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Public Service Announcement: This is likely to be quite a long op, sorry, as I'm very very very impressed with this thing. Consequently, anyone who's only after how to get them cheap should take my endorsement as read, and skip straight to the bottom now... Well, there is quite a lot to write about here... I've had a mobile for about 5 years now, and whatever the handset, it's always been my most treasured possession. I think it goes back to when I was a kid, reading Dan Dare in the Eagle comic, and watching Star Trek. I was always deeply disappointed that I'd been born far too early. In the future, people would be able to do absolutely everything - walking in space, hurtling round the world, vanquishing Mekons without even breaking sweat. All we needed to turn ourselves into these comic book super-beings seemed to be the right technology, but the digital watches and chunky calculators that we swooned over in the early 80's might as well have been flint tools in comparison with Spock's Tricorder or Buck Rogers' spaceships. Then came mobile telephones. They might not be the most advanced device the human race has ever invented, but I think they're the most "futuristic". A human with a mobile is suddenly able to reach out make their presence felt nearly anywhere on the planet. We can talk to many more people, much more quickly, and as a result we can affect many, many more outcomes. No longer do we need to think "I wish I knew what was happening", and what we want to do is limited more by what we can think of than where we are, or how much time we have (This is of course not always an advantage if, like me, you can't think of anything in particular, but I digress). So, for me the mobile became a symbol of empowerment, and no longer having to wait for some distant future to arrive. Imagine then how happy I was then to learn at a text messaging conference (yes, I know that
9;s rather sad in itself) about this time last year, of the planned development of the mobile to end all mobiles, the SonyEricsson p800. Looking at the specification for it all made sense. We've built up so many gadgets by now, that convergence was due any minute - all our little silver toys would inevitably merge into one "personal empowerment device", a sort of digital swiss-army knife, if you like. The phone that is more than a phone is also a: MP3 walkman; Digital Camera; Video viewer; Dictaphone; Notepad; Address book; Diary; Games console; Emailer; Web browser; Calculator; File storage; Modem ..and pretty much whatever new software is made for it Given my mobile fetish, it's hardly surprising that I was practically camped out on the doorstep of Carphone Warehouse for a year, begging "Is it here yet?" so regularly that I had to make sure I kept going back to different branches so that the assistants wouldn't notice it was me again. Eventually, the launch date of September 2002 was announced, and I started scraping together pennies, and infuriating my poor partner with my entreaties to be allowed to buy it ("It's only £400. If I don't have another pint, does that mean we can afford another half a percent of it?"). September came and went, and my anxious emails to SonyEricsson (those poor customer services people) stopped being returned. Another date was set for Christmas, which similarly over-ran. Finally in February they started to appear on these shores. I stepped up my campaign of Carphone Warehouse-bothering, returning day after day to find missed shipments, shipments without O2 compatible handsets, and shipments that had gallingly sold out minutes before I got out for my lunchbreak. Anyway, it's May now, and I am in finally in possession of my very own blue and silver marvel. Jo can't entirely identify with the way in which I cradle it, tuck
it carefully into its docking station at night, or that I've stopped talking to her to play with it - but at least I'm happy. On a more level-headed note, it is a very useful and very well made phone. I used to use a Siemens SL45 (because it had an MP3 player for the tube journey) and an old windows PDA to organise my life. Merging the two into one saves me filling more pockets, and charging more devices every night. I get to work, synchronise my appointments in the phone with my Outlook diary (so my colleagues can see just how little I'm doing in the next week), and I always have a contacts book with me whenever someone asks me for a phone number or email address. I was worried about synchronising it, as my PDA had never worked properly - deleting reams of work email in the attempt - but this worked perfectly and set itself up without a hitch. (One caveat to this is that the phone as supplied doesn't work with Windows 98, and if you want to connect to this, you'll need to download hours' worth of extras from the SonyEricsson and Microsoft sites - Linux and Mac users are damned even further with no support I know of) The controls took a little while to get used to, and I very quickly dispensed with the optional keypad/cover flip thing - easier to use the jog-wheel on the side, and virtual buttons on the touch sensitive screen. Handwriting recognition wasn't as tricky as I was worried (the Palm-style graffiti input is less sophisticated than a windows PDA's script recognition, and only takes one letter at a time, but it is very simple, and it's hard to make mistakes, which is always a good thing). The fiddly and lose-able stylus has come in for a bit of stick in reviews, clipped to the side of the phone, but I actually think it's the best solution for quick access - and in any case they do give you 3 spares! I've used the browser several times for work and amusement, and the phone's l
ong screen makes great clear viewing (especially if you download the excellent free Opera browser for it). Likewise, the reader software for email attachments is very useful. The camera's a decent if unremarkable one, and the MP3 player's good. On the rather major down-side, the phone only has 11MB of memory, with a stingy 16MB Sony Memorystick expansion. This isn't enough for much music or synchronised email, quite infuriating when you consider all the neat stuff you could carry on it if you had enough memory. Memorysticks are also the new Duo variety, which you can't buy anywhere yet, grr, and even if you could, they would be much more expensive than the non-Sony alternatives. If you haven't balked at the price tag of the phone, do beware that you'll still have to pay another £100 probably for the extra memory to make it properly useful, and a second cable to synchronise at work as well as at home. Much has been made of the phone's 3d chip, and the swanky games you can play on it, though of course these will be dependent on enough developers writing them, and there's hardly anything at the moment. I did download a remarkably fun strategy game (a la Command and Conquer) to play on it, as well as the 3d racer and shooter supplied with it. For the boring stuff, the phone's very small considering what's in it, but larger and heavier than most these days (kind of like a phone from 2 years ago if you can remember that far back). The batteries charge very quick and last at least 2 days of fairly good use. The screen is clear and bright, with a powerful backlight. Construction is sturdyish, though I've seen some people's p800s already with scuffed paint (they evidently don't love theirs as much as I do mine). The Bluetooth functionality I have yet to try (as I can't afford any other bluetooth toys to go with it, sob). What you're probably wondering though is: "DIDN'T
HE SAY I COULD GET IT CHEAP?". The answer is yes (sort of). Read on... I've bought all my phones from Carphone Warehouse (they get another glowing op from me for customer service), and they're pretty much ubiquitous, so when a new branch opened in a new discount village in my home town of Portsmouth, I didn't think much of it. I don't like "discount villages" on the whole. They seem to be a way of offloading stuff that designers couldn't sell a few years ago, onto people who've been blinded by the label and a tiny reduction (If you told most of the blokes going in that they'd be coming out with a pink shirt, 3 sizes too large, they'd not be best pleased, but the XXL fuschia Ralph Lauren Polos seem to fly out at 20% off). Anyway, in keeping with this discount theme, CPW at Portsmouth Gunwharf Quays offer a 30% discount on all phones. Not sure why, as they're the same phones as sell for more in their Commercial Road branch, rather than the out of season tat peddled by the likes of Calvin Klein's outlet, but ours is not to reason why... 30% off a £350 phone is a rather generous £105 discount, which happily paid for my £20 train fare from London, and made a very profitable visit (and Mum & Dad thought it was to come and see them - bonus!). CPW have another 6 of these outlet shops around the country, so check out your nearest before buying a phone. Plus, a lunch in a nice Portsmouth harbour side pub, and a walk up the pier can't be too bad, eh? Anyway, thank you very much for reading all this, you've helped me pay for 0.0075% of this wallet-crippling phone now. I hope I've convinced you of the absolute necessity of buying one of these wonderful devices - If only because I don't yet know anyone else with a colour phone that I can send photos to!
