheme of things I suppose this is a minor grumble especially as the whole thing is free but it does seem to be something of an oversight by Opera that maybe should be looked at in future releases.
        Occasionally I have found little glitches while pages are loading but they are minor and fairly far between so apart from that I have yet to find a real downside.

        Any other business.
        Another nifty feature is that should your pc crash for any reason or even if you shut down then Opera will remember any open tabs so that your pages are still available when you log back in. Of course you will have to re-log in should that be required but with the wand that is a matter of a couple of clicks.

        Opera is available for windows, MAC and Linux. There are also versions available for your Palm or mobile although I think you have to pay for those.

        Summary.

        So far I have found this to be the best browser I have tried. It seems stable and reliable and it is certainly faster than my old browsers.
        I am sure I am going to discover many more features as I continue to use the browser and keep discovering as new ones are added. The possibilities are almost endless
        It is amazing to think that Opera is free. I think it is a great product and have no hesitation in recommending it based on my use so far.
        I will update should I find any concerns as my use continues.
        I will certainly be having a look at the 9.5 version when it comes out of beta as I am sure there will be many new features added to make this an even more impressive product.

        ©Docpov May 2008

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        • World Trade Center (DVD) / DVD / 60 Readings / 59 Ratings
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          27.04.2008 15:50
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          The true story of the day that changed the world.

          Reviewing the film only.

          There are not many of us whose lives have not been affected by the events of Nine/ Eleven.
          That was the day the world changed, a day we will never forget and who knows what other effects the events of that day will have on us in the future.

          This is a film that I didn't watch when it came out, in fact the only reason I watched it last night was because there was nothing on the TV that I wanted to watch. Now that I have though I am glad I did. Whilst not being the greatest film from an entertainment point of view, it did much to remind me of the horrific events of that day and I think that is the point of the film, to act as a reminder and memorial rather than to entertain.

          The film was always going to be sensitive and controversial. Opinion was and still is split as to whether it should have been made at all. Is it right to make entertainment out of an event that destroyed so many lives? Is it right to bring to the screen an accurate reminder of those appalling events?
          Before I watched it I think I was of the opinion that it shouldn't have been made, but having seen it I think my thoughts have changed somewhat. It reminded me of things that the past seven years had dulled and I think the events shouldn't be forgotten. Maybe reading this you may disagree and I am sure some of you will. Much as opinion was split about whether the film should have been made so is opinion as to whether it should be watched. This was always going to be the case and I think a lot depends on your reasons for watching it. If you are looking for a couple of hours of disaster movie entertainment then there are many such films that are more suited to your entertainment and are probably better films. If however, you want a reminder of that fateful day then perhaps this is worth watching.

          To the film itself.

          The film is a factual true story account of what happened the day the world changed when the planes hit the World Trade Center.

          There were so many angles this film could have been approached from. Such was the enormity of the disaster that so many focal points could have been picked.
          Oliver Stone, the director chose to approach the subject from the point of view of two Port Authority police officers, John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage, not the best casting for this role, I don't think) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) and their families. The film follows how the tragedy affected them as the events unfold.

          McLoughlin and Jimero enter the Trade Center as part of the emergency response teams after the second plane has struck. When the building collapses they, together with their squad are buried under the rubble.
          We meet their families as they desperately wait for news, the film cutting between them and their trapped loved ones.
          We discover something of the home life of their families and through flashbacks are told somewhat of who they are and what their home life was like, John, the workaholic with four children and his wife, Donna (Maria Bello.) Will, with a pregnant young wife, Allison (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and a small daughter. The home lives are realistically portrayed with John's marriage in need of some work whilst Will is still in the throes of young love. As the film unfolds we see into their lives and how attitudes and feelings are affected by the tragedy.
          As well as the main characters stories being told we are kept informed throughout unfolding events by way of news reports and the portrayal of the rescue attempts going on above John and Will. The news reports and views of the people as the story unfold are confused and realistic to the turmoil and confusion of the day. Another good point was the way the showing of reports from all over the world showed the global impact the events had.

          In many disaster movies the focal point of the film is usually the moment of disaster, a moment that is graphically shown from numerous angles, in slow motion and any other way that will have dramatic effect. It would have been wrong for this film to portray that dreadful moment in that way and it doesn't do so. The actual impact is inferred rather than shown. The shadow of a plane passing over sunlit buildings, whilst respectful actually has a great impact as we all know what happened next.
          One thing that was included that maybe shouldn't have been was the falling man, that is something that disturbed me at the time and I didn't really need a reminder of the terror that would drive someone to do that.

          The story is told in what is meant to be a heroic manner showing the way that all of New York was brought together by the disaster. This works to a point but could have been taken further I think. Still it was the right approach to take rather than over portraying the angry side which would have been wrong. It is good that the conspiracy theories weren't included either, as that would have made the film totally wrong, both for degrading the memory of the dead and as the film was about the immediate events, they wouldn't have fitted with the film at all.

          There are things in the film that didn't quite work, although I don't know how they could have been done differently given they only had the length of a film. Time, there was no real feel of the hours and hours they were stuck beneath the rubble. In some ways it comes across that they were down there for a while and then rescuers just came along and got them out. Very far from the agonising search for survivors in reality but how it could have been done differently I don't know.
          Something else that doesn't sit quite right is the portrayal of Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon) and Jason Thomas (William Mapother.) They are two Marines who joined the hunt for survivors and were the ones who found the two police officers. While the portrayal was factually accurate something about the way that it was done isn't quite right. Karnes portrayal doesn't come across as how I have heard about his contribution, he is portrayed almost in a robotic way and that didn't seem right. Also Thomas is played by a white actor when in fact he was black, in my mind a grave error for a supposedly true story.
          A point of interest about Sergeant Thomas is that last year he was helped by the show, Extreme Makeover Home Edition when the show rebuilt his family's home. The programme visited ground zero and there was an interview with the real McLoughlin and Jimeno.

          The film has been and always was going to be controversial, many said it shouldn't be made including some of the relatives of those portrayed. Others however, thought that it should be made as a memorial to those who died. Up to you which viewpoint you agree with. It is also up to you whether you watch the film. I am not going to say you should or shouldn't. Such is the nature of the subject matter that I think individual feelings should say whether or not you want to watch. Maybe as time has passed the controversy has dwindled a little as the events become part of history, maybe it is good to have them brought into focus again so we don't let that dreadful day just become part of history. Such is my view and now I have watched the film I am glad I did. It isn't the greatest film but as a factual reminder of those terrible events, it worked for me.
          At the end of the film there is explanation of what happened to the two officers in the aftermath of the tragedy and also a dedication to all the Port Authority police officers who lost their lives with them all individually named.

          In summary, this is not a great film to watch from a purely entertaining view but I think it is an important film to remember the events that changed the world. I have given it three stars as I think it could have been done better but I am glad I watched it none the less.

          Bits and pieces.
          Directed by Oliver Stone
          Running time 129 minutes
          First released in this country 29/ 11 / 2006


          ©Docpov April 2008

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          • ADVFN / Internet Site / 54 Readings / 46 Ratings
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            23.02.2008 15:21
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            A wide range of tools to help with investment decisions.

            The world of the financial markets is very a murky place. If you have no experience and no idea how they work then starting out can be a very daunting prospect indeed.
            Screens of figures, bulls and bears, market cap, RNS, EPS, PE ratio, what the hell is he talking about?
            Sites like ADVanced Financial Network (ADVFN) are a great window into what for the uninitiated is virtually a foreign language. It won't make you money per-se but it holds some fine tools to help you.
            There is so much information available on ADFVN that much research is going to be needed just to use the site. I will try to go through this review as simply as possible but the subject matter is so complicated and involved that I think this will be a mammoth task. Anyway here goes.

            The site itself

            ADVFN holds tools and research facilities to help investors make qualified decisions about a world of stocks and shares. Facts and figures abound and together with your own research, will enable you to hopefully make investment decisions that will make you money.
            There is so much to this site that I would be here all week going into detail about each and every section so I will try to give an overview of the main highlights of the site and then if you are interested you can explore the myriad of others at your leisure.

            A word on investing

            You can't invest as such on this site. For that you need to open a broker account with either one of the main banks or a specific brokerage house. Once you have an account with them you can then put money into that account and through the broker buy and sell shares on the financial market. What this site does is to provide you with the tools to decide which shares to invest in.

            Home page

            Confusion will reign for the first time visitor to the site as soon as the first page comes up. It is poorly designed in my opinion. If you are visiting as a complete novice to the financial world it doesn't make your introduction any easier. Mind you in its defence I think the whole site expects users to have at least a basic knowledge of how the financial world works.
            Look-wise the page is full of financial adverts with charts and lists mixed in giving the whole page a messy look that I think lets down the rest of what is an excellent site.
            This page gives you the chance to register for free (more on that later) There are also links to all the main pages of the site.

            Monitor

            This is possibly the most useful page on the whole site and the one that most new visitors will have come to the site for.
            This is where you will find live prices of stocks on the markets. Trades and changes in share price are shown in real time. This is the place to keep an eye on how your investments are doing.
            Note
            This service is only available to free users for a few minutes a day. If you want unlimited access you will have to pay for it via one of their membership scales, (explained later)

            The page itself is a large table of numbers in three colours.
            Green - no change.
            Red - the price has gone down.
            Blue - the price has gone up.
            The top section shows Indices such as the FTSE and the Dow Jones in the US
            Next down are the FX figures which deal with the currency market.
            The third section is the one investors are most interested in There are a set of well known shares set up in this section when you first visit but it is easy to delete these and put up the ones you either own or are interested in.
            The chart shows you any % change, price change, bid price (the price you would receive if you sold), offer price (the price you would expect to pay to buy) and daily high and low price together with the price they started the day at. There are also figures for the latest trades showing trade price, amount of shares and the time they were traded.
            It is quite exciting to see those little numbers go blue and if they go blue several times in succession it is a real buzz when you think how much you are making.
            One thing I have noticed is that sometimes buys are reported as sells and vice versa, maybe not the sites fault but just something to be aware of as it could change the balance of the trade volumes.


            Charts

            More charts than you could shake a stick at. You can find charts here for any listed company. There are charts from Intraday (one days trading) through to progress of the chosen company for any period up to five years. Very useful tools when you want to see how the company has been fairing over a period of times.
            There are interactive features to the charts as well. You can add a myriad of charting tools to help you understand what the share price has been doing or to annotate for further reference.

            Trades

            What it says. This is a list of the days trades for a particular company, of course you can choose which company you wish to examine.
            The list shows buys and sells and details of time and price as well as how many shares were traded. It also shows what kind of trade it is which can sometimes be helpful.
            Seeing the days trades like that is useful to see how sentiment in the company is fairing. This is helpful to determine sentiment towards the company. It also could help to make buying or selling decisions if there is a sudden mass of big sells or buys it could be a clue as to something about to happen with the company, news or results perhaps.

            News

            Here is the place to find financial news on the myriad of companies trading on the worlds markets.
            It is possible to select the company you are interested in and see news just for them.
            Always handy as prices move most when news comes out from companies.

            Financials

            The financials page offers a vast array of financial information about the company you are interested in. To mention just a few of the facts available on this page, you can find what dividends the company has paid out over the last few years. There are also figures and charts that show the financial state of the company and fundamentals like their most recent balance sheet, profit and loss account and cash flow statement.

            Toplists

            This page is a page of links to many pages that show a large range of lists for example top movers or highest volume to name but a couple from many choices.
            It is always handy to know what shares have a large interest shown in them as something might be happening or about to happen that could affect the share price.

            Alerts

            The alerts allow you to set up many e mail alerts for a wide range of happenings. For example, if the price of a share has gone up or down by a chosen percentage or if there is a news item released, they are just an example of the many choices.

            Portfolio

            After the monitor, this is perhaps the page I use most.
            The portfolio enables you to keep a record of your investments. Once you have bought shares in a range of companies you can list them in your portfolio, putting in information like how many you bought and at what price per share. Add in the charges you paid and it will calculate the purchase price.
            Once that is listed it then shows you what they are worth at the current price and the amount you have made or lost in the current days trading. It shows you the prices on a bid basis so you know exactly what you would make should you choose to sell
            Also useful is the average price. This is the price at which you break even. This is very useful to see, if you have bought shares in a certain stock on separate occasions at different prices the average is very important to know and having on the screen worked out for you is a lot easier than trying to do it yourself.
            There are totals shown so you can see at a glance how your portfolio is performing.
            All the above information is laid out in an easy to understand table and is only a part of the portfolio.
            There are tabs that show you a list of your transactions complete with dates and full details.
            There is also a profit and loss account sheet which shows you haw much profit or loss you have made on your total dealings and individual transactions.
            A feature of this portfolio that is available to paying users is the streaming of prices so you have a "live" worth of your holdings. This is very valuable if you are day trading or are looking to sell at a certain price as you will know immediately when your price is met.

            Free bulletin board

            This is as it says a free board so anyone can post. Names are shown in two colours, blue for paying posters and black for those who are free members. In reality I have found that the colour doesn't make all that much difference to the quality of the posts.
            There are thousands of threads, mostly for individual companies. They hold charts and company information in the headers and then the posts below. The board is very well used and a wealth of information can be obtained but please read the warning below.

            Premium bulletin board

            This board is for paying members only and can't be seen by public members. The threads are moderated more than the free ones.
            The posts on the free board can be seen on the threads in the premium section.
            I must admit that I was slightly disappointed by the number of posts and threads in this section when compared to the free boards and find that although I do check the premium ones, I tend to read the free ones more often. Again the warning applies to the board as well.

            Warning

            Whilst there is very good information to be found on these and any financial bulletin boards for that matter, you should not rely on those opinions as financial advice. A lot of posters put up very good info and do so in good faith but a minority don't. They post lies and half truths that could sway you to either buy or sell when this is the wrong thing to do. So please, by all means take note of info posted on the boards but do your own research to find the validity of the advice before buying or selling.
            Paid for Options

            For the free option you get use of the live monitor for a few minutes a day. All other prices are delayed by fifteen minutes. You can build your portfolio and have access to much of the financial information and the free bulletin board.
            There are ten differing paid for options ranging form UK silver (cost £11.95 pcm) which gives you unlimited monitor time for the London market, live streaming for your portfolio as well as more in depth financial information and access to the premium bulletin board.
            More options such as access to level two trading and live streaming for world markets is available as you go up through the options.
            Prices range from £11.95pcm up to £129.99 for the top level.
            I have found that the first level gives me most of what I require at this stage of my investing and as I am not dealing in large quantities can't really justify nor need the higher options. They are really for people who do it professionally.

            My View and any other business

            I have tried to keep this as simple as I can but the financial world is very complicated and so of course this site looks mind bogglingly confusing at first sight.
            There is so much information available that I have only scratched the surface here.
            I have found the site to be an invaluable source of information as well as a great way to keep track of my investments.
            Once you get the hang of what is where it becomes a lot clearer and is very easy to use. It does take a little while to find your way around though so be prepared to spend a little time exploring.
            Throughout the site are shortcuts from one section to another that are very useful to get information quickly and easily.
            So that's it, I rate this site highly for the wealth of information and eventual ease of use.