The last time I put pen to DooYoo was a sorrowful affair, updating an op on my old digital camera after it got itself pinched. I'd had it for years, and presumed was quite basic, but only realised when I came to replacing it that they don't make them like that any more, sob... This op however is about my new camera, which is everything the old one was (though sadly for twice the price). Anyway, a few weeks after my bereavement, I was after a replacement. A nice lady at Direct Line had decided on the spot to give me a new for old with vouchers I could use in the Jessops opposite my office, and I was very chuffed with this arrangement until I actually turned up in the shop, to fiddle with Jessops' recommended replacement. This would be a Fujifilm Finepix A201 and, as the shop assistant himself told me, not a patch on my old Finepix 1500. Gone was the tough metal body and speedy f2.7 lens, and in its place was a slightly higher megapix rating in a very flimsy plastic shell. I freely admit not to be the world's best photographer (I'm currently terrified that I've been asked to do my Father in law's upcoming wedding shots!), so have no need for a professional camera with 3, 4, or even 6 megapixels, and only use low res pics for websites. Most of the time I didn't even use the 1.3 megapixels of the old camera, needing only 640x480 shots. What was more important to me was a robust pocket snapper that took sharp photos without a flash in low light conditions. With the advent of optical zooms in digital cameras, and the megapixel arms race, lenses have gotten slower. Manufacturers seem to have cut back on the quality of components, leaving plastic boxes that take lovely huge pictures of sunny days on Clapham Common, but embarrassing grey blurs under office lighting, or indeed most conditions you actually want to use them. I asked the assistant what would be the cheapest metal bodied camera with a f
ast lens, and he picked down a Casio QV-R3 from the shelf, with a £300 price tag. I had to feign interest (in the way you do when you're faced with something you certainly can't afford, but don't want to appear a total cheapskate) then scuttled off, mumbling something about going away to "think about it". Well... to cut what is already a long story a bit shorter, I was surprised to see the very same camera in the window the next week as ex-display, with £50 knocked off, so stomached the £80 that I had to pay over the insurance and snapped it up. And I'm very glad I did, it's a thoroughly excellent device. It does the job, taking good pictures, even in dim artificially lit rooms, and even at full optical zoom. What's more, it does so quickly, with less than a second between frames, and with a fast autofocus. What's most wowed me about it though is just the feeling of solid quality it gives off. It's tiny (9x6x3cm), but a noticeable and well balanced weight (enough feeling of solidity in your hands to cut camera shake). When you turn it on, the lens whirrs out quite quietly and smoothly, accompanied by a needless but cute startup animation. All the buttons and features are made of the same brushed stainless steel (which I've only managed to scratch a little so far), and the lens cover and nice sharp LCD screen seem solid. Even the LCD screen menus and icons are prettily designed. It luckily doesn't quite shout "flash git!" like some cameras, but definitely has a nice look to it as an object. Casio make great claims for its advanced features on the box, especially the "coupling shot" mode. This is frankly bizarre, and lets two of you feature in a joint picture without 3rd party help, by taking half a photo at a time, and overlaying a guide to help the second snapper line up the halves. Even odder is a mode for people who don't trust their friends to line
up sh ots of them - take the pic and then have your photo overlaid as a guide. I've thought about this, but can't imagine anyone ever using it. It's not alone though, a whole menu of 30-odd modes lets you optimise pictures of buildings, flowing water, children's parties, you name it. It all basically revolves around clever tweaks of the manual settings for different situations, but by the time you've worked out which to use when, and what it does, you might well have learned to run the whole thing on manual instead. Luckily all this oddness is grouped together behind the 'best shot' button, so you only need to ignore one button to ignore the lot of it. (Rather shamefully I also ignore manual mode, which is extremely detailed for those who actually know what they're doing). It takes small, short & silent AVI videos by coupling tiny shots, but I've yet to find this useful. Similarly it's got lots of clever print conventions like EXIF for when you take it along to Boots for printing 6x4's, and a clever slider to let the viewfinder adjust to your eyesight when you're not wearing specs, all stuff I won't use myself but others will find useful I'm sure. There are a few minor niggles - the buttons are small and fiddly, some common functions take more button presses than they should need to if the menus were simpler, the firm plastic cable connection cover looks like it will break off at some point. The main bother with it though is the power switch. It's a simple push button, exposed on the top, and liable to be turned on and off repeatedly in bags or pockets. With such a good design otherwise it seems strange that Casio were so dim with this. The software supplied is also rather lame. The loader is confusing, making strange html page albums rather than just opening a file list, and making you go hunt for the photos in date named folders. It's also closely integrated wi
th the ret ouching software, which isn't much cop. I've turned both off, and just get the pics out with Windows Explorer, which treats the camera as another drive, or browse the contents in Paint Shop Pro. Some details: Pentax lens - 3x optical zoom (7.6mm-22.8mm), + 3x digital zoom 14cm macro mode 3.2 mega pixels (2048x1536 pics), with 3 smaller settings USB1 image transfer Internal memory 11MB, expandable with SD card or Multimedia card The chap in the shop said it had the same innards as the Pentax Optio 300, and both do indeed look alike, with the same lens, and all the buttons in the same places on slightly cosmetically different cases, so I guess it's a toss-up which to choose - they're both a good option to save at least £50 over the Canon IXUS v3 on a similar spec. Overall I like it very much, and am sure you will too! If I were cleverer, I'd get nice pics out of the comprehensive manual settings, and if I were more of a beginner, I'd likely find the hand-holding modes good too. There's a lot more than I need here, but it does what I need extremely well. I'd never have spent so much on a camera if I'd not had the insurance payment, and probably would have opted for the old Fuji again if I could have found it 2nd-hand, but I'm glad that I did impoverish myself in the end, as I've gained a truly useful piece of kit, and a very nicely designed plaything. Update 2/4/3 --------------- Aha! There's a very fun little feature I've found. It actually makes websites for you. choose one of many templates, and the camera automatically makes an html page with thumbnails for all the pics, linked to larger versions - v good at taking donkey work out of web galleries, even if you do end up changing the files a lot to make them match your site, the thumbnailing is a good option to have. Please promise not to tell anyone how I ma
nage to get the upcoming wedding shots on the web so fast!