            And remember;
            ALWAYS
            do your own research before making an investment decision.

            © Docpov February 2008

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            • More +
              14.07.2007 12:45
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              Written a masterpiece? maybe Troubador can help you publish.

              As some of you might know we are about to have our first novel published, as written about in another review. After that review I was asked for more information on the company responsible for publishing our masterpiece.

              The publishing world is a notoriously difficult world to gain a foothold in. It is your typical catch 22 situation; publishers don’t want to know if you are a first time or an inexperienced writer but you can’t gain experience and exposure if you can’t get a publisher.
              This is where the world of the self publisher comes into its own. This too is not without its difficulties, apart from coming up with the money to pay to have your masterpiece turned from a manuscript into a novel it is a minefield finding the publisher that is right for you.
              There are so many companies offering to turn you into a novelist and it is not any easy task to decide which company offers the best package for you. In our case after careful consideration we chose Troubador publishing under their Matador press.

              Troubador publishing.

              Founded in the 1980’s the company was at first involved just in the production of academic texts but in the late 1990’s expanded into different areas including fiction and non fiction covering a wide range of subjects. This expanded area is covered under the mantle of Matador self publishing, the part of the company we are using.
              The company has different sections dealing with different kinds of books.
              The Italian studies section deals with many facets of Italian life. Emerging Communication and service technologies along with communication ethics are both series of books and papers dealing with technological information.
              The T-2 imprint publishes a small number of fiction and non fiction titles each year.
              Troubador also deal with many academic texts and offer a wide range of services in that field including editing, design and publication.
              The Matador press is the self publishing part of troubadour where we have our experience. Matador publishes a wide range of works of both fiction and non fiction.

              Our experience.

              Once we had written a large proportion of Halleswell hall there came a time when we had to decide what we were going to do with the finished article. We were happy with what we had written and seriously considered sending the manuscript to big publishing houses. However, on doing a large amount of research we found that it was going to be almost impossible to have them read our work let alone agree to print it.
              On a large publication run there are so many costs involved that unless they are certain to make a good return on their investment most of them won’t touch new authors, indeed most of them won’t even look at your work unless it comes through an agent and even then the chances are slim. Of course finding an agent is no easy task either, in fact most of the reputable ones are almost as hard to find as publishers. The world of books is such a crowded marketplace that none of them are prepared to take a risk on an unknown. Understandable to a point but that didn’t really help us too much.

              So we looked at the self publishing market. This too is crowded with many companies offering to make you a novelist. It is hard to decide which one to go for, many seem to offer a great deal for not a huge amount of money but in this market you get what you pay for and a stunning deal will possibly leave you disappointed when you see the finished article. Others will do it for you but it will cost you a fortune and then again there are the vanity publishes who will tell you that your work is the best they have ever read and then proceed to rip you off left right and centre. I ought to say at this point that not all of them are likely to rip you off but I have certainly heard some horror stories about some of them.

              That was our position when we found the Troubador website. The tone and the enormous amount of information available to the budding novelist on their site really impressed us. It stated plainly what to expect from entering into the world of publishing and what to expect from their services. Also they state that they don’t take all work offered to them and if it is not up to standard they will advise you that it is probably not worth your while spending the money.
              A phone call to them explaining what we wanted to achieve convinced us that we had made the right choice, Jeremy was very helpful and knowledgeable and laid out very plainly what we could expect from the process, should he accept our work as up to a good enough standard to make going ahead viable.

              The next step was to send a copy of Halleswell Hall for evaluation and after a few days nervous wait we received the go ahead. The wheels were set in motion and our publishing dream was about to start to become a reality.
              Troubador offer a wide range of services to help your work become as successful as it can do.
              At this stage there are decisions to make as to which services you wish to use, of course there is a charge for whichever services you choose but it is up to the individual to decide which is suited to the project in hand although there is advice available as to how the services work and which might be of use.

              The full publishing service includes providing proofs, ISBN allocation, registration, legal deposit, bar code and inclusion in Amazon and WH Smith’s internet bookshop.
              This is called Prepress and cost us £740.00
              The printing part of the service costs depend on number of copies and number of pages to be printed. Of course the more copies you have printed the cheaper it becomes.

              As an example of our book for 100 copies it would have cost us £14.60 a copy.
              For 500 £6.04 a copy.
              For 1000 copies £3.56 a copy.
              So you see that to make it financially viable you need to have a goodly amount of copies printed to make it worthwhile or to even cover your costs.
              There are extras available such as their marketing and distribution services which include sending out review copies and arranging media coverage as well as distribution and stock fulfilment. The basic cost of this is £350.00 plus postage.

              Also they will hold copies of your book for sales arising from bookshops and distributors. This costs 15% of the cover price. Also it needs to be stated here that the bookshops take their cut too and its not a small one, between 35 and 60% of the cover price. That means that after you have paid for the book to be printed and the bookshops and publishers have had their cut there is very little left for the author which I think is a little wrong, well I think it is a very large chunk for the bookshops to take but that’s the market and very little that I can do to change it.

              Other services such as proof reading are available for a fee too.
              So you can see that a self published book is never going to make an author a millionaire, what it does do however is get your foot in the door. If your book does take off and achieve notable sales then there is always the chance that a bigger publisher will take up your work or the next time you have a book ready for publishing they might be more willing to give you a hearing should your self published work have been a success.

              Back to the publishing process.
              Once you have sent your manuscript top them they proceed to start to turn it into a book. A typeset proof is sent to you to check through for errors and any corrections are made and the proof is returned. This process continues until you, the author are as sure as you can be that errors have been eliminated. Of course should you not want to undertake this task, and task it is I can assure you, then proof reading is available from Troubador for a cost. With hindsight I think we might have been better to have employed this service rather than trying to do it ourselves. It is a big job and as we were so close to the work I think it made it harder to be objective and to notice errors.

              So proof done and as perfect as it can be then it is sent off to the printers to be printed and bound.
              Concurrent with that word proof a cover proof is produced. This is either from the authors design or Troubador will design one for you, again of course for a fee.
              Once the cover is approved its full steam ahead for publication. This sounds simple enough but it is time consuming and takes several months depending of course on individual cases, but from our example from receiving the first proof till today when delivery is imminent it has taken just over three months.

              That is where we are now, awaiting delivery of the finished article. Excitement abounds and I really can’t wait to see the first copy of our hard work.

              So what are Troubador like to deal with?

              I have been very impressed. Communication has been first class and all our questions and queries have been answered promptly and to our satisfaction. They are an easy company to deal with and are friendly and helpful.
              The relationship doesn’t finish with the publication. Our book will feature in their bookshop and they are keeping a certain amount of copies to deal with orders from both their site and online bookshops. If Halleswell Hall sells as well as we hope then it is easy to get reprints. There is a three week time span to create another run of your work. This can be ongoing for as long as you are selling copies and the type runs can be of as many copies as you wish. This will cost the same as your original cost per copy price.

              Would I recommend Troubador?

              If you wish to spend the money to fulfil a wish to be a published author and if the self publishing route is the one you choose then yes I would recommend Troubador. I think they have done us very well although the proof of the pudding is in the eating, when we receive the copies of the book, I am glad we decided to go with them and should we decide to go down the same route for the novel we are working on now I would have no hesitation using them again.

              If you are interested then further detailed information can be found on their website
              www.troubador.co.uk.

              © Docpov July 2007

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              • Writing / Discussion / 85 Readings / 74 Ratings
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                19.06.2007 20:19
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                Hard work and time consuming, very rewarding and there is always that small chance of great success

                Writing a novel

                It’s a big subject; it’s a lot of hard work. It’s a minefield but at the same time it is rewarding and sometimes great fun to do.
                I don’t know that I am in a position to hand out advice really but maybe if I recount our experience then maybe that will be advice of a sort, perhaps.

                It was at the start of last year, sometime in January I think. I had been chatting to Lisa, (queenelf on dooyoo,) we had just finished NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month,) where we both successfully completed the 50000 words in a month competition. During our chats it was suggested that maybe we should attempt to write something between us. We were on a high from our success and so over the next couple of months decided to do a collection of short stories and proceeded to hand ideas back and forth.
                Eventually we decided to do a themed collection, have a house as the focal point of an assortment of stories. It would work, we were sure of it.
                Ideas and planning for how the stories would fit together soon brought us to the conclusion that we had come across an idea that had turned from a collection of stories into a novel. The story ideas soon became linked together and themes started to flow through them making the work a single entity rather than what we had at first envisaged. This took some months and several hundred E mails. Yes you are correct; the whole thing was done via Email. Lisa and I have never met; in fact we live at opposite sides of the country.

                It took us nearly a year to have a completed manuscript, many rewrites of this or that bit and a couple of times going back and changing whole chapters for better ideas.
                It was our first attempt at doing anything of that scale and we dived right in, starting to write and then researching as we went along. We had little idea of how the story was going to end as we progressed, probably why we needed to adjust sections. It was a learning experience and believe me, we learned a lot in that year. I think both of us were better writers by the end of it so for that alone it was a worthwhile task.
                We have now started work on our second novel. We know more what we are doing this time and did weeks of research and planning before writing a word. We know where the story is going, we know our characters and we basically know what each chapter is to contain, of course it is not all set in stone and some things will change as we progress but knowing where we are headed is certainly a good thing.

                So we have a manuscript, now what. Now the hard work starts. There are going to be errors in the manuscript, lots of them, missing punctuation or words that don’t fit. Sentences that don’t make sense and a hundred and one other things that happen when you are frantically bashing away at the keyboard as the ideas come quicker than the fingers will type. Checking is the name of the game now, check and re-check.

                Now is also the time when we started to think what we were going to do with our masterpiece.
                Problem, big problem, from what we have learned it is almost impossible to get into a big publishing house when you are untried and have no history of success. There is a very good chance that a manuscript sent unsolicited to the publisher would be ignored. They would probably bin it without being looking at it purely because they get so many and are unwilling to take risks with unknown authors. You need an agent to work with you to try to get publishers to look at your work. Problem there being that it is almost as hard to find an agent willing to take you on as it is to find a publisher. The whole area is a minefield, there are a lot of dodgy characters out there as well who will tell you your work is the best ever and then either fleece you for a fortune or just plain muck you about.
                Another thing to think about is just how much you are going to make out of it. You have your agent, you have your publisher and the booksellers, all of whom want a cut out of your hard work and these aren’t small cuts either. The booksellers alone can take up to 60% of the cover price, so you can see just how little of the selling price will find its way into your pocket. Unless you miraculously make it to the best sellers list your book is not going to make you a fortune, very few authors get to those dizzy heights with their first novel and not many make it at all.
                So what to do, we decided to look into the self publication market, another minefield I am afraid. There are a lot of sharks out there only too willing to feed off unwary authors so it is desperately important to do a lot of research into this market, if possible get personal recommendation or at least find out about satisfied authors on the web.
                It is a case of you get what you pay for in many respects in this market, go for an attractive sounding cheap deal and that’s what you will in all likelihood get, a cheap looking book, probably full of errors.
                After looking at many self publishing sites we decided upon Troubador publishing. Their site pointed out many of the pitfalls and gave loads of info on how to go about the task of turning our manuscript into a book that people would want to read.

                So we applied, there were a few nervous days whilst we waited to hear if we had been approved. Yes your work has to be up to standard or they won’t accept you, well they will if you insist but they will advise against it if your writing is not up to a good standard. Phone calls and emails were exchanged as details were sorted out and work began on turning our manuscript into a book. Along with the manuscript we supplied an image that we wished to use for the cover. They would deal with the lettering and turning our design into a book cover.

                The cover image is something you should think about carefully. It is the first thing a potential buyer will see and it needs to be striking and attract interest for a buyer to pick up your book. If your cover fades into the background so will your sales.
                Something else to think about is the copyright of the image you wish to use. Ours was an original picture of the Springs Hotel in Oxfordshire that I found on the internet. The picture has gone through some dramatic effects changes but it still belonged to the hotel. We approached the hotel and they were most happy for us to use the picture and we struck a mutually advantageous deal with them to use the picture. So from that point of view I would suggest getting permission if you wish to use an image that is not personally owned by yourself.

                And so time passes whilst the publishers go to work on your words. A proof is produced and we were invited to check it through for type setting errors and any errors we might have missed in our previous checking. Professional proof reading is an option that is available from the publishers and with hindsight it might have saved us an awful lot of work and stress if we had made use of them, rather than taking on the painstaking task ourselves.
                Anyway, changes made, the proof is sent off and the changes amended on the typeset. A revised proof is then sent back for further checking and so on until we were happy that the manuscript is as error free as we can get it.
                The last step is to send the manuscript to the printers and binders to transform our words into a book. An exiting time indeed and that is where we are now, expecting delivery ready for publication on the 1st July.

                The route we have chosen for Halleswell Hall is one of a lot of hard work and not a little risk but it is also one that might eventually reap great rewards if lady luck shines on us and our endeavour.
                All the marketing and packaging/delivery is down to us although the publishers do offer a marketing service, of course it costs and will cut into margins again. I can see it being a busy time ahead (hopefully) but the rewards are there, first and foremost having people read our hard work and hopefully enjoying the experience but also the financial side will gain us a greater percentage of the cover price than going the traditional route. I don’t know how many copies we will manage to sell but hopefully enough to make a small profit to make our hard work worthwhile.
                We will then have a published work behind us and if it does sell well, will give us a little more clout with the big publishers when our second attempt is finished.
                We have made a good start on this second book and I think we have come up with a cracking idea for that one, we are really exited about it and with the excitement of the imminent release of Halleswell Hall it’s a ball of pent up emotion that is typing this.

                So what advice can I offer? Well know what you are getting into. Have confidence in your work and try to make the best possible job you can of it, make it something you will be proud of.
                Most of what we have done has been learned as we have gone along and the experience will hold us in good stead for future projects. From our learning process I would say research is the key, research and planning, know your subject, know your characters and know where you are heading.
                Reading helps a lot, see what techniques experienced authors use, take note of what works in situations. Learn to use a wide ranging vocabulary and vary your language to make your subject more interesting.
                There are a large number of books and web sites that offer help in writing techniques and how to write a good book. Make use of them to help you improve as a writer. Little things can make a difference, get them right and the book as a whole will come together better.

                Writing a book is hard work and is stressful at times; especially if it’s not going well but it can also be great fun when it is going right and the words are flowing from the imagination faster than the fingers can type. Get into that zone and I have found that the words just flow on to the page and for me that is when I do my best writing rather than having to consider each word and struggle for the next one. It is at those times when it is better to sit back and chill for a bit, leave it be and come back to it when the imagination is working overtime again.
                Know what you write about, put something of yourself into your characters, that way you are intimately familiar with your subject. If, as you are writing about your character you care what happens to them and want to know more about their lives then so will your reader.
                We found that our characters took on a life of their own and became part of ours, we referred to them by name and knew them so well that we knew how they would feel in a certain situation, I think that helps enormously when you are putting them through great trials and tribulations and helps to write with emotion when they meet their doom or reach a happy ending.