Most of the time, I'm fairly glad I don't have a car. I'm not a very good driver for one, especially worrying for me living in London, where I've been beeped more times than an Eminem single. I couldn't afford it in any case, what with insurance, petrol, road tax and parking, and our flat has nowhere to park within half a mile or so. Sometimes though, it is very inconvenient indeed. I've had to move house at short notice, visit family many miles from any train station, and last weekend, help a rather immobile elderly relative get along to a family gathering. Up until now, I'd been hiring a car from companies like Sixt or Budget, and whilst it worked very well, I'd managed to compile a list of my favourite narks about the car hire process: 1. It costs you... you'll generally pay £80 or more for a weekend. Add in the fuel costs and it's not a cheap option, even with some of the silly. 2. It's not your car... This might sound obvious, but bear with me... If it were my car, I wouldn't worry about scuffing the hubcaps when parking, spilling coffee on the seats, or about leaving it outside at night, and getting it keyed. When I have a hire car, I'm in such a twitching state about messing it up that I can't relax, and can get quite grumpy with my long-suffering girlfriend and navigator. 3. You need to fit into their times Offices might not be open past 5, or 1 on a Sunday, so you have to be back in time to check it back in. Sometimes they do let you park & drop off a key, but this doesn't seem to be too common in city locations. Well, I thought of biting the bullet again, and renting one for the weekend, and whilst shopping around online, I looked at easycar.com. I'd never considered them before, as I didn't live in London (the only place they had outlets at the time), but instantly decided to choose them when I saw the price, at £40, around
half the price of going to e-Sixt. Easycar.com is slightly different though. It's another brainchild of Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the millionnaire entrepreneur behind Easyjet and EasyInternetCafe. Easyjet was such a success, as he took a product which had been tied up so much by corporate use, that it was awkward for the private consumer to access. By stripping out the perks, removing the complexity of booking, and adding holiday destinations, he slashed the costs dramatically in a move so successful it's since been copied by many of the air-dinosaurs which he undercut. A whole new sector of customers started to access air travel, on terms which suited them a lot better. Car hire was another similar market, he felt, geared to long-term corporate use and executive tastes, rather than considering the individual market. Identifying urban people, who didn't want their own car, but wanted to make short term trips, at a low cost, to fairly close locations, he decided to tailor a no-frills, no-overheads car service to their needs. The result is Easycar.com (formerly EasyRentacar.com). How it works: Q: Can't decide on the Lexus or the Merc? A: Tough. You get one car, and like it or lump it (if you're lucky you can choose the colour!). They use either Mercedes A class or Vauxhall Corsa, depending on the location. This makes the booking process much cheaper, as they don't need to hold one of each class in reserve to book. We borrowed a Corsa, which was quite a nice car, well powered, and comfy (I'll skip over this bit and let you look for an op on Corsas, probably written by someone a lot more knowledgeable about cars than me). Suffice to say though, that you won't get much posing value in a small car, covered in orange stickers. Q: Want to talk to an operator? A: Talk to the hand... You need to book online only. The system's easy, and it keeps overheads down. Bad for jobs may
be, but cheap, even if it is a little impersonal. Q: Worried about damage? A: They can't stop you crashing, but they do have a very cheap extra insurance fee. £10 brings the excess down to £25 (from £500). This is the first time I'd taken the extra insurance out, as it's generally about £20 to reduce the excess to £100, which is such a big excess that you'd end up paying full for much anyway. They're also quite upfront about damage, telling you exactly what they'd bill for (eg a scratch would cost you only if it's over 5cm) Q: Live outside London? A: Nothing south of the river at this time, guv! - many smaller branches in low-demand areas are more expensive to maintain than a small hut in a huge carpark in London. Other branches are opening in major cities, but this definitely isn't one for the countryside alliance. Q: Dirty stop out? A: Fine. They're open to 11pm every day. They give you a 1 hour return slot for it, charging you a bit more or a bit less depending on when in the day you choose. Not the most organised of people, I missed our slot by about 30 mins, and they luckily didn't fine me (can't be sure that this would always happen though!). In fact, rather than getting a rough quote for the duration, which gets confirmed later (like e-Sixt) you specify the days, and the hours in and out, and it calculates a flexible amount for you there & then, based on a transparent formula to help you plan. They aren't so keen on the 'dirty' bit though & will charge you a cleaning fee if they can't give it out again without a valet. Q: Any other questions? A: This one applies to me, as I often turn up at the rental place without the right proof of address, not knowing how to get there, or where the nearest petrol is, with the wrong credit card, or some other blunder. When you finish on the website with Easycar, you print off a full instructions document, with ma
ps and checklists. This also works as their sign in form, which cuts down on paperwork time at the branch. The website is nice and easy, and I worked out a quote very quickly, without any ambiguity in what I was getting, or what it'd cost. I like this. Far too many eCommerce sites have ambiguities in the transaction that have you skipping back & forward to double check what's going on, or having to make a common sense guess and hope you've bought the right thing. The staff (one guy only each time) at the location were very courteous, and booking in and out took only 5 mins each (I've heard it can get busier at peak times though). My ID and my face were snapped with a digital camera, and I was off on the road. The guy didn't leave his little hut, but told me the quirks of the car (lift the shift for reverse, petrol cap on driver's side etc) very clearly, and told me to come back only if the damage sheet didn't match the car. Some of the conditions are a little inconvenient for the punter, but you don't mind so much when you can see how they bring the cost down (eg: pick up and bring the car back empty, rather than full - cheaper for them not to have to refuel anything on site). Overall, I'd say this is the best option for the occasional driver in London and around on personal business. The costs could add up if you treat it like a normal hire car - leave it dirty, go over the 75 mile a day limit, and so on, but at £40 and £10 extra insurance, we thought it was a risk worth taking, and will be doing it again next time we hire. It could even become a viable alternative to car ownership for many people, more environmentally friendly, and less choking for our poor London Streets than lots of parked cars that no-one needs. Happy hiring! Final tips: 1. Book it early - prices are cheaper a few weeks in advance (weekdays start at around £7 a day, and weekends around
£15) 2. Check all their locations in London before hiring - prices vary depending on how many cars are still available at each location, so one a mile up the road might save you a tenner.