                I don’t know if that is much help to a budding writer, as I said at the outset I am no expert and am in my infancy when it comes to a writing career but maybe I have spurred a person or two to think ‘if he can do it why can’t I’ and if I have then I am pleased with that and I wish anyone the best of luck if they give it a go. I would never have thought that it would be possible for me to have my name in print but determination and endeavour have pushed me through so that the dream is about to become reality. So if you have always fancied the idea but have always just said ‘maybe one day’ why not make one day today.


                © Docpov June 2007

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                • More +
                  06.06.2007 14:19
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                  Rock on.

                  Have you ever played an air guitar, pretending to be a guitar hero? Ever fancied yourself playing that super fast riff or solo? If you have then now’s your chance, well sort of.

                  Guitar heroes II is a game that lets you live that dream and shows you how hard it is as well.

                  What you get.
                  As well as the disc and instruction booklet you get your guitar. This lightweight guitar comes with an adjustable strap and plugs into your Playstation. The neck of the guitar has five different coloured, large, square buttons and the body has a strumming button and a whammy bar so you can add twiddly bits to the longer notes.

                  The game.

                  The basic premise of the game is that moving coloured dots come down a runway on the screen and you have to hit the corresponding coloured notes on the guitar and press the strumming button at the same time to make the notes. You have to press the buttons when the moving dots reach coloured circles at the bottom of the screen, if you miss then there is a very unmusical thud and the note you should have played is missed out from the song.

                  Simple really isn’t it? Well it’s a simple idea for a game and one that is very effective and not a little addictive. But to actually get it right, that is not so simple, in fact it is very difficult as I will try to explain as we go through the various game modes.

                  Game modes.

                  Career.
                  This is where you should start the game as you need to complete songs to unlock more.
                  First off you have to choose a name for your band along with a graphical representation of your character and then choose your guitar from a selection of three.
                  Now you are set to go on the road and impress the punters with your amazing playing skills. There is a list of four songs to choose from, I would choose the first on the list, Shout at the devil, it is relatively short at 152 notes and I think is the easiest introduction to the game.
                  The song starts, on screen your band is limbering up and the runway starts. The first notes come down, red, green and yellow, short notes strum and let go, longer ones keep the button pushed as long as the note lasts. Add effect with the whammy bar to the long notes.
                  There are two meters on screen. One adds up your score and tells you what bonus level you are on X2 for hitting ten consecutive notes, X3 for the next and X4 for the next and until you miss a note or finish the song. If you do miss then your score level starts again. There are also some notes that have a blue halo, hit all of these in their sequence and your star power meter rises, get to either half way or fill it up and when you hit the button your star power is unleashed, doubling whichever score level you are on at the time until the star meter drains.
                  The star meter can also rescue you if you are in trouble on the other meter, the rock meter.
                  There are four levels to this, green and you are doing great, yellow and you are starting to miss a few notes. Red and its time to put a good string of notes together or flashing red, you have almost blown it and unless you hit all the notes you will soon fail the song.
                  If you are in the red, and you have available star power then it will help to rescue you.

                  Congratulations, you have completed your first song. A screen comes up at the end of the song telling you your score, the percentage of notes you hit and how long a streak you managed. More detailed analysis of your performance is available through a link. This is useful for seeing where you messed up and which bits you need to practice.

                  Having completed your first song its time to choose another. Once you have completed three of the four songs in the section another four are available to play and so on until you have revealed 28 songs.
                  Once you have completed the songs on easy you can move on to medium. This time you get paid for your efforts and can use the money you earn to buy extra songs, guitars or characters or bonus videos. Also as you complete sections you can unlock new songs by means of completing an encore.
                  Medium ups the anti with the addition of the blue note as well as extra notes of the other colours. The notes also come at you at a bit faster pace and there are more chords (two or more notes played at the same time) to contend with.
                  Moving on and probably a lot of sweat and tears later and you can try your hand at the hard level, the addition of the orange note, extra other colour notes at a quicker pace and many more chords will get your fingers moving quicker than you thought possible.
                  Expert level ups the pace as with the moves up from the other levels. The extreme, conquer this and I will call you a real guitar hero.
                  That’s it, that’s all there is too it, it is going to take a long time to get to the height of your career, I am sure of that. So that gives the game longevity although I do wonder if an option to create your own songs to perform would be a good idea, maybe in a later version perhaps.

                  I have found it very addictive and the need to perfect a song grows stronger within me the more I play. At first it feels like an achievement to just get through a song but as I play more I want to not only beat the high score, especially if it is one my daughter set but I want to play the song better, just to play the song better. I have got 100% once and that gave me a real sense of achievement. The next mode will help I think.

                  Practice mode.
                  Got a problem with a tricky solo that you just can’t nail? Then practice mode is there to help. It lets you either practice whole songs or just the section you want or the one you are struggling with. You can play it at real pace or three slower paces, letting you get the fingering right and gradually build up the pace.

                  Quick play.
                  This mode lets you play any song you have earned or unlocked in any of the difficulty levels.

                  Multiplayer.
                  Possibly the best fun mode in the game. Two players can play in any of three modes.

                  Cooperative.
                  Both of you play the same song together with both your note streaks and scores adding to one total, also a missed note by either of you ends the bonus for both. Although both of you are playing the same song one of you plays the lead and the other plays either the base or rhythm section depending on the song You can play any song you have unlocked or earned in the career mode.

                  Face off.
                  Play against your playing partner this time. You play the song together, alternating the sections of the song you play, highest score wins and its fun to see who got the best note streak and note percentage too.
                  Again you can play any song you have unlocked plus you can choose your difficulty level. This can be different to your playing partner is you so wish.

                  Pro face off.
                  As with face off you play against your partner but this time both play exactly the same notes. Battle against both your opposition and yourself as you strive for that elusive perfect performance. This mode has to be unlocked to gain access.

                  If you only have one guitar available you can use your normal controller to play. In fact should you wish you could use your controller to play single player too. Using the controller you use the same press and release, press and hold system for the notes as you do on the guitar apart from you only have to push one button per note.
                  If your mate has a guitar then you can use two guitars to battle it out.

                  The songs.

                  The songs included in the game are of course guitar classics. The songs include tracks by The Police, Kiss, Guns and Roses Nirvana and the Rolling Stones to name but a few. If you love your rock music, you will know and love a lot of the tracks you will get to perform. If you don’t then you are going to be converted as you play them I am sure.

                  I guess you are wondering how an aging rock dude like me gets on with it, well I have to say that I am better with the controller than I am with the guitar and I have struggled a bit with the harder levels. My poor old fingers just don’t seem to move fast enough to hit the multiple quick notes.
                  In contrast, my fourteen year old daughter is much better and her fingers are a lot more agile than mine. Of course it helps that she is a viola player and has an excellent ear for music, but she certainly seems to have got to grips with it very well indeed.
                  Even my four year old enjoys a go, taking the yellow and blue notes on the controller while I play red and green, she manages to hit several too so although the game is rated as 12+ youngsters enjoy it too.

                  A word on the graphics.

                  The band graphics that accompany you playing the songs are great, not that you will see them too much when you are concentrating on the notes coming down but if you are watching someone else play they are very good indeed.
                  The stadia you play get bigger and better as you progress in your career. You start in a battle of the bands and then move on to an underground club. As you unlock more you progress to proper venues and then to stadiums. Your crowds of adoring fans get correspondingly larger and all in all the graphics are very well done.

                  Sound.
                  As well as the music of course there is background crowd noise, cheering if you are doing well, louder if you get a great riff or you have hit the star power button. Hit a few bum notes on the other hand and the crowd start to get restless and the odd boo will come your way, hit lots of bum notes and you will be booed off stage.

                  Options.
                  There are the usual sound and video options including a video option to sort out lag if you are using an HD TV.


                  Overall.
                  We have found this game to be great fun and have had hours on it between us. Even now there are loads that we haven’t unlocked yet so we will be playing for some time. If you are a rock music fan you may enjoy this more than if you hate that sort of music, but hey, you might be converted to loving great music.



                  We bought ours from Argos where it was on offer for £49.99 for the game and the guitar. Amazon currently has it for £44.98.
                  The game is available without the guitar for £29.99.
                  The game is also available for the Xbox.


                  Rock on

                  © Docpov may 2007.

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                    04.06.2007 13:54
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                    Once you start liking this you will listen to it over and over.

                    How many of you have heard of the Chameleons I wonder? Not as many as perhaps they deserve I feel.
                    Underrated is a word that is bandied about in the record industry but in the case of this Manchester band I think the word is justified

                    Born in Rochdale in 1981, the band consisted of Mark Burgess on lead vocals and bass, Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies on guitar and the man behind the drum kit was John Lever.
                    The band spent the first two years of their career playing live and doing radio sessions, including several for the late, great John Peel. In 1983 Script of the Bridge was recorded at Cargo Studios in Rochdale.
                    The record received high acclaim from the record industry and from their fan base but sadly most of the record buying public were too enamoured by the pop pulp bands of the day and so this piece of musical mastery passed them by.
                    Many bands over the following years have used effects and vocal techniques that bands like the Chameleons developed during the early eighties and still do to this day, a legacy perhaps of a great band from an era that produced so much great music.
                    Pigeon holed as most of the music industry is, The Chameleons were described as “post punk,” apt perhaps as some of their lyrics dwell on angst and their guitar work could be derivative of punk but musically their sound is much cleaner than that of the glory days of punk.

                    "In his Autumn 'fore the Winter
                    Comes Mans' last mad surge of youth.
                    What on earth are you talking about?"

                    And so Script of the Bridge opens with a fifties style spoken sample. The guitars of "Don’t Fall" crash in on the back of that and are joined by the drums as Marks penetrating voice calls to us with the song title, and so it continues, melodic lyrics over some very clever guitar work make this track a great listen and a fantastic opening to the album, giving you a taste of what is to come.
                    I have heard that this song was written by Mark Burgess about a long walk home in the middle of the night after indulging in a few magic mushrooms.

                    There is no time to draw breath as "Here Today" comes hard on the back of Don’t Fall. Lyrically this one is melancholic.

                    “Don't know what happened
                    But somebody lost their mind tonight”

                    It has been said that this song is about John Lennon being shot and from the lyrics that does sound apt. Musically the slower guitars lend themselves to the feel of the lyrics. The whole song makes you feel a little sad, a great song if you want to wallow in something.

                    "Monkeyland" is a song of slow lyrics and the whole atmosphere is one of being chilled. Bursts of quicker guitar rouse us from our chilled state around the chorus but it’s a “trick of the light” as we fall back into melancholy. The song is about being stuck in a rut, everydayness getting a bit much and needing something to rouse yourself from the repetitiveness of everyday life.

                    “Is this the stuff dreams are made of?”

                    Immortality is discussed in “Second Skin,” I find this a great song to drive down a motorway too, it has that type of feel, brings feelings of a need for speed but in a relaxed way. Burgess’s voice really uses his full range on this one and the drums are more prominent as it pounds out the rhythm.

                    "Up the down Escalator" is about surviving in a world gone mad, more apt today than is was in 83 perhaps. More of an upbeat sound on this one helps to bring out the meaning of the lyrics. Listening to this one as you get ready to go out on a Saturday night would really get you in the mood for a mad night out.

                    Melancholy returns to "Less than Human." A background sound of whirly pipes, a children’s fairground toy if you haven’t heard of them, gives this song a slightly spooky feel, a great song just to chill to.

                    "Pleasure and Pain" is another song to mellow out to, slow guitar and light drums give a great backdrop to the vocals here.

                    “Please leave my mind in tact
                    As I slowly grow older”

                    Growing up and what can we expect when we get there is the subject matter for "Thursdays Child," more up tempo guitar speeds this one along at a faster pace.

                    Selling your soul for fame and fortune is the subject matter for "High as You Can Go." Possibly the most catchy song on the whole album, even though the subject matter is somewhat fraught the tempo and feel of the song give hope even in the face of adversity.

                    “Like a nightmare from the past
                    To the sound of splintered glass
                    Dance the monsters in the masks”

                    This is a powerful song; "A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days" examines the state of our world, people being beaten and robbed on the streets and the general state of the country. The song sounds hard and gives you the will to stand against the thugs, its time to make a better land to live in!

                    "Paper Tigers" is a song about the futility of relying on others and not getting shafted, another slowish track.

                    The album fades gently into the distance with View from a hill, a song of reflection that is a great way to bring the album to a close. Mellow and relaxing it carries you along with its tone and leaves you feeling completely chilled.


                    “I'm idly staring at the sky
                    Did anybody hear me sigh
                    A million stars are a moving sight
                    To all you out there
                    Reading this tonight
                    It's just a trick of the light”

                    Sums up the whole feeling of the album I think. It is a difficult album to pick out favourite or stand out tracks. It is more about the album as a whole. Although it was first released 24 years ago it would still stand up very well against its modern day counterparts such as Cold Play and the like, many of whom quite possibly took note of The Chameleons and took on some of their sound ideas.

                    A word on versions.
                    Being old, my versions are vinyl ones, my first original 1983 release got played so much that I had worn it out and ended up having to sadly resign it to the bin when it became unplayable. Now in my collection I have a picture disc with the album cover on one side and a track listing and discography on the other. This version was released on Statik records in 1985. My other version is an American import released on MCA in 1983 just after the first British release. This version is a reduced one with only eight of the tracks from the original album present.
                    The album was also released in 1996 on CD ala the picture above.

                    This is an album that once you have listened to it once you will want to listen to over and over again as I have. If you are a fan of guitar music this really is one that you will want to listen to. If you want to get hold of a copy then I have seen it on Amazon for £6.98 for the CD version released on the Dead Dead Good label.

                    Go on give your ears a treat.

                    ©Docpov June 2007

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                    • More +
                      21.04.2007 17:47
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                      Discovery Cove is a fantastic, relaxing tropical paradise

                      Hands up if you have ever dreamed of swimming with dolphins, bet you have.
                      My eldest has always wanted to and at Discovery Cove she got her wish and we all had a fantastic time in a wonderful place. A visit is a unique experience and is one that I will remember for a very long time indeed so come with me to see why Discovery Cove is like nothing you will have experienced before.

                      What is it?.....

                      Would tropical paradise be too strong a description? Maybe a little but it isn’t far off. Discovery cove is a small attraction by Florida standards but what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in quality. Here you can swim with dolphins or snorkel with tropical fish or just laze around in superb surroundings, taking a dip in the water if you feel like it. Relax on sun loungers on wide white sand beaches that surround all the pools, watching the dolphins or just enjoying the sun. Let me take you on a trip into a fantastic experience.

                      What makes it different from other theme parks?.....

                      The whole Discovery Cove experience is not a theme park experience as such, it is unique really. There are only 1000 people admitted on any one day and there is little walking to do so it is a relaxing day, a break if you are visiting several of the parks. It is not crowded and you are able to do any of the activities when you like, as many times as you like (apart from the swimming with dolphins experience) take it easy, chill and if you fancy lying in the sun for a while (children permitting) then there is nothing to stop you doing just that.

                      Arriving……

                      The easiest way to get to Discovery Cove is from Interstate 4 either exit 72 if you are coming from Orlando or exit 71 if you are coming from Tampa. Seaworld is signposted at both exits and Discovery Cove is opposite.
                      If you are coming from further in town get on International Drive and follow that and you will see Discovery cove on your left just before you get to Seaworld.

                      Parking……

                      Uniquely for Florida parks’ parking at discovery cove is free. The car parks are not enormous like the others so there is no guided parking but there is ample parking and the spaces are large enough to park easily.

                      Admission………

                      Admission is by booking only so there are no massive queues waiting for tickets.
                      A day at Discovery cove is not cheap but we thought it was worth every penny.

                      Swim with dolphins package:- Adult $279
                      Child $259

                      Non swim with dolphins package:-Adult $179
                      Child $159

                      It is an expensive day out but then it is a once in a lifetime experience and for me it was worth every penny.

                      The admission procedure is complicated but doesn’t take as long as it sounds. Firstly you will need to present your tickets and/or entry voucher along with your passport for international visitors.
                      Once they have been checked then you have your picture taken. This picture is then digitally printed onto a plastic ID card that you are required to wear on a lanyard throughout your visit. This ID also states whether you are on a swim or non swim package and also whether you are over 21 thus being able to drink alcohol. Also you have the option of having your credit card added to the barcode for any purchases you want to make during the day. Together with your ID you are provided with a map that also is attached to the lanyard.

                      What you get for your money…..

                      This is an expensive day out, there is no denying it but you do get a lot for your money. The day is all inclusive, breakfast, lunch and all snacks and drinks are included. Also you get free hire of all the equipment including towels and lockers.
                      Plus of course you get all the facilities you came to enjoy.

                      Docpov Tip:-
                      It is worth getting your credit card put on your ID card as you may well want to go to the shops, maybe to buy an underwater camera or something and it is a lot easier to present your ID rather have to worry about your purse or wallet that you can leave safely locked in your locker if you use the service.

                      One last thing is dealt with here. If you have come for a swim with dolphins package you are given a time when you will have your experience. This is done on a first come first served basis so the earlier you arrive the more choice of time slot you will have.

                      Next steps……

                      After check in is complete you are shown through the wonderful lush tropical foliage to a little bridge where there is a photographer waiting to take a complimentary photograph of your party. Once done the photographer passes you on to another member of staff who tells you all you need to know about your day, where to get changed and where equipment is to be found along with how and where to get your food and where to find everything. Also there he will tell you of the safety rules and show you where first aid is available and where to find safety equipment such as life vests for youngsters or non swimmers.

                      Talk over and the day is yours to spend as you wish…..

                      We decided to get some breakfast before getting changed. Continental breakfast is available from the Laguna grill including things like pastries and croissant fruit etc along with tea, coffee and soft drinks and juice.

                      After breakfast it was time to get kitted out…..

                      You are supplied with wetsuit, snorkel and mask for the duration of your visit and also as many towels as you wish. The snorkel is yours to keep at the end of the day although you have to return the mask. You also get a string bag (that the mask and snorkel come in) that you can put things like sun cream or camera’s etc in to keep your belongings together.
                      The wetsuits are available as a full shortie suit (knee length) or a vest. The man you hands out the suits seems to have a great eye for size as all our suits were a perfect fit first time.
                      Clothes and valuables in the lockers and we were ready for the Discovery Cove experience.

                      Docpov Tip 2:- A good idea is to wear rubber swimming shoes, either bring them with you or they are available to buy in the Discovery Cove shops. You will be walking on sand throughout most of your visit and it does get very hot as the day warms up and these shoes, apart from saving your ordinary shoes from getting full of sand are light and comfortable. They are also good for stopping scratched or stubbed toes as you swim in the pools as the coral is very hard and the bottom of the pools are laid with stones so are slightly uncomfortable on bare feet.

                      The discovery Cove experience……..

                      There are several pools to explore, none are far apart so there is not much walking involved.

                      Ray Lagoon
                      This is a small pool with rays gliding around your feet, a great experience especially for youngsters as they maybe get their first experience of being in the water with fish close up. These peaceful creatures are fascinating as you watch then glide by your feet. There is a rule in this pool that you have to keep your feet on the ground for the safety of the rays.

                      Coral Reef
                      This is an experience I will remember for a very long time. It really is fantastic.
                      You are swimming in a very large pool with rock islands rising from of the beautiful, crystal clear blue water. The water in this pool is 75 degrees so although it feels cool when you first get in it doesn’t take long to get used to it.
                      The reef has a gentle slope at the edges as drops off into deeper water as you go further out.
                      Donning mask and snorkel you look down into a magical world, it is a truly awesome sight to see thousands of fish swimming through and around the reef below and around you and on occasion coming face to face with you. Rays glide along the bottom and brightly coloured coral fish dart between the reefs. The whole pool is teeming with life and wherever you look there is something new to see and it is a forever changing vista as the living art swims from one part to another.
                      There are deep parts, especially in the middle between the islands. Seeing the sea-life below you in that gorge is something I will never forget. I stayed in there for ages never tiring of what I was seeing; it really is that great an experience. It is hard to describe the peacefulness of it. Yes there are other people in the pool but when you have your face in the water and sound is blocked out it is like it is only you and the fish.
                      Shark Habitat.
                      Situated in the coral pool it was something I didn’t know was there when we first went into the pool, situated in the bottom of a shipwreck at the edge of one of the islands it is viewed under the water below the island. Imagine my surprise as I floated round the corner to come literally face to face with a very large barracuda. It made me jump for a second I can tell you but I needn’t have worried as closer inspection told me that the barracudas and the sharks are safely behind glass in a massive tank within the reef

                      Resort Pool.
                      Across the beach you can get straight into the main resort pool, no fish in here but the water is warmer, 85 degrees and is great to play in or just relax in the shallows also this pool is fresh water whereas the coral pool is salt.
                      There are grotto’s to explore and even a waterfall to play around in.

                      Tropical River.
                      You start your exploration of the river from the resort pool. Wander or swim along with the slow current as the river wends its way around the park. It is lovely to slowly make your way around what is a surprisingly long river. Parts of it take you though rock gorges and you even meander through the aviary area (more on that in a minute)
                      Snorkel though the deeper parts to see sunken cannon or Greek vases or just float along and relax.

                      Aviary.
                      Not all of Discovery Coves delights are waterborne. The aviary is a huge free flight area where you can meet 30 species of tropical birds close up. It is a tropical paradise that you can wander through. Lush vegetation and bridges over rivers make this a very peaceful place to relax. As mentioned the river flows through the aviary so you can also see the birds and plants from the water.

                      A word on safety….

                      Weak or non swimmers should be aware that in places they will be out of their depth in both the coral pool and the river. Young non-swimmers are encouraged to wear a life-vest for their own safety and adults should be aware that their children could be out of their depth.
                      There are lifeguards throughout the park keeping their eye on proceedings and there is a first aid station should you have a mishap.

                      Docpov Tip 3:-
                      I am by no means an experienced snorkeler but a couple of things that I have picked up are to rinse your mask before you get in the water, this will help to keep it clear so you can see the fish clearly. Also if you get a little water in your mask, if you lift it a little and breath through your nose under water for a second you will clear it out.

                      The Dolphin Experience.
                      The moment my daughter had been waiting for!!
                      This is only available if you have purchased a swim with dolphins package before you arrive.
                      It is a once in a lifetime experience, with hindsight I wish I had booked me in to do it too but it was great to just to watch.
                      You are in the huge pool with the dolphins for around half an hour, a bit longer if the dolphins are misbehaving. My daughters group had a young exuberant dolphin called Dexter who kept going off to play with the other groups so they had a little longer.

                      How it works….
                      A short video is shown to you to get you in the mood and to tell you how to respect the animals you are about to meet, then it is off to the lagoon.
                      You are in a group of around eight people and have a trainer with you along with a photographer to record your experience.
                      There are a few groups at a time spread around the edges of the lagoon and the trainers take you though interaction with the dolphins. You will have the chance to touch and even kiss the dolphins but the best bit is when they take you for a ride across the pool. You hold on to their dorsal fin and they power you across the lagoon. It is an incredible sight and my daughter said it was the best experience she has ever had.
                      Also during your dolphin experience you are told all about dolphins and how conservation and even the law is helping to look after these wonderful animals.
                      Did you know that it is illegal to go within 150 meters of a wild dolphin in the waters around Florida?
                      It is an unforgettable experience and at the end myself and the rest of the family were invited to enter the water to have our picture taken with Dexter. I thought that was a lovely touch and something I don’t think any of us will forget.

                      Eating and Drinking…..
                      As I said at the start this day is all inclusive so all your food drinks and snacks are included in the price.
                      I have already mentioned breakfast and you are treated to a lovely lunch as well. This is served in the Laguna Grill, buffet style with a wide range of food available from burgers to jumbelia or curry. The puddings were lovely too especially the Key Lime pie. Seating is predominantly outside under large umbrella’s which is lovely to relax over a leisurely meal.
                      There are snack bars as well that keep you topped up with snacks such as crisps, biscuits or pretzels.
                      Drinks are available at all food outlets, either soft or alcoholic from the fully stocked bar.
                      A word on the drinks, there are no straws or lids on the drinks to protect the wildlife so watch the little ones don’t spill too much.

                      Docpov Tip 4:-
                      Drink lots and drink regularly throughout the day as it is hot and you will need to avoid dehydration.

                      Shopping……
                      There are two shops, both selling a wide range of apparel, jewellery and other gifts. This is where having your credit card on your ID comes in.

                      Photography…..
                      You are welcome to take your own pictures or video but they do make you aware that the well being of your photography equipment is your own responsibility so they won’t be responsible if you drop your very expensive video camera in the water.
                      The park photographers take your picture when you arrive and in the dolphin experience as well as odd locations around the park. These pictures are available to buy at the end of the day. They are in an assortment of packages, expensive but it is a once in a lifetime experience and the photography is excellent.
                      The one we chose comprised the complimentary picture along with six good sized prints all mounted, two key chains and a CD record of all the pictures we chose plus other pictures of the dolphins and the park generally plus a video. This cost $135 but it is memories of a unique day.

                      Docpov Tip 5:-
                      When you are selecting the pictures you want from the PC choose as many as you can, we didn’t choose all the ones featuring our family but we could have done and they would have been on the CD for the same price, oh well live and learn I guess.

                      A word on conservation…..

                      You will have a fantastic day at Discovery Cove but you will also be learning about and appreciating up close the wonders of the undersea world.
                      The Anheuser Busch family that own discovery Cove as well as Sea World and Busch Gardens are deeply involved with conservation and discovery Cove contributes to the conservation fund so just by visiting you are going a small way to protecting the wildlife you have come to see.

                      Final Tip:-
                      Remember the sun cream, you are wearing a wetsuit but parts of you will still be exposed to the sun and the heat can be fierce plus you may not want to keep your wetsuit on all day.

                      Twilight Discovery……
                      As well as the all day package there is an afternoon/evening package available. This all inclusive package costs $259 from 3.00pm until 9.00pm from the end of May to the end of August. There are only 150 spaces so you will feel you have even more space to relax and enjoy. The package includes dinner and dancing at the Laguna Grill.
                      That sounds like a very romantic occasion to me.

                      There are other personalised experiences such as being a trainer for a day or a special occasion celebration that can be arranged with Discovery Cove that would make for unforgettable experiences, of course they are all very limited in numbers so booking well in advance must be essential

                      To sum up.
                      Discovery Cove is a fantastic, relaxing tropical paradise with a peaceful atmosphere that I am sure you would enjoy as much as we did. The dolphin experience is something special and the whole experience is something you will never forget.

                      © Docpov April 2007

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                      • More +
                        19.04.2007 19:44
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                        A great day out with loads to do and you might learn a bit about conservation while you are at it.

                        Fancy a visit to Africa?
                        Want to learn about African wildlife and have a great day out while you are doing it?
                        Do you find yourself in the Tampa Bay area?
                        If the answer to those questions is yes then I think a day out at Busch gardens will satisfy your needs very well indeed.

                        What is it?.....

                        Busch Gardens is a mix of Wildlife Park, Theme Park and Adventure Park all set in landscaped grounds and themed sections. (More on that later)

                        Arriving…..

                        Busch Gardens is situated on the outskirts of Tampa Bay about an hours drive from Orlando. We were staying in the Orlando area so our route took us down Interstate 4 and then North on Interstate 75 to Tampa.
                        Take junction 265 off the 75 into Fowler Avenue and follow that until you go past the University of South Florida then next junction turn left into McKinley Drive and follow signs to the car parks.
                        If you are not driving then there is a shuttle bus available from Orlando. This picks up from various points such as Seaworld or Universal Studios amongst others.
                        A ticket for the shuttle will cost you $10 per person. (Free if you have a Flexiticket) This can either be pre booked or a phone call to 800-221-1339 the night before you want to visit will get you booked on and give you the times of departure and arrival and departure from Busch gardens.

                        Parking……

                        The car parks are well directed and you will be shown where to park.
                        Parking will cost you $9 for the day or if you are feeling extra rich there is preferred parking available nearer the park but at extra cost of course.
                        There is a tram service that will take you from pick up points around the car parks to the entrance of the park itself. Getting on the tram is a bit chaotic but it is an efficient safety conscious service.

                        Docpov Tip:-
                        Tie something bright to your aerial to help you find your car. The car parks are huge and there might well be several cars similar to yours nearby. We didn’t on this trip and I found myself pressing the unlock button on the key fob around several cars before we found the one where the indicators flashed.

                        Admission….

                        There are so many ways to get your tickets for Busch Gardens and different deals and packages but if you pay on the day it will cost you :-

                        Adult $ 61.95
                        Child $ 51.95


                        Admission is also available as part of 5 and 4 park Orlando flexitickets which allow you unlimited admission to Busch gardens, Seaworld and the Universal parks for a period of 14 days. These tickets cost :-

                        Adult $194.95 (4 park) and $239.95 (5 park)
                        Child $160.95 (4 park) and $199.95 (5 park)

                        For our visit we used our Discovery Cove tickets. As part of the discovery Cove package we were allowed unlimited admission to Busch Gardens for seven days.

                        When can I go?.....

                        The park opens at 9.00 daily and closes between 6.00pm and 10.00pm depending on day and time of year, they are open later mainly during the summer months.

                        I am here so now what?......