I'll probably get told off a little for putting this here, when we have lots of cafedirect products to comment on instead in the Organic category, but that's pretty much my point... In discussing coffeein general here on DooYoo, we're missing out probably the most significant coffee innovation since instant, namely Fair Trade. Fair Trade has a number of definitions, depending on who you're talking to, but basically means challenging traditional trading wisdom by: - Paying a fair price for people's produce, skills and labour - Working in partnership to give the suppliers the long term buying committments and marketing advice they need to invest in and grow their business That's the theory however.. and this is a firmly commercial op on buying and drinking bags of coffee, rather than a 6th form politics essay, so on with the review... A consumer test I saw recently said 70% of people would like to choose a more ethical product, IF it meant no compromise on quality or price. Now that's a fairly big IF! I'd like to show you however that it really is possible to enjoy Fair Trade, and not have to pay over the odds for your caffeinated karma. Anyone drinking Fair Trade coffee 10 years ago would have been one of the hair shirt brigade - I know, I did... The stuff was pretty nasty, and worked out as a rather expensive assault on your tastebuds too, only available in the small wholefood shops beloved of the mung-bean-brigade. There was a heinous instant called AfriCafe (yuk!!) and several other small-run varities, which I've luckily been saved from remembering. I only drank them as an idealistic(read smug) student (those were the days...), and as I didn't really like coffee anyway, and it was more for the caffeine to help me write essays overnight after stumbling back from the pub, the taste problem didn't register too highly. I only really got into coffee when I moved to Germany
. I was living with a bunch of Italians, who wouldn't trust the local wares and had everything brought in from Italy to cook (with Italian utensils). Having made the mistake of offering them an instant once ("What's that?", " I don't know, he says it's coffee?"), I was subjected to trial by taste-trial of espressos and cappucinos, made with pungent shrink-wrapped bricks of Italy's finest, which intrigued me. Suffice to say I was convinced, and started buying percolator or filter coffees by the bucketful, from brands like Illy or Lavazza. I still supported Fair Trade though, and would buy cafedirect or Oxfam coffee for work, or when I couldn't find stronger ones. I always saved a block of espresso coffee in the fridge though, as there just weren't any Fair Trade coffees which could compete with the strength or aroma of the premium brands. Very happily though, in the last few years that's all changed. Cafedirect has launched some excellent new filter coffees, which you can now buy everywhere (the constant whinging at supermarket managers by would be Citizen Smiths like me actually paid off, hurrah!!), and other smaller brands like Equal Exchange, and even Traidcraft (who used to be on the files of the taste-crimes police) have secured wider distribution, and upped their ranges and quality dramatically. An indicator of the quality now is that you'll find cafedirect in the very nice UK-Italian coffee house, Costa (outlets absolutely everywhere, so yet another reason to skip Starbucks). Another milestone passed on the way to the mainstream! My top-tipple tip though is Percol coffees. This mainstream manufacturer has actually moved many of their existing coffee lines over to the Fair Trade system (Yay for them!). They started with a couple of very nice medium roasts a few years back, and now have 5 different lines. The last two have been the absolute answers to my prayers (I'
m not an ambitious person...) in that they're a Fair Trade espresso and americano blend (5 and 4 on the 5 point strength scale), and really very very good. The espresso in particular is strong and aromatic enough to blow the soft-focus-socks off the Nescafe Gold-Blend advert couple (Coffee the vampire slayer, anyone?) at 100 paces. Best of all, these top-notch new grounds are no more expensive than the rows of other ground coffee bags next to them on the supermarket shelf. So you do now really have that 70% test... Next time you're shopping, switch just one packet of cafedirect speciality blend or Percol, and have a go. You get a free halo with each one, honest! Seriously though, the difference it could make to the horribly exploited coffee growers is so much more than the shrapnel it costs you in the UK. It seems strange, but for people who normally receive only pennies for their work, those few more pennies can be a doubling of their income. It means more financial security, or little 'extras' like kids' education, or coping with unexpected medical bills. I was lucky enough to visit some Fair Trade producers when Brazil, and was amazed at their indepth knowledge of the western trading patterns that kept them poor. It's just as amazing that people here don't know about them too. Anyway - sermon over. My one recommendation out of that rant is to go buy a pack of Percol Fair Trade Espresso, and a good stove-top espresso kettle. The smell alone will help you win friends and influence people, calm family disputes, and add a few grand to the value of your home if any house-hunters are passing. You'll come over all sophisticated, develop a fashionable wide-eyed intellectual stare, and won't be able to sleep for a week - magic! Reference stuff: check www.fairtrade.org.uk, www.maketradefair.com, or www.cafedirect.co.uk for more (don't check the percol site, it's rat
This is so addictive it's made me pretty much trash my computer, just to play it! Hot Date is the third expansion for Maxis' excellent "The Sims", adding a lot of new features, as well as the expected new items and skins. The Sims itself is a remarkable game (on which I've expounded at embarassing length in another op), but basically it's a mundanity simulator. Yep - You get to simulate wallpapering a house, making coffee, cleaning the loo, or even the excitement of paying the electricity bill! This may at first sound insane, but it is infuriatingly addictive (also thanks to the huge internet community dedicated to swapping new bits and pieces, and Maxis' cunning release of free tools to help you customise it yourself). My girlfriend Jo and I have little replicas of ourselves (scanned in at the Dome last year), and we fight constantly over the one computer chair and for control of the mouse, just to watch our computerised alter-egos obey our every command. Previous expansion packs added new items (Livin' it Up and House Party), but this one takes it a lot further, reworking the control interface to better present the more sophisticated options, and more interestingly, adding a whole new type of neighbourhood, the Downtown area, where Sims can go shopping, eat out, dance, drink, and date. In previous editions, interaction had been limited to holding house parties, which got a bit repetitive due to the same scenery, but this lets larger numbers of Sims interact in very different ways. For example, at the mall Sims can buy magazines to help them hold more informed conversations, or browse for gifts to curry favour with other Sims. At restaurants, they can wine and dine family members, friends, or strangers that they meet Downtown. Best of all, the Sims DIY philosophy holds sway, and if you don't like it, you can tear it all down and build your own bars, parks, or beaches instea
d. The Sims on its own is great in that it only requires a modestly powered computer, and lots of friends could easily get involved, sharing and swapping, without needing to be high-powered game freaks (Hot Date was an Xmas present to Jo from one of her friends). Subsequent packs were also fairly light on requirements, but this unfortunately keeps upping the stakes. I have a 366mhz Celeron with 64MB, a 3GB drive and 16MB video card, and I think this is pretty much the minimum spec now. It used to trot along quite nicely, but now really crawls, the sound gets garbled, and the whole thing crashes every now and then, when the swap file gets too large. I'm not really a computer gamer (more work and internet), so won't be upgrading my computer, and this will probably be the last Sims upgrade I can use. The number of expansions also means problems installing them correctly. I was a couple of meg of hard disk space short on first install, so was told to uninstall Hot Date and try again. Unfortunately I didn't know that this would also uninstall vital bits of the Sims program, needing all 3 packs to be reinstalled in the correct order! This had extra problems in that I wanted to keep the user data I had in the game, so couldn't delete any of the files which were still clogging my drive and preventing a reinstall. It wouldn't reinstall without gallons of clear space - even though it was only overwriting exisiting files - so I had to rip out stacks of useful work programs, reducing my computer to little more than a Sims-console. I thought I could reinstall all the other software, but no - the Sims wants not only nigh on a gig of hard disk space for the three packs I have, but a huge whack of swap file space too. This really is one for people who don't mind shrinking their computers' horizons quite a bit! To cap it all, installing the whole thing meant I overwrote my user data anyway! (grr!) J
ohn's lesson from this is: a. don't be too hasty installing/uninstalling <br>and b. back up your user data!!! These niggles though are only relevant to people like me, who find themselves stuck in the stone age (pre 2000) in computer terms. It won't bother anyone with a roomy hard drive, 128mb RAM, and a swanky new processor. If you're a 21st century gamer, you'll only notice the improvements the pack offers. On a very petty note, the new interactions require a lot more voice effects. Sims speak in a garbled Sim-speak, which is very funny and well observed, and I don't think is as good in the new pack - nothing up to the standard of the excellent "Dis bois is frenushay!" or "Dag dag..." (though the new mall clerks have some good lines). The new graphics however, are great, adding a lot more useful skins than Livin it Up did (less wacky ones), and making just enough variety for each household to look and feel different. The new interactions are not only focused around dating, and include greater variety of family and friend relationships, based on personality type, and new control over interests. An inventory option also lets Sims give presents of items that previously didn't have much use (garden gnome anyone?). It is the dating side though which will definitely provide the most yuks, as you cruelly egg on your virtual proteges into all manner of ill-advised encounters, and play god over domestic bliss or strife. Tacky - yes, cheap - yes, juvenile - yes, but very much fun. The Sims is a great concept, fantastically and wittily executed, and isn't a game which really needs expansions in order to hold your attention. This means that packs like Hot Date are really bonuses rather than necessities. If you have the Sims though, and a tough enough computer for it, a modest-ish £20 will add a great new twist to the game, and is a much better expansio
n than the more limited Livin' it Up. There's a definite novelty factor to exploring all the new options and locations, which I imagine will keep us extra-hooked for a fairly long time. Just don't blame me when you stop going downtown yourself, in order to stay in with your Sims!! ******************************* Quick update - 6/3/2 Since writing this, I've bought a new CPU, an Athlon 1100mhz, which is perfectly capable of running even the 20-character pub scenes with no delays or crashing. So no worries if you've got a newer machine. - cheers, John ******************************* Quick update 2 - 27/3/2 Oy oy oy... Just read on the Sims site (www.thesims.com) that they've now sold 6.3 million copies worldwide (13m with expansion packs - that's the combined sales power of more than 10 Gareth Gates!), which makes the Sims the most popular game ever! This is a little scary that it seems to be appealing to non-traditional games players, and to have touched the biggest nerve in people since Tetris. Personally can't believe it's not all some sinister plan for world domination ('Tragamin style', for all the Nokiagamers)... However I will probably queue up with the rest of the sheep to buy the latest 'Vacation' pack when it's released next month!!
My first trip to Tenerife was a first for me in many ways. Normally I'm pretty bad at prying myself from my desk and going on holiday in the first place, and when I have gone somewhere, it's always been visiting friends, or city breaks, so the idea of a sunshine holiday had never occured to me until my girlfriend told me we were going... We found a last minute 4 day JMC holiday the day before we flew in early May (pre season), buying it through bargainholidays.com (which seems to have been a dot com casualty), and the only place left that fitted our tiny budget was Tenerife - Playa de las Americas. We had no idea what we'd find in Tenerife, and pretty ignorantly didn't even know where it was (quite a shock to find oursleves next to the equator when we'd only thought we were going to Spain). As the plane touched down, the shocks kept coming. We'd evidently landed on the moon - there wasn't a plant or building to be seen for miles, just a huge lump of dusty grey pumice stone in the ocean (it's a live volacno). Our apartment was great & very large if basic (Playazul Apartments) and we were pretty chuffed to stand on our very own balcony, and gaze up at the volcano, and the many, many building sites running all the way up it - a pretty cool, if unorthadox, view. Wasting no time, we sped to the promenade for an evening meal, and going past the tourist restaurants for a long way, came to a nice looking terrace restaurant on the beach, where we used our best(ish) Spanish to order paella and sangria. We were tucking in, and looking romantically over the beach, when the lights went up in the restaurant behind us, illuminating a 10 foot wooden cowboy, and a bloke from Bolton in a rhinestone shirt came on and cranked up the country & western. We realised very quickly that we were never going to "get away from the tourist side of the resort", simply because such a thing did not exist, unle
ss we went out and sat on top of the volcano. As the sangria kept coming though, we also realised that we were having a very fun evening. Another jug, and the cowboy had dedicated a song "to the two young lovers on the terrace", and we walked back towards the lights of the resort singing our new song ("Help me make it through the night" - I guess we could have done worse for a theme tune) The next day to our surprise we found out what the resort looked like in broad daylight. Walking from our hotel to the bay, we went past the Norwegian pub ("The happy viking"), the Dutch pub, the Newcastle pub, an uncannily accurate German biergarten, the Scottish pub, and a whole United Nations of hostelries, all with neon signs, mascots and crowd-pullers trying to cram people in. This was very odd. It was as though "It's a Knockout" had finished on TV and all moved en-masse to its very own holiday island. The Dutch wore leather trousers and sang along to 2 Unlimited, the Germans ate bockwurst, and the Scots had kilts. Every stereotype imaginable was on parade, and everyone was cheerfully going about their segregated national holidays, getting on very happily next to everyone else, and just pretending that they were still at home, and someone had turned the sun up. It wasn't quite a Benetton ad in terms of multiculturalism, but we had much fun going from country to country as we went from cafe to pub, changing the languages we spoke, and drinking the national beers. We only had 4 days, so set about doing stuff as quick as we could! We went down to Porto Colon, so called becaue it looks like a colon I think.. and joined 20 other holiday makers on one of the regular catamaran sailings out to look at dolphins (who most obligingly gave us a top display) and go swimming from the boat in a secluded bay, with crystal clear and toasty warm water, before rushing back to port for after-sun. We spe
nt most of another day in the water park, where I wussed out of going on most of the slides, and watched Jo take her life in her hands instead. One of them (called, obviously, the Kamikaze) was a straight toboggan run at 45 degrees for about 4 storeys... horrible.. In the evenings, the lights and the noise make Las Americas quite a 'lively' place. Down on Veronicas - the 18-30 Brit bar boulevard, local police joshed not entirely amicably with UK holiday makers, and the bars' paid shouters tried to manhandle us into bar after bar, each offering more freebies than those next door. They eventually started sounding so desperate that we headed for the only bar without a shouter (which also seemed to have the most customers!). As it was so early on in the season, the poor shouters were finding it hard to earn their commission in the empty super-bars, with tragic sounding sales pitches, like "Come to our pub, there ARE some other people in there, honest!". As a result, most of the evenings we spent in the next resort of Los Cristianos, mingling with the rest of the old-at-heart. There were some nice restaurants, and some frankly surreal touches, like a huge Vegas-style egyptian casino, or a tethered helium balloon, taking you 400 foot up to look down at the town and feel queasy. We walked along the rather functional looking quay, and sat on the beach, eating ice creams from a German Eiscafe. One night we made the mistake of visiting a more normal Tenerife town - we got in a cab, asking for what we thought was a local street, and finding it was actually in the next town of Las Galinas (good thing taxis are pretty cheap). Getting dropped off at Ten Bel, a multi story car park, with a subterrannean pub-pit to keep the tourists in, we walked through the grey, stray-dog littered suburban streets, down to the slightly grubby beach, looking for a restaurant. Twenty minutes later, we were back at Ten Bel, hailing a cab to take
us back through the polythene wrapped banana fields to Los Cristianos. I guess if you're going to be a tourist, you should stick to tourism! 4 nights was probably the right time for me to spend there, though Jo would have liked a lot longer (she's a dedicated sun worshipper - I was pretty red by 4 days already), and I had a really refreshing break, mainly due to the concentrated wierdness of what we'd encountered. The vibes were good from everyone, and it was really strange to find a place with no identity of its own, but a mish mash of all the visiting euro-cultures. I Don't know what it would have been like more in season - probably more UK-centric in Las Americas. Don't think I'd go back in a hurry, but I'd definitely try another sun holiday - something I'd never thought I'd like much - so thanks, Tenerife! Top Tenerife facts - The Canary Islands are so called, not for their association with Canaries, but for the packs of vicious wild dogs which were the only wildlife on the islands, and which were the first thing the Spanish colonists exterminated (closely followed by the original islanders). The island doesn't in fact have much natural history, with the only crop being the imported banana greenhouses which run alongside the circular motorway. The local cuisine is pretty much limited to the questionable delicacy of wrinkled potatoes - half boiled, than half baked, with lots of salt, and a side dish of red & green sauce. Local booze is banana liquor - vile stuff, and only half local anyway, as the bananas are a more recent import to the island. Get a bottle though to feed your mates, and watch them grimace (everyone thinks banana liquor sounds nice - until they try it).