                        Entry to the park is a bit of a free for all. If you have not got tickets as part of a package or pre-booked the first thing you have to do is queue to pay for your tickets. After this you will have any bag you may have with you searched as part of park security and then after presenting your ticket you are finally in to start your day of fun at Busch Gardens.

                        Where to start?.....

                        When you have made it through the entry process the first thing I would suggest is getting hold of a park map. Busch Gardens is not a small place and the map will help you greatly to find the attractions that you want to see. They are available from just inside the entrance.
                        Next if you have youngsters with you or if you have a less able person with you will need to get yourself a stroller or hire a wheelchair. There is going to be a lot of walking involved in your visit.

                        Strollers and wheelchairs

                        Both are available to hire near the entrance.
                        Cost:-
                        Single stroller :- $ 10.00 + tax
                        Double stroller :- $ 15.00 + tax
                        Wheelchair :- $ 10.00 no tax
                        ECV (electric wheelchair) :- $35 no tax. There are conditions applied to this rental though minimum age 18 and a deposit is applied if hired on the day.

                        Docpov Tip 2 :-
                        Even if your youngsters are up to six or seven it is worth getting a stroller as there is a lot of walking in your visit and they are always handy for carrying bags and drinks and anything else you may acquire throughout your visit.

                        The park…….

                        All organised and ready to go but what to see first, there is just so much on offer. This is where your map comes in. You will see that Busch Gardens is split into sections, all named after places from Africa, Nairobi Egypt, Morocco Stanleyville and the Congo which makes it slightly easier to get your bearings. I am not entirely sure where Stanleyville fits into the African theme though.
                        The buildings from the shops to attractions to restaurants are all built to fit in with the style of the area they are in. Timbuktu has desert style buildings while morocco has more exotic style of architecture. This range of design goes through the park and really does make for a great atmosphere that changes as you wander from section to section.
                        Looking at the map you will see that at least a quarter of the park area is taken up by the Serengeti wildlife preserve. There is a train that runs around the entire preserve and is a good place to start

                        Serengeti Plain / railway…….

                        The Serengeti preserve is a huge habitat where you are able to see zebra, giraffe antelope and many more species running free in this fantastic re-creation of the famous African plain. You will also see Rhino and water buffalo although for obvious safety reasons they are separated from the main preserve.
                        It is an amazing sight to see a giraffe up close and personal as it stands by the railway.
                        The railway wends its way slowly around the whole preserve giving you ample opportunity to take in the animals and photograph them if you wish.
                        The train stops at Nairobi, the Congo and Stanleyville although you may remain on board and do a complete circuit if you wish. That is what we did, partly because we had left the stroller at Nairobi station and it would have been a very long walk to go and retrieve it.

                        Docpov Tip 3 :-
                        If you are getting off at the Stanleyville station and your carriage is under the Tanganyika Tidal Wave rollercoaster be careful when you get out as it is right below the splash zone of the coaster and if you get out at the wrong moment you are going to get wet !!!

                        There are several other ways to see the wildlife on the plain. At several points walkways front the preserve and the Rhino rally takes part in some of the preserve (more on that later) Also there is a Serengeti safari that is available to book. This takes the form of a guided 30 minute tour in an open topped truck that gets you really close to the animals. This is not included in admission and costs $33.99.
                        It sounds like a great experience but wasn’t something we did on our visit.

                        More close encounters of an animal kind…….

                        Myombe reserve

                        There is something lurking in the mountains, it is not easy to see but when you do it’s an amazing sight. Mountain Gorillas. They are amazing, proud animals and walking through their habitat is a great experience. It is a very large enclosure modelled on the type of terrain they would live in, in the wild. As you walk through there is a large amount of educational and conservation information available for you both to read and to listen too. Keeper talks also occur throughout the day if you require more information.

                        Edge of Africa

                        Situated on the edge of the Serengeti this is where you will meet some of the more dangerous members of the African animal family. Hyena’s Hippo and a Nile crocodile not to mention the lions that you get very close to. There are different glass windows to enable you to see the animals wherever they are in their very large enclosures.
                        The habitats was something that impressed me as every effort has been made to make the habitats as realistic as possible and large enough to give the animals plenty of room to move around.

                        Not far from the Edge of Africa you can find Asian elephants and camels to complete the vast array of African wildlife that live at Busch gardens.

                        Lory landing.

                        This is a domed aviary. We didn’t visit, my wife is not a great bird fan but it is home to parrots and many other bird species.

                        Clydesdale Hamlet.

                        This is home to the Budweiser Clydesdale horses, majestic heavy horses that can’t fail to impress equine fans or anyone else for that matter. They really are impressive animals. The Anheuser-Busch family who own Busch Gardens as well as the Seaworld parks and Discovery Cove are the brewers of Budweiser.

                        The animals are brilliant but I want some action……..

                        And action you shall have aplenty. There are a large number of thrill rides for you to enjoy or endure if you look at it from my point of view, I am not a coaster lover but for those of you that are Busch Gardens will not disappoint.

                        Safety is a prime concern on all these rides and there are restrictions and guidelines posted at the entrance to all rides

                        Docpov tip 4 :-
                        If you have youngsters with you that may be around the size of the minimum height for any ride check them against the height meters before you wait for half an hour in a queue. Apart from wasting your enjoyment time it will avoid tears or a temper tantrum if your youngster is just too small because the size rule is very strictly enforced for obvious safety reasons.

                        Back to the rides.

                        Rhino Rally.

                        Not really a thrill ride, it is great fun though and you will be in for a few surprises. Belted safely into a Land Rover you are driven out into the Serengeti preserve and have some great views of the animals. Your driver is also your guide and will keep up an entertaining commentary for your whole trip.
                        All goes as you think a safari would until disaster strikes and the bridge you are on suddenly gets swept away and you are carried off down the river on a raft. It is great fun with some thrills along the way.

                        Cheetah Chase

                        When you first see this rollercoaster it looks fairly innocuous. It is fairly compact and there are no sweeping curves or inversions but it is the speed and the jarring hairpin curves that make this coaster a bit of a sleeping giant.

                        Stanley falls

                        This is a log flume that speeds you on a water bourn journey ending in a 40 foot drop. You are going to get wet on this one.

                        Tanganyika Tidal wave

                        Another water ride that starts off easy but builds to culminate in a 55 foot drop at the end. This drop creates a tidal wave that ensures that you are not exactly dry when you come off.

                        Congo River rapids

                        This was my favourite ride, it is great fun but do expect to get soaked. A large circular boat takes you on a wild trip down white water rapids with plenty of stoppers that ensure that all the water doesn’t stay in the river. At the end there is a large spray of water that is fired across the river and if you happen to be sitting on the wrong side of the boat (like we were) then you are in for a soaking. Also look out for the nice people on the bridge armed with water cannon that will help to get you a little damper.
                        Yes we did go straight up to the cannon when we came off the ride to get the next people a little wet, it is good fun and everyone takes it as such.

                        Docpov Tip 5 :-
                        There are lockers available at the start of this ride (cost 50 cents) make use of them for bags and especially things that don’t like water too much like mobile phones etc.

                        There is a clothes stall at the end of this ride that does a roaring trade, good marketing there I think.

                        Skyride

                        This is a cable car ride that lets you see the animals and the rest of the park from above. It will take you right across the park from the Crown colony area to the Congo or the other way round.

                        Docpov Tip 6:-
                        This is a one way ride, I suppose you could queue again to get the reverse flight but the queues do get long for this. As we had the stroller I ended up walking to save us all having to go all the way back to get the stroller, something to think about if you are going to ride.


                        On to the big boys, the big coasters…….

                        We didn’t go on any of them, they look terrifying from the ground let alone actually being on them.
                        When we were going past them on the railway the commentator took great delight in describing them as her voice mingled with the screams of the riders of coasters.

                        Kumba

                        This starts with a 135foot drop and a plunge of 110 feet into a diving loop leaves you weightless for around three seconds while you spiral at terrifying speeds. The setting for this one is impressive but when riding I don’t think you would have much time to admire the set.

                        Montu

                        One of the biggest inverted roller coasters in the world and also has a 60 foot vertical loop and reaching speeds up to 60 mph.

                        Scorpion

                        Not as big as some of the others but certainly looked big enough to me and a very rapid rollercoaster.

                        Python

                        This one twists and turns and has a 70 foot plunge

                        Gwazi

                        This one is different from the others, it is two wooden coasters that intertwine and spiral continually.

                        Sheikra

                        Judging by the sounds coming from the riders I should say this one should be called shreeka. This one climbs 200 feet and then drops vertically back to earth at a speed of 70mph. As if that wasn’t enough add to that seven inversions and then to cap it all there is another vertical drop. Not one for me I am afraid.

                        Anything else to do?.....

                        There are several shows to go to although we didn’t seem to have time to go to any of them but there is a 4D pirate show and musical shows plus a children’s adventure. All the shows are in separate theatres and are available for you to enjoy at different start times throughout the day.

                        Docpov Tip 7:-
                        If you do want to see a show, decide in advance what time show you want to see so that you are not at the other end of the park at the time you should be queueing to get in because it is such a big site that it is going to take you quite a while to get there.

                        You are going to be hungry after all that activity so where can you eat.
                        There is a wide choice of eateries from full restaurant to snack bars.

                        Crown Colony Restaurant (Edge of Africa)

                        This is the centrepiece of Busch gardens dining overlooking the Serengeti plain, set against this fantastic backdrop and in a colonial mansion it offers full service family dining. It looks like a great restaurant and we did contemplate it but the kids wanted to do other things so we ended up getting a quicker meal.

                        The Desert Grill (Timbuktu)

                        Here you can eat a wide choice of food such as ribs chicken or pasta or if you prefer a salad. There is entertainment provided to help you enjoy your meal.

                        The Zagora Café (Morocco)

                        This is the place to come for breakfast if you are in the park early. They serve hot and continental breakfast until 10.30 am and then later in the day you can get fajita’s, hamburgers or steak or turkey sandwiches and that style of food. They also have a full kids menu.

                        Zambia Smokehouse

                        Barbeque food served in the shadow of Sheikra, not sure how other peoples screams would affect your appetite though.

                        Snack type foods such as pizza or chicken strips amongst many others are available at locations such as the Kenya canteen and Sahara snacks which are dotted about at locations all over the park.

                        It is the same with drinks, you are never far from liquid refreshment which is a good thing as it will probably be hot on your visit and keeping up a good liquid intake throughout your visit is essential to avoid dehydration.

                        Docpov Tip 8:-
                        Drinks are quite expensive in the park as with any theme park so why not put a couple of bottles of water in the freezer the night before your visit. This will give you a good supply of ice cold water throughout the day as the ice slowly melts.

                        Not enough for you yet?.....

                        There is so much more to Busch gardens, if shopping is your thing there is a vast array of shops around the park selling souvenirs to suit virtually any taste from kiddie toys to works of art.
                        There what could be called almost a fairground in Timbuktu featuring stalls where you can win cuddly toys (have to pay extra per go of course) to carousel’s to familiar fairground rides.
                        If you want a bit more peace there are landscaped areas to walk though and these don’t seem to be as crowded as the shopping/ ride areas.

                        Bits and Pieces…….

                        Disability access is well designed with very few steps in the park and thought has been given to it in many locations and on many of the attractions.
                        Dining facilities will do there best to accommodate those unfortunate enough to have food allergies.

                        Cleanliness is good both in restrooms and in general around the park with no litter spoiling your enjoyment.
                        There are extra special tours and events available but they will cost you extra, a lot extra in some cases and as they are very limited to supply I would imagine they get booked up very quickly so I would say booking is essential well in advance of your visit. Some of these are things like being a keeper for a day ($350.00) or saving a species tour ($44.99) this gets you up close to the rhino’s and tells you how to play a part in conservation


                        Docpov’s Final Tip:-
                        Busch gardens is a huge place and a little planning can save on a large amount of legwork so it is worth sorting out which attractions you want to see most and do them in an order so they will be on the way to another.

                        A word on conservation………

                        Your visit will not only be a great day out but hopefully you will come away with more insight into the plight of some of the species you have seen and what parks like Busch Gardens are trying to do about it and maybe it will make you want to do your bit to help save our world and the wonderful animals that inhabit it.

                        There is another Busch gardens park in Virginia where the emphasis is on Europe rather than Africa.

                        If you get the chance to go I am sure you will enjoy your visit but be prepared not to see everything in one day. It is a huge and popular place so there are a lot of people about and all the major rides are going to involve queueing so decide what you want to see and do the most and you will have a great day out.


                        © Docpov April 2007

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                          15.04.2007 21:17
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                          Advantages

                          Disadvantages

                          A wonderful place to visit and you will learn a lot there as well.

                          The sun is in a cloudless sky and excitement is rising as it always does when a day out is getting closer by the mile. Our trip to sea world was no exception

                          Arriving…

                          The easiest way to get to Seaworld is from Interstate 4 either exit 72 if you are coming from Orlando or exit 71 if you are coming from Tampa. Seaworld is signposted at both exits.
                          If you are coming from further in town get on International Drive and follow that and you will see Seaworld on your right hand side.

                          Parking…

                          Parking will cost you $10, all the parks charge extra for parking, something that I think is a bit steep considering what you pay for a ticket.
                          Parking is well managed with staff showing you where to park. If you park in parks A-E then you are in walking distance but higher and there is a tram shuttle to take you to the entrance.

                          Docpov tip:-
                          Tie something bright to the aerial of your car to help you find it when you come out as the car parks are huge.

                          Admission…

                          There are so many different deals and ticket pricing but if you arrive to pay on the day then it will cost:-
                          Adult $ 64.95
                          Child $ 53.95

                          We visited on a 4 park Orlando flexiticket which gave us unlimited admission to Seaworld as well as the Universal parks and wet and wild.
                          This cost :-
                          Adult $ 194.95
                          Child $ 160.95

                          There are so many different tickets and multipark tickets that I would suggest either working with your travel agent or checking out what ticket is going to offer you the best value in advance of your visit.

                          As we had booked this as part of our package we could bypass the ticket buying part of the entry process.
                          Part two involves a security search of any bag you may have brought with you. A pain but necessary in today’s world I guess.
                          Finally you show your ticket and get your index finger scanned then you are in to enjoy a world of discovery and adventure.

                          When can I go?...

                          Seaworld opens at 9.00AM daily and closes at varying times dependent on season. Summertime closing is 10.00PM but earlier closing times as early as 6.00PM occur at different times of year.

                          The park…

                          Well we are in now what?
                          It is slightly daunting, especially if this is the first park you are visiting so grab yourself a map from just inside the entrance and see what you want to see and see what time the various shows are on so you can at least partially plan your day.

                          Docpov tip 2 :-
                          If you have youngsters with you, even up to the age of six or seven it really is worth hiring a stroller as there will be a lot of walking involved in your visit. Also it is handy for carrying the drinks and purchases etc that you will accumulate thro8ughout the day.