I first tried it in a new trendy bar in Oxford's Cowley Road (a kind of model-village Brixton for us provincial types). It was Sebor (I think), which is a little lower in alcohol (a paltry 60% - that's percent, not proof!!) than the two other main brands; Hills' (Czech) and La Fee (French), but makes up for it by having a higher wormwood content (the other active ingredient, a mild poison which is claimed to have a hallucinogenic effect). After one, the fact that it was a fiver a shot (the barman probably guessed we weren't the flushest of punters and kindly warned us first) meant that we called a stop to our experiments, but not before we'd witnessed the Czech ritual performed by a professional: 1 - Pour a measure of Absinthe 2 - Dip a long handled spoon of sugar into the spirit 3 - Light the sugar and watch it caramelise 4 - Stir the sugar in, causing the spirit to catch light 5 - Add a measure of water, producing a smooth milky green short drink Easily impressed, I rushed to the offy and parted with £40 for a bottle of Hills', an elegant, tapered, four sided bottle, looking like a memorial column for foolhardy drinkers. Over a few days at New Year's, I managed to get through it without ever reaching the perfect state of barpersonship demonstrated at the Cowley BaBa. My routine went more like: 1 - Pour a measure 2 - Try to keep a pile of sugar from falling off a teaspoon whilst dunking 3 - Light sugar. Watch half of it go crispy black whilst the other half fails to even get warm 4 - Burn fingers holding a short teaspoon as close to flaming drink as poss 5 - Add water. Wonder why the flame still won't go out, even though it's now half water 6 - Blow out the flame, ruining any remaining shred of barperson cool 7 - End up with a clear yellow-green drink with a pile of uncaramelised sugar at the bottom By the end of the bottle, I'd tried every variation
on the ritual with only slight success. The best I came was my very last measure, using a light brown FairTrade sugar (tried everything in the house and pinched all the pub sugar sachets I could find, looking for the right sugar). The ritual made the drink quite fun, even if I was useless at it (though my other fave is flaming sambuca - a pyromaniac anise theme perhaps). I tried drinking it neat in a fit of frustration, but pretty soon went coughing back to the fire and water method (it cures all known cold germs I should imagine). It's an aniseed spirit (like Ouzo, Pernod, Ricard or Sambuca), with a harder taste, and I think a bit less oily. The strength is one of the main characteristics of it though, and even Jilly Goulden would be hard pressed to describe it in terms any more subtle than "Ouch!" when taken neat. The obvious question though is: Is it hallucinogenic, DOES IT WORK? Legendarily widely banned, and regularly abused by artists and decadents everywhere, I didn't notice too much of an effect. I probably only had a third of the bottle at a time, and as I was on the G&T as well, the main effect I noticed was to be very happily drunk indeed. Things like furniture did seem to become very 'real' for me, and I noticed objects and especially edges of objects and the space between them in a way that I didn't normally and found very interesting. No pink elephants though or indeed green faeries, and I didn't suddenly reawaken my dormant creative gene or discover anything particularly profound (except for my new taste for absinthe). Experiments will no doubt continue when I've saved up enough for another bottle! The plus side though is that as no-one else will touch it, I get the whole bottle - unlike my gin, which falls victim to gin-fairies very quickly in my shared house. Somewhat easier to find now, and a little cheaper (£30 for La Fee at our local Tesco's), I may be able to report back from
VanGogh land in the nearish. I wonder how many DooYoo miles I need for a bottle...
The Idler is one of my all time favourite magazines, or in this case 'mook' as the publishers like to call it (half magazine, half book). It's a hefty (300 page) A5 paperback which is only published 4 times a year. This is quite fortunate really, as it takes an age to battle through, and I generally end up reading a third, skim reading a third, and giving up on the other third. A 60% success rate doesn't sound too good I guess, but the main reason for my failing to get to grips with it is the sheer size of it. You loose place so easily that you eventually stop thumbing through, by which time the next one's out anyway. It's written by what seems to be an old boy's club (and most of them are boys), with a contributors' list like the guestlist at the Groucho (you get the feeling most of the items were thought up there after a few absinthes too many). You'll find features by hundreds including Louis Theroux, Adam and Joe, Damien Hirst, Alex James, Keith Allen, Will Self, Rob Newman, Uri Gellar (!), James Jarvis, and Bill Drummond. The articles are drawn from short stories, literary and art reviews and biographies (not too highbrow write ups of highbrow works), cartoons, cocktail recipes, diaries, travelogues and current affairs essays, interviews with the famously obscure (or just obscure) or just half-humourous rants (Adam and Joe's anthropological analysis of the 80s Bounty TV ads was a winner). The whole idea is to make a collection to leave on a (fairly sturdy) coffee table and dip into regularly to kill time. The tone is heavily ironic and self consciously arty, presented as a 'sophisticated' review for people of leisure (I imagine most of the readership don't have as much time on their hands as most of the authors do). It seems a bit like an exclusive club, with lots of in-jokes and very niche interest articles, though the small distribution network means it does end up being
pretty limited (only Borders stocks it here in Oxford). The magazine invented the term 'live to loaf', which was ripped off by Strongbow as an ad slogan. They thought about complaining, but decided that would be too much like work for a bunch of self-confessed slackers. At a tenner an issue it isn't the cheapest magazine around (!), but it is very light on adverts (supported mainly by Hills' Absinthe - hence many many references for the fine drink - and Channel 4 - hence many Channel 4 types writing for it), and it's produced to a better standard than most books, so it doesn't feel overpriced. Most of the writing is great (though bits pretty dire) and design and illustration is of very high quality. Having said all of the above, it looks like it doesn't really have many selling points - an expensive, far too big, collection of half funny and half clever pseudy articles by and for people who should know better - but it somehow does work very well. It's perfect for killing an hour or two in the garden with a long drink (or several) at the weekend. It's a huge amount of information, but refreshingly few of it is any use in a practical way, so reading it really feel like an antidote to productive work. The best tip I can give if I can't convince you is to take a look at the website http://www.idler.co.uk .They reproduce a bunch of the shorter articles there, and give you a pretty good feel of the content (though the site design isn't anywhere up to the excellent magazine design). Worth a few yuks anyway. Due to its small circulation it's pretty unknown. Hope this inspires a few people to look it out, and hopefully enjoy it too.
I saw a few bad customer service opinions here and thought I'd add my own 2pence worth. This happened a couple of years ago, so can't vouch for whether they've picked up since then. I was looking for 2 books, and did some comparision shopping for them, finding that one of them was really cheap on BOL, and the other was not significantly more expensive, so I'd save some cash on postage by buying both at BOL. I should have twigged that there was an error in BOL's pricing, as the first book was around £4 instead of £12, but I was surprised to only get one in the post. I wrote an email to BOL, who told me they'd only charged for one book (this wasn't mentioned in the package). I wrote back asking why I couldn't have the other one and was told they wouldn't be delivering the first book, as their database had incorrectly recorded it as being too cheap, and they would not honour the lower price. I again wrote a quite polite email back to them saying my order had actually been accepted at that price, and that I wouldn't have placed the order for both books with BOL if I knew I was only going to get one of them. I asked them in the email to reply, but I didn't receive anything back, and just left it at that - deciding not to buy again from them. I'm not a huge fan of internet shopping anyway (as I'm always at work when the postie calls, and don't have a car to make it out to the local post holding depot), and this uncertainty has made me aware of some of the things that can go wrong when you're not actually carrying the item out of a shop yourself! Otherwise, the shop seemed to be very good - the only one to approach Amazon's level of content about each book - a vital factor when you're not sure about buying something. The site's clean, quick and easy to navigate about, and the selection is very wide. The other book I ordered came quickly, and was packaged
well. I wouldn't suggest BOL weren't honest sellers, and was entirely confident of the accounting when they told me that they'd only billed me for one book, but I wouldn't want to end up again with a mix up like this and will stick to buying from my local book shop, at least you can talk to someone there about customer service problems face to face.
I've had this a couple of weeks now, so might not be giving it a fair trial, but have already got so annoyed with it I tried to take it back to the shop for a refund (no such luck unfortunately!). I've upgraded from a Nokia 7110, which broke all the time and was a bit clunky, so I've been spoiled with an elegant user interface, and am hugely frustrated with the Siemens version. Moans first: There are too many keys, and they're all too small! Rather than the nice one button operation roller I was used to, I have to use a rather stiff 4 way rocker and 4 action buttons, which don't always obey the same conventions like on the Nokia. It's tricky enough to hold the little phone high enough in your hand to work the keys for texting (though I guess this is the price to pay for a very compact phone!), but when choosing an option, you often have to press a key on the left, then one on the right, then back left again, for doing something the Nokia would do with 3 clicks of the same button - no problem for kids or jugglers, but fiddly for people with big hands. Menu navigation, or rather lack of it... The menu is structured in a 4 level hierarchy, so lots of clicking. As the phone has to keep a lot of the data on the memory card, this means a second or more delay between menus. There are just too many clicks to make (3 useless checking screens before sending an sms for example) This does sound a bit picky, but I'm already getting annoyed watching the little coffee cup and hourglass waiting symbols so often. Some of the menus don't make much sense (half the audio menu features are duplicated in the tones menu), and some of the useful functions (like infra red) are hidden way below useless ones (like cost monitoring). Non-standard memory card This looks like a SmartMedia but isn't. Making the phone a bit bigger would have been a small price for a proper card, which I could read with the
same reader as my camera. If I want a larger card, I can't just use one I have already. Sony's 'coming soon' memory stick phone sounds a bit more useful. Games & extras Besides looking quite nasty in terms of graphic design, the games are a mixed bunch. Othello plays a slightly better game than the Nokia, but looks worse. Move the box is a fun block puzzle, but with only 8 levels, which won't take long. Connect 4 is also there, but the main fun is Wacko, where you have to knock fuzzy creatures on the head as they pop out of 9 holes, using 1-9 keys. This would be great were it not for the fact you can't turn the game tones off fully, so will infuriate everyone near you on a train. The other games are Maze and Homerun, which are so bad I won't go into them. The ring tones are quite nasty - nearly all tunes rather than rings, and altough you can program new ones, I wasn't able to download one to it. MP3 player This works nicely, despite grindingly slow data transfer (10 mins a song), and the fact that although the phone is advertised with 32MB storage, half of this is taken up by operating files that you need to wipe first (language support, spare startup animations etc..), giving you around 29MB if you're ruthless. My phone currently holds 7 songs, much less than the 2 hours of music advertised (if you buy a 128MB card...). Other moans about this are that you can only playback, not equalise, and there is no jack (as the headphones double as a handfree). This means you're stuck with the Siemens headphones, and can't use your own or speakers. The supplied MP3 tracks are hilarious and well worth a listen - soft rock and europop with ludicrous choruses about the improvements Siemens products can bring to your life (everyone will delete these very quickly). I also couldn't get the supplied Real Jukebox software to work with it (may just be me being thick) but was able to download a replacement free
ware MP3 writer instead. Batteries don't last long in this, but complaining about it's a bit unfair, as you don't really expect a phone to have a top-spec MP3 player in it after all, and it is enough to do the job and keep me entertained on trains. Having moaned about all of that, it does have a lot going for it though (no really..): Good screen Although it glares a lot in the sun, having a 7 line screen with good res is new, and great for texting and WAP. Size This is the main one. It's so small and light I'm able to carry it much easier & less obviously than my Nokia. On the rare occasions I wear a suit, it doesn't look as daft in the inside pocket, which is a bonus. At first I thought it looked pretty ugly, but it has actually grown on me, and only visually offends other people now (I've not heard a nice comment yet about its looks!). It works Goodish reception and good speech quality - though some friends say I'm harder to hear than I was a couple of weeks ago, so don't know if it's worse than the last one (also the microphone is in a strange place under the phone rather than on the front). There's a strange few tones while it dials, but can live with this. It looks like it's built solidly enough to last as well (unlike my Nokia 7110). Dictaphone and organiser I have a pda with voice memo, and wouldn't want to t9 every appointment into it, so won't be using these features (especially as voice notes will take valuable MP3 space). I accept that if someone did want this, they would probably up the rating a bit! So, it just about fits my bill of a small, good WAP phone with Infra red and MP3, but I'm still not convinced - maybe I'll grown to like it more. My advice at the moment is to first try and find one to play with to see if its style annoys you as much as it does me - otherwise you could end up paying quite a bit
for not a lot. ps - If you've used one, please do let me know if I'm just trying to work it the wrong way and have overlooked something - I'd love to be able to change my mind!