                          Strollers and wheelchairs…

                          Both are available to hire near the entrance.
                          Cost:-
                          Single stroller :- $ 9.39 + tax
                          Double stroller :- $ 16.90 + tax
                          Wheelchair :- $ 10.00 no tax
                          ECV (electric wheelchair) :- $35 no tax. There are conditions applied to this rental though minimum age 16 and a deposit is applied if hired on the day.

                          Docpov tip 3:-
                          Prices as in most places in the US don’t have the tax added (VAT equivalent) to the advertised price so expect to pay a little more than the price you are shown on all taxable purchases.

                          A quick word about our visit :-

                          The first day we visited turned a bit wet, well we were getting soaked actually so we revisited again the next day in brilliant sunshine thus with some of the shows I am able to give a view on shows at different times of day and describe the experience in different weather conditions.

                          Where to start?...

                          The highlight of your day will quite possibly be the “Believe” killer whale show. It is an amazing spectacular which will not fail to leave you awed and emotionally touched.

                          Docpov tip 4 :-
                          We visited shows at 11.00 and 5.30PM. While both shows were awe inspiring the shows were different and we found the earlier one to be slightly better than the later as the show seemed to be longer and Shamu certainly did more. So I would suggest the earlier show.
                          Believe.
                          “Believe” is a perfect title for this show, I call it a show but it really is an experience unlike any other I have witnessed. It is set in a huge stadium with a covered, semicircular tiered grandstand overlooking a huge pool and stage area. The backdrop includes four massive rotating screens that make up the first part of the show. This is educational with a strong environmental message that is the perfect warm up to actually seeing the whales. It does include a tribute to America’s and the UK’s personnel that are involved in conflict throughout the world. It is an emotional moment when members of the armed forces past and present are asked to stand and are applauded but I do wonder if this is a bit misplaced, anyway back to the show.
                          The first part of the show is performed by the ladies and their young. To see these wonderful animals in their element is wonderful. They are so graceful and their size alone is awe inspiring and just watching them as they interact with the trainers throughout the show is a great experience. Throughout the whole show the environmental message is put forward very strongly.
                          The first part is a fantastic experience but now the trainers come to the crowd and whip us up for the arrival of Shamu, the male killer whale. This part of the show can not fail to affect you and as the chanting rises Shamu bursts from the water. It is something I will never forget. He is such a majestic animal, proud and strong, he is enormous and I defy anyone not to be affected by his presence. Overall this show is not to be missed. The whole show is set to and many of the whales actions are set in time to a musical score by the Czech Philharmonic orchestra that adds another whole dimension to the show.

                          Show times on the day we were there were :-

                          11.00, 12.30, 2.00, 3.30, 7.45 and 9.15 at the Shamu stadium
                          These times may vary according to day of visit and time of year.

                          Docpov tips 5 and 6:-
                          Don’t sit in the soak zone unless you want to get VERY wet.

                          Get to the show a minimum of half an hour before the show time as although it is a big stadium all the shows fill up quickly.

                          What next then?
                          Things to see:-

                          Shark encounter.
                          This starts with a walk though an educational area that tells you about sharks, their environments and the dangers they face in today’s world. There are also environments with many types of fish including barracudas. The highlight of this exhibit has to be the moving walkway that transports you though an arched corridor of plexiglass under an enormous shark tank. This is fantastic as you get to see the graceful sharks swimming all around you. The moving floor also makes sure that you get a great view without having to barge through the crowd.

                          Penguin encounter.
                          Set out much like the shark encounter and there is another moving walkway that you ride past a huge habitat where you can see both above and below the water and see the penguins in both. Also in here are the puffins, the same as the penguins you can see them both above and below the water.
                          It is a touch smelly in here but its not too bad.

                          Manatee rescue.
                          These are amazing animals and probably like us one that you won’t have seen before. They are an incredible gentle animal that has been sadly much diminished by human disregard as with many other species. Seaworld does a lot of work rescuing these animals as well as a breeding programme and much more work behind the scenes as with many of the other species within the park.
                          Manatee rescue has the same educational message as the other exhibits and allows you to see these wonderful creatures both above the water outside and under the water inside.

                          Dolphin cove.
                          Dolphins within reach, another once in a lifetime experience. This is a huge habitat where the dolphins can be touched and interacted with. Throughout the day there are feedings and educational lectures take place and there are always staff on hand to ensure the welfare of the dolphins as well as to answer any questions you may have.

                          Turtle beach.
                          See Loggerhead and Green turtles up close and again learn more about them from either information stands or from keepers that are only too happy to answer questions.

                          Dolphin nursery.
                          This is where the baby dolphins and their mums live before they are old enough to go to dolphin cove. Lectures again provide an education into these wonderful creatures and just seeing them up close is a wonderful experience.

                          Stingray lagoon.
                          Another interactive experience, there are lectures to learn about stingrays and you can trail your hands in the water to touch them, also you can buy fish to feed them, just watching them is a great experience in itself.

                          Pacific point preserve.
                          Here you can get up close and personal with sea lions and harbour seals. The environment is a recreation of a Northern pacific coast and is well worth seeing. Here again you can learn more about the animals.

                          Wild arctic.
                          This is part of a ride as well as a chance to see some amazing animals, more on the ride part later but for now you have the chance to see both above and below water Polar bears and Walrus as well as the incredible Beluga whales. All these animals are housed in a massive 900,000 gallon seawater tank that is complete with a fantastic above water habitat to make their home as real for them as possible it is kept at a low temperature. These are seen below ground and it can get a bit hot and stuffy in here especially after the ride.

                          Docpov tip 7:-
                          In all probability unless you are unlucky as we were on our first visit it is going to be hot so make sure you have plenty to drink. Drinks on site are quite expensive as you would expect so I would suggest taking some of the much cheaper supermarket bought drinks or a good tip is to put a couple of bottles of water in the freezer the night before you go and then you will have ice cold water throughout your visit as it gradually melts.

                          Want a break from animals for a bit? Then it might be time for a ride. Be prepared for a long wait !!! The queues do get very long for the popular rides.

                          Rides :-
                          There are only a few big rides at Seaworld, thrill rides are not really what this park is all about but there are a few for you thrillseekers.
                          I must admit that I am not really one for the big coasters and as we had our little one under the height restriction we didn’t dare them apart from wild arctic but this is what you can expect.

                          The Kraken
                          As you can probably tell from the name it is a bit of a monster, seven inversions at speeds of up to 65 mph rising to heights of 140 feet so if that is what gets you going no shortage of thrills there.

                          Journey to Atlantis
                          This is a water roller coaster combining special effects with turns and sharp drops. We heard that one of the drops is 60 feet almost vertical. Again height restrictions apply.

                          Wild Arctic
                          This is one that we did dare, wished we hadn’t too but that is just us.
                          There are two choices in this ride, the pedestrian route and the helicopter route. On the pedestrian route you watch the film from a stationary perspective before moving on to see the animal habitats below.
                          Take the helicopter option and you are in for it. This is a high speed helicopter simulation with a dramatic film of the arctic in front of you. You are certainly thrown about in there as the copter goes through a series of dramatic manoeuvres. I have to say we were all left feeling rather more than vaguely sick by that and then to have to go into the enclosed atmosphere of the underground habitat was a little more than we had bargained for but seeing the magnificent animals more than made up for an iffy stomach.

                          Shows…

                          Of course the main attraction is the “Believe” show but that is certainly not to say that the others are not worth a look because they all are. All very different but all well worth looking at.

                          Odyssea
                          This is an inside show in a large theatre called the Nautilus Theatre. The show is one of dramatic music and dance mixed in with high and low acrobatics and a touch of comedy all set in a mystical underworld scene. As with all the shows it is only about half an hour so it doesn’t take that much time out of your day but you are advised to get there early to get a seat as all the shows fill up fast.

                          Show times on the day we were there were:-

                          12.30, 3.15, 5.00 and 6.30 at the Nautilus theatre
                          These times may vary according to day of visit and time of year.

                          Clyde and Seamore take Pirate Island

                          More comedy in this show, it features Clyde and Seamore, two sea lions who generally help and hinder their fellow human actors in their quest for the treasure aided and abetted by otters and even a huge walrus. Great fun for the kids this one with plenty of visual as well as vocal gags. My kids were both in hysterics and I raised a smile or two as well.
                          This show varies with the weather as it is outside and some of the dry weather things that occur would not be safe for the animals to do in wet weather.

                          Show times when we were there were:-

                          10.00, 11.30, 1.00, 2.30, 3.45, 5.45 and 7.15 at the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium
                          These times may vary according to day of visit and time of year.

                          Blue Horizons.

                          This show is fantastic and not far behind the “Believe” show in being dramatic and a great spectacle. The show is a mix of dolphins, high diving and ariel acrobatics.
                          Add to that blue macaws swooping over your head and you have a spectacle to behold.
                          I can’t fully put into words all the drama of this show, there are just too many elements to describe but the dolphins are spectacular and a joy to behold as they leap and somersault through the air and propel their human friends though the water and the air. The human diving and acrobatics compliment the dolphins perfectly and the musical score rounds off the experience.
                          We saw one of the last shows of the day and the whales didn’t feature but I think they do in the earlier performances although I am not certain of that.

                          Show times on the day we were there were:-

                          12.30, 1.45, 3.15, 5.15 6.45 and 8.15 at the Whale and Dolphin Theatre
                          These times may vary according to day of visit and time of year.

                          Other shows that we didn’t see include
                          Elmo and the bookaneers
                          Show times 1.15 and 4.15 at the Bayside stadium

                          Pets Ahoy
                          Show times 10.45, 12.15, 1.45, 3.15, 5.15 and 6.45 at Seaport theatre.

                          Mystify
                          A water and firework spectacular
                          Show time 10.00pm at the waterfront.
                          As we didn’t see these shows I don’t know what they are like but I am sure they are up to the very high standards of the other shows.

                          There are other shows and special attractions such as behind the scenes with “Believe” and personal encounters with the sharks and other animals. These special shows and encounters are limited and book up very quickly, I don’t know but I would imagine that they are all booked up before the day because on both our visits they were sold out and as on our first visit we were there soon after opening and they were sold out then so although they would all be brilliant experiences I think the chances of getting on them are very slim.

                          Docpov tip 8:-
                          Arrive early for the shows as apart from it being better to wait sitting down in your seat if you turn up[ near the start of the show there is a good chance you will miss out

                          Still not had enough?

                          Well if you have any time or energy left there are still plenty of things to do like visit some of the many shops and stalls that are to be found throughout the park. To some extent they are themed to where they are situated like the shops near the manatees sold goods with a manatee theme and so on.

                          If the kids have more energy than you do there is Shamu’s happy harbour, situated by the Shamu stadium it is a kid’s play area complete with bouncy castles (enclosed) and a four story net adventure as well as small children rides. It is a good area for the kids to run off while the aged parents take a breather in the shade for a little while. That was how we used it anyway. Also near here are stalls where you win cuddly toys, you know the sort, putting rings over bottles or fishing for ducks etc. Of course these are pay for activities. We gave them a miss as we might have had a job getting a five foot tiger or life-sized Spiderman on the plane.

                          Oh I almost forgot, there is a 400 foot observation tower that you can go up in a large revolving structure. Must be a great view over the whole area but we didn’t go on as there is a height restriction and we just didn’t have time.

                          Eating and Drinking:-

                          With all the walking and the hot sun you are going to get hungry throughout the day and drinking plenty is a necessity to stave off dehydration in the hot sun as well as satisfying your thirst. I mentioned a couple of ideas in a previous tip but believe me drink plenty and regularly during your trip it is necessary.
                          There are stalls selling drinks throughout the park as well as selling Budweiser, yes the park is owned by the Anheuser-Busch family who own Budweiser, but they sell plenty of soft drinks and water as well. One good option is to buy a plastic souvenir cup and get cheaper refills throughout the day.
                          Eating, there are many restaurants and snack bars in the park selling a large range of food just a small selection includes:-

                          Smokey Creek grill
                          Barbequed food including ribs and chicken

                          The deli
                          Sandwiches and salads. These sandwiches are huge and are a meal in themselves. I had a turkey one and it kept me going for ages.

                          Mama’s Kitchen
                          More sandwich style eating plus salads and chicken.

                          There are many others all offering reasonably priced (for a theme park) food of many different styles and tastes.

                          There are many stands selling popcorn and crisps amongst other snack fare dotted around the park so you are never far from a bite to eat.

                          Something we did was booked an all in picnic. This is set in a private area with indoor and outdoor seating. For a price of $13.95+tax per adult and $7.95 +tax for kids this makes for a great relaxed meal.
                          For your money you literally get all you can eat plus free soft drinks. I think this is great value.
                          The fayre is basic, burgers and hotdogs style of food but it is well cooked and you can have as much as you want.
                          The picnics are available to be booked at a desk just inside the entrance.
                          Picnic times are 1.30 and 5.30, space is limited so booking is essential.

                          Special needs:-

                          As I mentioned at the start wheelchairs and ECV’s are available to hire and are catered for at all the show venues. There are special viewing slots for wheelchairs and entry ramps to enable wheelchairs to be easily taken in. There are very few steps anywhere in the park so wheelchairs and unsighted guests can go virtually anywhere within the park.
                          The park seems to take the needs of its less able guests very seriously and staff are on hand should you need assistance.

                          A mention on the staff, we found them all to be very friendly and helpful and always had a cheery word for our little one. The trainers and keepers were knowledgeable about the animals, habitats etc and were always ready to answer questions which we found really helpful. Its amazing what questions a five year old can come up with.

                          A word from me.

                          I think you can probably guess that we loved the place and I would be more than happy to make another visit should the opportunity arise.
                          There is so much to do, we didn’t cover everything on two visits although one was cut short by the rain so I would recommend making sure you see the shows and attractions you want to the most first and then see what time you have left. I am sure you would enjoy a visit as much as we did.

                          A word on conservation.

                          Just by visiting you are helping toward conservation efforts with part of your entrance fee going toward conservation projects.
                          Just as importantly you and all the other visitors are learning and in learning maybe becoming more conscious of the world around us. That is the message I came away with, I love wildlife especially aquatic wildlife and this visit made me even more aware of what the human race is doing to our planet.

                          There is so much more I could have mentioned, like the beautiful landscaping and the cleanliness of the park to the clean and fresh restrooms.
                          There is nothing that I can say against Seaworld except for the crowds but I guess that is just something that has to be put up with although I must say that the crowds were not as bad as Disney.

                          Docpov’s final tip :-
                          When you want to visit an encounter or grab something to eat if you time it so one of the big shows is on you will find the queues are shorter than at other times.

                          And on that note all that is left for me is to wish you a great visit should you have the opportunity and I am sure you will enjoy the experience as much as we have.


                          A few bits.
                          There are more Seaworld parks in San Diego and San Antonio.
                          More info can be found at Seaworld.com or telephoning local number 800-327-2424

                          ©Docpov April 2007

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                          • nanowrimo.org / Internet Site / 53 Readings / 47 Ratings
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                            15.03.2007 19:42
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                            Write a novel in thirty days and earn the right to call yourself an author.