I've been pretty impressed with the service at my local branches (in Oxford) recently, and especially yesterday, and thought I'd repay the favours by giving them a nice write up! I bought a phone from them 2 years ago, as they offered a ludicrously cheap deal to people at my workplace, so choosing a place to buy wasn't an issue for me then. Since then though, I've been very happy to go back to them for another couple of phones and still have the original contract through them. They're independent of networks, but carry them all (even a Virgin clone network), so the selection of tarriffs and handsets is the widest I've seen in Oxford (where we now have 8 mobile shops on the high street alone - pretty redundant!). The fact they're large means you can get quick service from the networks via them, as they have integrated computer systems. The staff are much less focused on making a sale than at shops like DX. When I was in yesterday a kid in front of me had been told in the Orange shop next door that he couldn't buy a £5 voucher, so he'd come to CW to buy a £10 one. The assistant told him that he'd asked for the wrong thing in Orange and could get a £5 top up there, and sent him back rather than just selling the £10. I'd gone in to moan as my Nokia 7110 had just broken a third time, and there were no loan phones while it was sent away. The guy remembered me from a previous time when I'd told him I was looking to upgrade, and instead offered me a discount to upgrade as compensation for waiting for a loan phone - which was a nice roundabout fix for the situation. This is the second upgrade I'd done. It always seems to be the wrong time to upgrade, but was happy to find out that I got a £70 credit, as the previous time I'd upgraded to the Nokia 7110, it had dropped in price a month afterwards. They've got a bunch of policies like this, which they're happy to be he
ld to (they price matched an offer from Mobile Phones Direct for my girlfriend's phone, and have suggested I find an old handset to trade in for the discount rather than give back the 7110). The staff there have seen a bit of me with the phone and my girlfriend's phones breaking several times, and have always been very attentive and friendly. They know their stuff pretty well - I'd been told in the Link and BT phone shop that the nokia 6210 had fast WAP access and was considering buying that, but the guy in CW knew that it would only work on Orange, and even then not as fast as the phone was capable of. The main problem is that the shops (at least in Oxford) are rather small and really busy. The wait can really put you off, especially on a Saturday afternoon! Also I found that while they know a lot about phones, I had problems asking them about how to connect my phone to my PDA (they only sell and know Palms), and had to take a bit of a leap of faith there! A rather glowing review, but I've been so happy with the service I've got from them over the last 3 years that I thought they deserved it (thanks guys)! If you're looking for a phone, you could do much worse than talk to them for an opinion or deal - even if you're thinking of buying somewhere else.
I don't play computer games normally, but after my girlfriend and I got scanned in a 3D imaging booth at the Dome last year, we were told we could put our new avatars in a game, and couldn't resist. Since then we've spent hours sharing a small chair in front of my computer, making our virtual selves do really mundane things like make coffee or feed the hamster. It doesn't sound too exciting, but has us fighting over the mouse to control our alter egos and our new virtual friends. Basically, the game revolves around building homes, careers and relationships for a host of simulated people. The Sims (characters) themselves are independent and will live their lives according to the situations you place them in, but you can also control and influence their every action should you (and you invariably do) wish. The level of detail in surroundings, personalities and actions is incredible - even more so with the expansion pack (and another one planned). It's great to find a game this good which doesn't require a snazzy computer (mine's a 366 celeron with no 3d graphics or clever sound). The game really takes off though when you look round the internet. The excellent site, http://www.thesims.com has loads of downloads for the game, and boasts tools for the more creative, letting you make your own wallpaper designs, or transform scanned photos into art for the walls of your new house. There's a great sense of community there as well, with people posting their creations, or giving housekeeping tips. Unreservedly recommended if you don't mind losing your spare time, dreaming constantly about unblocking the sink, and being looked at like an idiot when you try to explain it to friends down the pub. It's even invaded our real life - we've accidentally adopted the characters' excellent gobbledigook phrases (it seems strange to us that no-one else understands "dies buah is frenushay!")
All computer games are about escapism, so it's wierd to find one which is about escaping to the everyday - it must be a contender for the biggest planned waste of time ever. On paper it shouldn't be fun, but it most definitely is!
OneWorld is a key resource for anyone wanting to know more about world news than you'll get from the TV headlines. It runs a daily update on world environment and social justice stories, drawing information from a network of over 600 media, charity, and academic sources. Stories on issues like World Trade or natural disasters only figure in the mainstream media agenda for a short time of their development, and you could well be forgiven for thinking 'case solved' when the next news story comes along. OneWorld follows stories, offering different viewpoints and background information, and often gives pointers to campaigning organisations where you can go to have an impact on the issue yourself. I don't often come here looking for a current news round-up as the sheer weight of information and diverse sources make it pretty unwieldy, and because much of the information isn't up to the minute, taking a longer term view instead. What the site is useful for is getting a much fuller understanding of a story, and for following an issue after the mainstream media has moved on. OneWorld is a huge site, with smaller versions in several european languages, and it's a great starting point on the web for exploring international issues. Anyone who wants a global view needs it in their bookmarks! ------------------------- Update 15/3/2 An exciting development at OneWorld... They've recently secured a deal with Yahoo! News in the US, to provide an alternative angle on world news. You'll see more and more stories from them if you use Yahoo.com's news service, which is great, and a good counter to the more domestically focused or soundbite led US news scene. They're unfortunately not working with UK Yahoo! News yet, and I've no idea if they plan to. Their Yahoo! coverage focuses on the stories behind the headlines (especially giving local people's views on the issues
), and on scouting out new world news stories which won't make it onto the big news portals. As such, the deal's a scoop for Yahoo! as well as for OneWorld, and gives their news coverage an angle you just won't get with MSN or the like.
I've had my 7110 for a year now, and think if i were buying a WAP phone now, I might well still go for it a year on. My niggles with it are: robustness - mine's needed repair three times in a year - the electronics in the flip are very vulnerable to damage battery life - much less than my girlfriend's nokia 3210 texting - the flip makes it a little difficult to access all the keys Good points: Screen size - 5 lines and a very big screen for any phone navi-roller (definitely!) - this roller helps you select options or control WAP and system choices much faster and more easily Nokia operating system - this is the same as earlier and later phones, and so much more intuitive than any other system I've used key cover - no more accidental dials, and the microphone gets nearer your mouth games - I love Othello, which is on this, only quiblle being it's too easy - the other games though aren't up to much (it's too hard to play snake2 on the bus!) Styling - even after the release of dozens of new phones, the 7110 still looks quite cool with its green, rounded, 50's Dan Dare look! While my 7110 was broken I had to go back to my old phone (an older Ericsson), and only then realised just how much I liked the new nokia! (just a pity it spends so much time broken!) ------ I've revised this opinion since writing, as I'd previously marked it down for T9 texting - the dictionary didn't pick up on many words. I've since been humbled by finding out that the dictionary wasn't in fact switched to English, even though it was turned on! I'm one of those rather rash people who never reads a manual, so it's my own fault, but for others like me, when writing a message, press the option button, then scroll to dictionary, select and choose english. This sets the dictionary language, and is rather hidden if you don't know where to look. Once on th
ough, it speeds texting no end, recognising every word I've typed into it so far in a way that's really impressed me (Sorry Nokia for marking it down before!), but I would have been consigned to slow texting unless I'd stumbled on this option, which isn't in the settings menu. My other top tip is www.yourmobile.com, the only place I've yet found where you can download free ringtones for your phone - My 7110 now sports a whole bunch of them!
It's 18 months old now, and changes in the pda market have made it pretty obsolete, so only buy one if you see it 2nd hand and cheap! 75mhz isn't too great (half the speed of new ones) and Windows CE2 has been overtaken by PocketPC OS, so software is drying up, but if the choice is between a new palm and 2nd hand nino, I'd choose this for fun value... It has a good screen (indoors) and great handwriting recognition, but main value over palms is the quantity of gimmicks you can fit into the 16mb (exp to 32mb) memory - routeplanners, paint programs, html editors, ftp, MP3 players (mono only though!) etc... It has a modem and infrared, so links easily with my mobile phone to surf the web in colour on a browser I downloaded from TuCows.com - much more fun than WAP, even if it is rather slow! 5 star when i bought it - 3 star now! One of the better (and cheapest) colour CE PDAs of last year though.