                            It is said that every one of us has a book inside us that is just waiting to be let loose on the world.
                            How many of us though would ever actually set that book free?
                            Ask me that question three years ago and I would have been one in the 'it's in there somewhere but I doubt I will ever loose it on the world' camp. At the time I had found the writing bug, writing reviews on here I had written a few short stories that had gone down quite well and when someone suggested NaNoWriMo to me I had a look and thought what the hell and gave it a go.

                            So what is this fabled NaNoWriMo?

                            Odd word that isn't it, not really a word at all, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and that is what it is. In the month of November each year an ever growing number of budding novelists come together to write a novel, not just write a novel but write a 50000 word novel in the thirty days of November. A tall order you think, yes true but it is also great fun.

                            A little bit of history.

                            NaNoWriMo was the brainchild of a man from Los Angeles called Chris Baty. Together with a group of friends in the year 1999 he decided to take on a challenge to write a novel in a month. They had such a great time doing it that the next year they decided to do it again. This time one of them offered to build a web site and the number of participants had grown to 140. This year was when the rules started to be formed, more on them later.
                            Year three saw the participant level jump to over 5000 and with the growing number of participants came an evolving website and an evolving experience to go with it.
                            Year on year NaNoWriMo has been growing and evolving until last years participant level reached many thousands.
                            From a small idea of a few people NaNoWriMo has now grown into a major charity based yearly event.

                            The site.

                            nanowrimo.org is where it all happens, when you first visit the site you are met by a friendly home page consisting of a book meter that shows how much money has been raised, sections with links to breaking news, wrimoradio, Q and A, a reminder that can be sent to you for when next year is about to start and a cumulative word total for last years event. This year that stood at a staggering 982,564,701 words written by participants all over the world.
                            Across the top of the page are links to all the other pages of the site where all sorts of information can be found including a very large forum and information about the charity work and FAQ's and the store.

                            Like what you see, want to join?

                            Signing up is simplicity itself and its free!!
                            The usual personal details are required plus things like what you want as your signature on your forum posts and what you want displayed on your personal profile. All of this is editable once you are registered. As with most sites you sign up for you can have a web name that you will go by.

                            What does signing up allow me to do?

                            Apart from the obvious take part in the competition signing up allows you to participate in the forums and send messages to other members who you can sign up as writing buddies should you wish. Once a member you can participate in all facets of the site.
                            Once signed up you get yourself a personal profile page that is well done in the form of a book.
                            The first page shows your personal details (up to you how much information you want on public display) and shows links to enable you to see your forum posts plus links that allow visitors to your page to send an E mail or personal message to you or access your own website should you own one.
                            Page two shows your progress throughout the month with a daily word count. Throughout the month this is done on an honour system meaning that you are trusted to post your true total, after all if you cheat the only person you are cheating is yourself so there is little point in lying. This page also shows your writing buddies and how they are getting on.
                            Turn the page; yes it does turn like the page of a book. This page shows a graph of how the global total is progressing on a daily basis and also shows what is happening in regions of the world in terms of word count. You can post an excerpt of your work in progress for the world to see on the next page.
                            It is really nice to see your excerpt in the form of a book. I think this is one of the best features of the profile page. You are allowed to post up to 10000 words that anyone can come along and read.

                            Also on the site are pages for donations and shopping.

                            What charity?

                            As I mentioned NaNoWriMo is run as a charity and donations are encouraged although not aggressively so. Donations can be made from as little as $10 to $5000 dollars. Giving a donation entitles you to wear a halo over your username. Half the money raised is used to run next years NaNoWriMo and the other half goes to charity. To give you some idea of the scale of NaNo now this years total was $249,441 so as you can see it is a worthwhile venture as well as being a fun experience.
                            The charity that is supported by NaNoWriMo provides libraries and books etc in Vietnam and Cambodia.
                            In the past two years NaNoWriMo has built two libraries in Cambodia and seven in Laos.
                            Also supported are a young writers programme and laptops that can be loaned by nanowrimers for the duration of November should their be people who want to participate but can't afford a PC.
                            The funds raised from selling merchandise are also added to the charity pot. NaNo merchandise is available to buy including T shirts, books and mugs.

                            OK I'm in its the 31st October. Now what?

                            Get ready for a great experience. Not sure what to write? Well what you like really as long as long as it is all out of your own imagination anything goes, any genre, any take on any given genre. The limit is only really your imagination. Let it run riot and you will be surprised what flows onto the page.
                            Of course plagiarism is totally banned and to be honest if you are just going to copy someone else's work then what is the point, the only person you are cheating is yourself.
                            Of course there is the opposite side of the plagiarism coin, securing your own work. The only piece of your work that is on site is what you choose to put in as your excerpt, you don't even have to do that if you don't wish too so there is very little chance of someone pinching your bestselling idea and as for sending your work for verification I will explain that in a moment.

                            What is in it for me?

                            First and foremost personal satisfaction and the thrill of taking part. You are entitled to a participant's icon and if you complete the challenge you earn yourself a winner's icon and a certificate and of course you are the proud owner of the novel you have written. So there is no big prize at the end of it, no fanfare for the winner but that isn't what NaNo is all about. The personal joy at having written a novel and completed the challenge is the prize and after doing it that really is prize enough.

                            The challenge.

                            As I have said this is to write a novel of 50000 words in the thirty days of November. That works out at 1666 words every day for the month, a tall order and a real challenge. Your novel doesn't have to be a masterpiece, doesn't have to be a best seller. NaNoWriMo is all about getting you writing, in this case quantity is better than quality. That doesn't mean that you can write one word and copy it 50000 times there would be little point and no satisfaction in doing that would there.
                            The basic rules are that you start with a blank canvass, you are allowed to have character outlines and an idea of where you want your plot to go but you are not allowed to have done any actual writing of your work before the first of November.
                            The 30th November, you have made it, 50000 words in the bank and you are feeling well pleased with yourself. There is one more thing you have to do before you can share your glory. You have to send in your work to be verified. Don't worry if you fear for the safety of your hard graft you don't have to send your actual work in fact they advise you not to. What they advise is that you change a few letters throughout your work, change all the E's to Z's and all the T's to X's and a few more and very soon your work becomes intelligible but the word count remains intact (don't forget to keep an original copy yourself before you change it all though) Once your count has been verified your name is added to the winners roll of honour for the world to see and you are now entitled to download your winners certificate. This year 12960 budding authors had their names added to the winning roll of honour.

                            What else can I do?

                            There are many other facets to the site should you want a half hours break from writing your novel. There is a very large forum section with a huge array of topics where you can get character or plot help or get encouragement if you are flagging or run out of ideas. Talk about all sorts of writing related subjects or even non writing subjects.
                            There are also regional lounges where you can make yourself known to other participants in your area to get encouragement and help on a local level. This can lead to NaNo meets where you can join up with other budding authors in the physical world.
                            There is also wrimoradio where you can listen to broadcasts talking about writing and giving you the spur to complete the challenge.

                            NaNoWriMo has grown and grown, there are now a number of spin off sites, NaNoFiMo (national novel finishing month) to finish your novel if either you didn't make the 50000 or if you did but there was still more story to tell.
                            Finished your story but need to work on it, edit bits or rewrite bits then there is NaNoEdMo (national novel editing month). These sites are run along the same lines as Nanowrimo, indeed they are run by participants themselves.
                            And if you really want to go for it after your NaNo experience you could always try NaNoYeMo, Write a novel and edit it and get it published in the space of a year, very tall order that one.

                            I've won what now?

                            What happens next, where will it lead? That is up to you. I can only speak of my own personal experience.
                            I found out that I could write a passable novel and the experience gave me the encouragement to do something about it. Together with another NaNoWriMo contestant and incidentally a former Ciao member we decided we could and should write a novel together and this is what we have done and now that novel is to be published in May this year and already we have both started personal and another joint novel. So from little acorns and the Nano experience oak trees grow. Without the NaNo experience I don't think the last year would have gone as it has, I don't think I would have written a novel or got to the stage where I can nearly call myself an author so for me that is the prize, that is what NaNo gave me and I am truly thankful for the experience.

                            What about the rest of the year?

                            As mentioned above there are the spin off sites and others that do similar things and you can access the site and the forums throughout the year. For me it is the annualness (made up word I know but it fits what I want to say) of the event that makes it special for me, the planning in the couple of months before November and the anticipation as the date draws near really do add to the enjoyment of the experience.

                            Will I be back?

                            Oh yes I will certainly be back this year. After failing miserably last year through commitments of getting our novel edited and prepared for publishing I will be back next year, raring to go and with hopefully a really good story to tell. Nano is such a good experience and as you get to know a few contestants it becomes a social event, giving each other encouragement and sharing the experience is half the fun. I won't deny it is tough; it wouldn't be a challenge if it wasn't but it is fun as well and that is what helps to make it a great experience.
                            So if I have given you the urge to have a go then go for it and feel free to look me up on there next November.

                            Give it a go, unlock the author inside, you never know you might surprise yourself like I did.


                            © Docpov March 2007

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                            • King Arthur (DVD) / DVD / 52 Readings / 50 Ratings
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                              10.10.2006 19:36
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                              A different take on the Arthur legend. Maybe trying to find a firmer basis in history.

                              King Arthur, a name that brings to mind pictures of fairy castles and knights in gleaming suites of armour, mounted upon prancing white chargers doing war on the evil in the world. Images of court ladies dressed in long flowing gowns and wearing tall pointed hats. Fantasies of magic swords and magicians weaving their spells in the ultimate fight between good and evil.

                              This adaptation will shatter all those illusions or at least change the way you view the Arthurian myth.
                              I found the film to be more of a cross between Gladiator and The Three Musketeers, with a bit of Robin Hood thrown in for good measure.

                              What do I mean by that? I found this to be a swashbuckling adventure/ action film rather than the mystical Arthurian legend I had been expecting. The action of Gladiator is mixed with the “gung ho, against overwhelming odds” of the Three Musketeers with the virtuous heroic qualities of Robin Hood.


                              The film is set around Hadrians Wall in the final days of the Roman occupation of Britain.
                              Our hero, Arthur, or should I say Arturius as this Arthur is a half-Roman, half-Briton commander of a troop of elite cavalry in the Roman army. The troop consists of Salmation conscripts from the Russian steppes and is the best of the best.
                              This troop makes up the Knights of the Round Table and includes all the famous Arthurian names such as Lancelot, Gawain and Galahad.
                              Guinivere is portrayed as a feisty warrior woman in league with Merlin who is the leader of the Woads (the face painted warriors of the North.)
                              The setting is one of Roman estates and rough peasant housing in the shadow of Hadrian’s wall, all under a heavy winter sky that gives the whole thing a slightly dark atmosphere. The sweeping views of Hadrian’s wall and a Britain of sweeping grassland and dark forest are impressive and do add a touch of the epic.

                              The knights are about to be discharged from the Roman army; having served the 15 years that a peace treaty of their ancestors had forced them into. However the Bishop who is in charge of their release has one last mission for our heroes. This mission, to save a trapped Roman family on the wrong side of Hadrian’s wall is incredibly dangerous; it’s a mission that will bring about profound changes in the thinking of Arthur. Whilst on this mission Guinivere is rescued by the knights and so the link is formed. The eternal triangle between Arthur, Guinivere and Lancelot is touched on at various points but never grows into the love triangle of the earlier stories. Arthur is a devout Christian and this mission will shake his beliefs to the very core, dramatically changing the direction of his life.
                              The Romans start off fighting the Woads but the introduction of an invading Saxon army changes the positions of the protagonists somewhat.
                              The whole film is the story of how Arthur’s beliefs that shape his life are altered by unfolding events, eventually leading to his destiny.

                              One thing that I did find quite odd was the fact that the first part of the film dealt with the youth of Lancelot rather than Arthur whose youth is only very briefly touched upon. I suppose this was used as a vehicle to introduce the history of the knights and how they came to be in the Roman army. I did think that maybe more explanation of how and why Arthur was given the charge of this troop would have been helpful.

                              Who is in it?
                              Arthur- Clive Owen, put on a good rugged hero type performance.

                              Lancelot- Ioan Gruffordd, did seem to be vying with Clive Owen for who was actually playing the lead.

                              Guinivere- Kiera Knightly, Good as the leading lady, well virtually the only lady. Her costume at the end is strange to say the least.

                              Cerdic- Stellan Skarsgard, not an actor I had heard of but a fair performance as the ruthless leader of the Saxon army.


                              Merlin- Stephen Dillane. Merlin’s part was not huge but was well portrayed as a sort of cross between a warrior king and a witch-doctor.

                              Bors- Ray Winstone, anyone remember him as Will Scarlett in the Robin of Sherwood series? Well its that sort of rough and ready character, one that adds a touch of humour as well.

                              Galahad- Hugh Dancy, not the most macho knight but then I suppose all knights were not muscle-bound giants.

                              Tristan- Mads Mikkelsen, the one with the hawk which seemed to have a bigger part than Mads.

                              Dagonet- Ray Stevenson, The gentle giant bringing a touch of compassion to the proceedings.

                              Gawain- Joel Edgerton, Did seem to be there to make up the numbers but not a bad portrayal of the character.

                              The performances overall were not bad and helped the story to flow. I would not say that any of them will be up for Oscars for their performances but I found them perfectly watchable.

                              The other bits and pieces.

                              Jerry Bruckheimer who has brought us many memorable films produced the film. - Armmageddon, Pearl Harbour and Gone in sixty seconds well as the fantastic Pirates of the Caribbean to name but a few of his successes.
                              The director was Antoine Fuqua who was responsible for training day.
                              The music in the film was a soundtrack that sort of faded into the film. It was there but not at the forefront, which to my mind is how film music should be.
                              The film is a 12 Certificate (contains moderate battle violence and mild sex.)

                              There are two different versions of this film, this one and the director’s cut. I have seen both and must say that to my mind the director’s cut is a better film. Why? Well the violence is dramatically pared down in the theatrical version. Allowing for a 12 certificate whereas the directors cut is a 15 certificate. I possibly watched them in the wrong order; the directors cut first, as the theatrical version did not have the same impact after seeing the more violent version.

                              I am going to go against the critics and most people I know who have seen it by saying that I thought it was a good film, not what I was expecting but after a swift readjustment to my thinking I really enjoyed it. I think it is a clever attempt to put a different slant on a story that has been so overused over the years. They do say that it is based on fact, could be it is quite plausible after seeing the film. I think that is up to the individual viewer though. It is certainly more possible than the Arthur of legend, the Arthur of Excalibur and Avalon but whether it is a good thing to change the myth of one of this countries greatest heroes, I don’t know.

                              King Arthur is available at most DVD and video stockists, Amazon price £3.97, making it a real bargain couple of hours viewing in my book.

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                              • More +
                                26.06.2006 18:58
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                                Good but expensive web hosting with a package to suit most needs.

                                Have you ever looked at a website and been impressed? Have you ever had an idea for a website but didn't know where to start? Have you ever looked at a website and thought 'I could do better than that?' Do you want a source to get information to a wide audience or maybe sell something?

                                That was our situation. We had an idea; in fact we are writing a book and thought perhaps a website would be a good way to promote it.

                                Problem.

                                Neither of us knew where to start when it came to web design. Neither of us knew much about HTML which is the language web sites are written in. Neither of us had access to any very expensive web design programme.

                                Solution.

                                A web hosting company. There are many available on the net, all offering a mind boggling array of services for a wide range of costs.
                                We started with a free one but soon found that you get what you pay for in the world of web hosting.
                                The limitations soon became obvious as we struggled to get the site we wanted.
                                Of course if we were going to be paying for it then we were going to have to come up with ways of covering the cost so what started as a simple site to promote a book has grown into a full scale commercial site.
                                It was not long before we decided that it was not going to work that way and so after a brief interlude with another web hoster we turned to Fasthosts.

                                Fasthosts.

                                So who and what are they? Fasthosts.co.uk is one of the largest web hosting companies offering a wide array of solutions to cover any web design needs. Whether you want a single page blog or if you have a dream of challenging one of the big boys for internet supremacy then they have a package that will help you to your goal.
                                Of course the more you want, the more you are going to have to pay for it as you might expect.
                                Fasthosts offer a wide range of services including Domain name registering; hosting websites, E mail hosting and you can even get your broadband through them.

                                In fact the range of things to talk about is so vast that it is going to be easiest if I relay our experience with them.

                                We started about three months ago on a journey of discovery.
                                After trying other hosts we finally decided on Fasthosts. We had some queries about what we wanted to do so I phoned their customer services to get some answers before we parted with any money. They were very helpful, even going so far as to test a couple of things on their PC's to make sure they would work and they answered all my questions plainly and patiently, giving me a good first impression of the company.
                                Satisfied we decided to sign up. First decisions to be made. There were four packages to choose from.

                                Home.

                                This package costs £3.99 a month and offers you the use of their sitebuilder (more on that later), 750MB of web space, graphical visitor statistics and virus, spam protection and 200 mail boxes, 3 of which offer advanced features.

                                Developer.

                                This package costs £7.99 a month and offers all of the above plus a rise to 2GB of web space and 600 mail boxes. Many other technical advances are included or available as add ons.

                                Business.

                                This package costs £15.99 a month and offers all of the above plus a rise to 5GB of web space and unlimited mail boxes including five with advanced features as with the developer there are a host of technical add on's either included or available as add on's including various scripting packages.

                                The one we chose, the professional doesn't seem to be available at the moment but it cost £110.00 for a year including domain name but it fitted in between developer and business and has all the features of developer plus more web space and mailboxes.
                                If you pay yearly on any of the packages you get one month for free.

                                The first thing we did was sign up for our domain name and get that registered. For a co.uk address it cost us £2.95 p.a for a .com address it would cost £8.89 p.a.

                                Sitebuilder.

                                After we had signed up the next thing we had to do was sign up for the sitebuilder. This cost £52.88 and gave us access to, for us one of the most important bits.
                                Sitebuilder is a service that allows you to build a website using templates and a whole host of tools to enable you to design a website without the need for knowledge of HTML.
                                It is a bit mind boggling to start with but it does not take long before you have a layout and design for your site. Everything is changeable should you change your mind.
                                I am very impressed with the sitebuilder. It is easy to use, once you get the hang of it and has very few limitations.
                                The screen tells you what to do using icons at the bottom of the page to let you do all sorts of things like add a page, add text or pictures, move or delete items on the page or create links to name but a few.
                                It is possible to upload your own pictures or use some from the included gallery. Once you have uploaded your pictures they are kept in a file so that you can use them again and again should you wish.
                                Adding text is simple, once you have designed the layout of your page then it is just a case of choosing where you want to add it and write or copy and paste your chosen text in the box provided. There are also options to change the appearance of your text with all the usual word processor tools.
                                There are a wide range of add ons such as forms, picture galleries and tables, all of which are fully customisable. You can also add sound or video to add interest to your site.
                                Those are the basics; of course once you get the hang of what you are doing it is possible to add virtually anything. It is possible to add your own HTML code and/or alter any code that is already in place. This lets you add such things as buy now buttons to enable you to take credit card payments or with the setting up of an account make use of paypal. This is what we did and to my surprise HTML is starting to become less of a closed book to me and we have achieved things that we never thought possible. This also allows you to insert advertising banners with ease, just copy and paste the HTML code into the page code.
                                Once you have got your site to the stage where you think it is finished you can publish it to the web for all to see. That is not the end of it though; you can revisit sitebuilder at any time to change, add or remove items and republish your site as many times as you like.
                                One good feature of sitebuilder is that you can try it for free in demo mode, create your site and then if you want to proceed you can purchase a package and post your site to the web.

                                Mail.

                                You are supplied with a huge amount of mail boxes. Some of them are fully secure and come with advanced features such as virus scanning and make use of forwarders etc. I must admit that we have only so far used a half a dozen of the thousand odd that are available but it is nice to know there are more should we need them. Setting up mail accounts is a relatively painless exercise as is using them.
                                Access to mail accounts is through your personal control panel as is access to all other features that you may install either at the time of purchase or at any time afterwards.

                                Options.

                                There is an add on called matrixstats which is a programme that tracks usage of your site, giving detailed information on numbers of visits to your site and a whole host of statistics as to how your site is performing. It is interesting to use and also extremely relevant if you are a commercial project because it allows you to see which pages visitors to your site are using allowing you to change things if some pages are not as popular as you would like.
                                If you are going down the commercial route there are other things you are going to need. Unfortunately they are also things you are going to have to pay for. There are add ons such as traffic driver which is a means of adding your site to search engines using optimised keywords and carefully selected Meta tags. These are added to your pages in site builder. There are different levels of Traffic driver, of course at different costs. The one we chose cost £112 per annum. As well as adding your site o the search engines and sorting out your meta tags you also get detailed reports as to how your site is ranked in the search engines and which search engines your site is submitted to Of course there again if you choose the cheapest option you are not going to be submitted to as many or as big search engines as you are if you go for the higher packages, nor do you get as many features.
                                Other commercial options are available such as getting a sponsored spot on Google or joining the Amazon affiliates programme. Commercial shopping carts can be installed too.

                                Support.

                                Support is available by either phone or E mail. Both require pin numbers and account numbers for security so have them ready if you need to contact them.
                                I have found them to be very good, The E mail seems to take a little while to be answered but when the answer came it was succinct and to the point and solved my problem. Phone support seems to be better and quicker. Isn't it always the same when you can actually talk to someone? Anyway I have been satisfied with Fasthosts customer support on the couple of occasions I have needed to contact them.

                                Summary.

                                All in all we are very satisfied with what fasthosts has allowed us to achieve. Of course it is not a cheap thing to do but hopefully we are going to reap the rewards of our hard work.
                                If you just want a single page site or something to show off your family photo's then I would say maybe this would be an expensive way to do it but if you are looking to own a larger site then I would say this is the easiest, if expensive way to achieve your goal.
                                There are many more technical features to look into and use on fasthosts particularly if you are looking to start a commercial site. These can be read about in the details of the various packages that are laid out plainly and are easily read and understood.
                                So if you have always fancied being a webmaster, do like we did and live the dream.





                                ©Docpov June 2006

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                                • More +
                                  08.04.2006 12:56
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                                  Great gameplay and good graphics

                                  Are you a fan of Lord of the Rings? Do you enjoy playing strategy games? Boy, are you going to be in for a treat.
                                  The Battle for Middle Earth brings you both in glorious fashion.

                                  Welcome to Middle Earth.

                                  Imagine the Fellowship of the Ring approaching the gates of Moria. They enter the darkness; the only illumination is that of Gandalf’s staff, showing the area immediately around the fellowship. All they can see is the grey walls of the tunnel as they progress until suddenly there is the sound of drums in the deep. There, up ahead are two orcs on the other side of a bridge. Aragorn and Boromir charge forward to destroy them. There is a prize, an experience upgrade that unlocks special abilities.
                                  Progressing deeper into the Dwarf mine further orc attacks hit our hero’s until they reach Balin’s tomb.
                                  The door bursts open and in charge a host of orcs and a cave troll. It takes all our hero’s to win this battle including using their special abilities.
                                  Once out of the tomb it is the charge down the stair to face the Balrog. Only Gandalf can face this deadly creature and it will take his magic to defeat it.
                                  After that epic battle if all the Fellowship are still alive victory is yours.

                                  When you have calmed down a bit it will be time to start on the second mission. This is different and follows a path more familiar to strategy gamers.
                                  The 3D map of Middle Earth shows you where the various armies and the fellowship are and what your next mission will be (later you have a choice of which mission you wish to do next.)

                                  For the second Act you take the role of Rohan in its fight against the might of Isengard.
                                  This time armies and buildings are introduced now as you defend the homeland against the raging hordes of Sarumans orcs.
                                  You must build farms to get resources to make your army with which to stand against the enemy that will soon be after your blood. Upgrade your troops with better armour and weapons to help them survive and make sure you use your hero (Eomer) wisely.

                                  And so it continues, you play missions involving all the characters from the Lord of The Rings with Acts including the Ents as they smash Isengard. The legions of Gondor as they defend Minas Tirith all heading towards the epic final battle before the gates of Mordor. As you go through you will face all the creatures that Sauron has to offer including cave and mountain trolls, mumakil and the dreaded Nazgul.
                                  The missions are all scripted to follow the book (or the film in this case I should think) and later you do have a choice of missions, like whether to take the armies of Rohan to either the Westfold or the Wold. The choice you make does have consequences, as it will decide where you go to next (my choices led me to miss out Acts 15-17 although I don’t know how) and each victory in a given region is worth different special bonuses.
                                  Ford and Sam are not forgotten either, their adventures with Shelob and Gollum also feature. These missions do add a bit of variety to the gameplay.

                                  How it works.

                                  Resources.
                                  Farms are what you need to collect these resources (you also can find treasure or collect treasure for destroying enemy lairs. The resource gathering is very simplified, just build farms and wait for the funds to mount up.

                                  Armies.
                                  These are made at barracks or stables in your stronghold and cost resources. The troops include mounted and foot soldiers. These troops are either ranged units (bowmen) or melee units (sword and spearmen.)

                                  Upgrades.
                                  There are a variety of upgrades available to make your soldiers better weapons and better armour. These are made at specialised buildings.

                                  Veterancy.
                                  As your troops fight battles they gain experience and their level is increased, with it they become better soldiers and are more likely to win a fight.
                                  Your surviving troops are carried over from mission to mission, thus allowing them to gain more and more experience levels up to level ten. As the troops that you end a mission are the ones you start the next with it is advisable to try to build troops up to the maximum and give them all available upgrades as you near the end of a mission, if at all possible.

                                  Hero’s.
                                  All the characters gain experience too. This leads to more special abilities being unlocked as well as them becoming better fighters. These special abilities are varied and are in keeping with the individual hero’s characteristics. If by some misfortune a hero is killed in battle it is possible to revive them at your citadel. (Except first mission.)

                                  Evenstar powers.
                                  These are special abilities that are available to purchase depending on how many “power points” you have gained in missions. These special powers are varied and include the ability to summon squads of reinforcements for a limited time. These can be invaluable if you find yourself in trouble at any point.

                                  So there you have it you have finished. Sauron is defeated and peace reigns in Middle earth. So that is the end. No?
                                  Right, you can do it all again from the Evil point of view starting with Saruman and his fights with the Ents and the forces of Rohan before attacking Minas Tirith with the hordes of Mordor.

                                  As it is under license from New Line Cinema (the company responsible for the Lord of the Rings films) all the character voices are the film actors voices and some cut scenes and other features are scenes taken directly from the films.

                                  Other game modes.
                                  Battle training. This is the tutorial mode that will teach you how to play the game. It is quite detailed and easy to follow although there is a lot of information to take in.
                                  The main game is the campaign mode (either the good or the evil campaign.)
                                  Multiplayer, either on the Internet or a LAN is available. I have not tried these yet so will reserve judgement until I do.
                                  Skirmish mode allows you to play specific battles.

                                  Technical Issues.

                                  The Battle for Middle Earth is released by Electronic Arts in association with New Line Cinema.

                                  To run the game you will need-
                                  Windows 2000 or XP
                                  1.3 GHz processor
                                  256 MB RAM
                                  3.5 GB Hard drive space
                                  32MB Direct3D Video card
                                  Direct X 9.0b and compatible sound card
                                  Broadband Internet access for multiplayer.
                                  8 speed DVD- ROM
                                  It is worth noting that this game is on DVD and not CD.

                                  This is the minimum requirement and I have to say I think that is very low. I have had a few problems running it on my 1.7 GHz system with a 256 MB graphics card.
                                  In the big battles, when there are hundreds of characters on screen the action slows dramatically (on the Minas Tirith mission my PC crashed halfway through.) I have found that after a couple of missions, especially the later ones, I have to reboot my system to get it to run a bit smoother.

                                  Graphics.

                                  All landscapes and buildings are beautifully presented in fantastic detail with nice little touches like water splashes when horses charge through . Another plus is that soldiers behind walls are shown in shadow form so you never lose sight of any of your troops. The camera will also rotate to give a different viewpoint and zoom in and out so you always see what is going on.

                                  Sound.

                                  The sound is THX certified and is very good. All the characters have their voices from the films and say things now and again throughout the game, normally when they are about to do something. The background music is also from the films and does add drama as it changes depending on what is happening in the game.

                                  Characterisation.

                                  All the main characters are recognisable and well drawn and easy to pick out. Them speaking when they are clicked on help this. They are individually portrayed whereas the troops are shown in groups.

                                  My opinion.

                                  I have only touched on the main points of the game here and there are many things to master. Sounds difficult and complicated? Its not really, once you have picked up the basics you are well away and the learning curve as you go through the early missions is not too steep. If you are used to playing this type of game it is easy to pick up.
                                  Setting aside the lag problems I think this is a fantastic game especially if you are a big fan of The Lord of the Rings like I am. The game plays well and there is enough variety of mission to keep the interest levels high.
                                  As to the star rating I have a bit of a problem, from a gameplay and enjoyment point of view I would have no hesitation in giving it a full five stars and maybe if I had a higher spec PC then I would too. This is however a personal opinion and I have to use my experience and the slowdown is a real problem on my PC so that is why I have only given it a four star rating.
                                  I have taken the liberty of writing this in a way thinking that the reader will already know something of the Lord of the Rings. If you don’t then The Battle for Middle Earth could be your introduction to the fantastic world of The Lord of the Rings.

                                  Availability.

                                  The Battle for Middle Earth is available in most good game stockists. As the new version is now out Amazon has this one priced at £6.99. A real bargain I think.

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