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We do a lot of outdoor photoshoots, and changing outfits can be a problem, both from the point of view of the models' privacy and of the weather. So when we saw the Beach Cabina advertised in a photography magazine, we had to give it a try.
So what is it?
The Beach Cabina, as you can see from the photo, is a nylon tent for use on beaches, picnics, etc. It comes in two types: the one we have is as in the picture above. Its dimensions are 120 x 120 x 200cm, which translates to around 4 feet square at the base, and about 6 feet 6 inches high. It has mesh windows at the top, which can be covered with the nylon flaps and zipped closed. Inside is an attached pouch on the wall, into which you can put valuables etc. There is a fixed floor, plus a detachable inner mat which can be zipped up to contain wet swimsuits and towels. It can be fixed solely at the base with four metal pegs which go through loops, or you can use guy ropes which fix just below the 'windows' for extra stability. You can also fix the guy ropes to your car, and there is a zip in one wall through which you can reach to take towels etc from the boot of your car. The 'door' is zipped around 3 sides.
The other version available is the Half Cabina, which is 150 cm (app 5 feet) tall with no 'roof', and would make a good windbreak, or a changing tent for children.
When collapsed, the Cabina fits into a round zipped bag about 2 feet in diameter. The bag has a shoulder strap.
Erecting the Cabina
This is really easy. You simply take the Cabina from its bag, give it a shake, and up it pops. You then anchor it with the metal pegs and any combination of guy ropes according to the weather and terrain. One hint: if it's windy, pitch it so that it's corner-on to the wind direction - this makes it less likely to blow over!
Using the Cabina
At 6 feet 6 tall, this is high enough for most people, and the 4 feet by 4 feet base size gives plenty of room to move about. Our models found it very comfortable to change in.
Packing the Cabina away
This is where we had a steep learning curve. The Cabina comes with a booklet, which has step by step instructions, with photos, to show you how to fold it away. The same instructions are on the website. However, we found it almost impossible to fold down without bending the rods which give it its structure. The instructions did warn that it was difficult to get the hang of at first, and they were right. Then suddenly, it clicked - I'll explain. You pack it away by laying it flat on the floor, rolling it into a 'tube' and then giving it a twist so that you have two circular shapes, one on top of the other (rather like those photographic reflector sets you can buy). The big secret is that it only works one way up. Two of the sides have the logo on, and a particular one of these logos must be facing upwards. So if you can't fold it, turn it over and try again, then mark which side is 'upwards' so that you'll know for next time. Having discovered this, my husband can now fold and pack the Cabina in less than 9 seconds!
So where can I get one, and how much is it?
The only place I've seen these is on the manufacturers' website, which is at http://www.beachcabina.com/home.htm. In mainland UK, the Cabina costs £49.95, plus £9.95 P&P. The Half Cabina costs £14.95, plus £7.95 P&P. Prices are slightly higher for offshore UK, mainland Europe and the rest of the world. Our Cabina arrived in 3 - 4 days from the date of order. You can also order associated items, such as a spare wet bag, guy ropes, pegs, etc.
My initial opinion was that this was too much hassle. However, now we know how to fold it, it's worth its weight in gold. It's spacious enough to change comfortably in, but folds down small enough not to take up too much room in the car. It's moderately heavy to carry, but easier with the shoulder strap. I'd recommend it to anyone who spends a lot of time at the beach or, like us, does outdoor model shoots.
Webs.com is a free website provider. I have set up one of these for some of my photography, and have found it easy to use and effective to view.
The site is clearly laid out, with a fairly intuitive navigation system which is on several levels - for example, certain buttons only appear when you are in the appropriate part of the site to need them, such as page editing buttons, site editing buttons, etc. There is plenty of white space, so that it doesn't look too crowded. There is also a clear link to the support centre - useful if you get stuck!
Getting started on Webs is easy. There is a simple registration process, after which you get a welcome email asking you to confirm your email address. Once you have done this, you are taken to the site builder, and you can get started.
Your first job is to pick a template, although if you change your mind, you can always pick a different one later without losing your existing content. There is a pretty good range of templates - the site offers more than 300, although it has to be said that this is made up of a core of base templates, plus variations, such as the same layout with a different colour background or different header picture.
Next, you decide what pages you want. These can include galleries, a blog, a forum, and a number of ordinary pages which can be used for introduction, about me, etc. You can choose whether the pages are shown in the navigation menu, and can shift the order easily so that they are listed in the order you want.
All the pages are set up for the type of content you want, with bars for subheadings, side bars and navigation. On my site, I have added a photo gallery, blog, about me, and a links page. The links page can be separated into categories: for example, I have one category for photography-related links and one for general ones.
This is where Webs really shines for me. When you upload photos, the site automatically creates a thumbnail for each. You can also add a title and a caption for each one. Adding photos is easy with their uploader, and once you have uploaded all the ones you want, you are taken to a page where you can add these details.
**What else does it offer?**
You can also upload videos and, as mentioned, add a forum and a blog. Photos can be sorted into albums according to subject, and basic editing of the photos can be done - you can crop, recolour, resize and rotate your pictures.
The site also offers visitor statistics, which are clear and easy to follow. You can add sidebars - I have one showing the latest photo updates and one showing the latest blog entries. There is a user forum, where members can show off their sites, ask for advice and help, or just generally chat.
**Who would this site suit?**
Apart from sharing photos and videos, this would make a good collaborative or family site, as you can give permission for other people to upload to it, and you can also make part or all of your site private by password-protecting pages.
The free version is supported by advertising - a banner at the top and a link to get your own site at the bottom. You get a web address in the form of http://yourname.webs.com. It is also possible to buy a top level domain name, eg www.yourname.com, but I can't seem to find how much this costs.
There are also 3 levels of premium site, at US$49.95, $99.95 and $249.95 per year. These offer extras such as more bandwidth, a domain name, email addresses and the ability to sell from your site.
**Ease of use**
First of all, I will admit that I can (and do) build sites in authoring packages such as Dreamweaver. However, a complete beginner could easily build a site on here, as the whole thing works with a 'wizard', and many parts of it are simply drag and drop. I found that I could get a working site up very quickly - I had mine up and running in a couple of hours. There are handy little hint boxes on the page, and a clear toolbox on the side.
**The finished site**
My site has a rather annoying flashing banner at the top, as I'm too much of a skinflint to pay for an upgrade, but other than that, it looks very professional. Because it is for photography, I have chosen a black background to the actual site part, with charcoal grey surround and very light grey text. The thumbnail pictures are fairly big - around 150 pixels, and click through to good sized pictures with a comments box below each. If you are interested in having your own site, PM me and I'll give you the link to mine so you can see what you get. I don't know if I'm allowed to put it here, although I'm not selling anything on the site.
It's very easy to set up your site
It accepts a variety of media such as text, video and photos
The templates are not very customisable, although you can change the text size and colour throughout
That flashing banner (on the free version only) is bl**dy annoying!
If you want a site that is quick and easy to set up, don't need a lot of bandwidth, and don't want to spend a lot of time editing photos for size, making thumbnails, etc, this is for you. If you want it for your business, I'd go for the middle or top paid version, as a top-level domain always looks more businesslike, and you get the email address and no banner.
I spend a lot of time on the internet, so I thought I'd give my opinion on how to write a good website review.
**Tell us where it is**
If the site has been reviewed before, the URL is probably in Dooyoo's title for it, but if not, give the address. There's nothing worse than reading a review, deciding to have a look at the site in question, and having to Google for it.
**What's the purpose of the site?**
Is it a shop, information site, blog, or some other type? Who will it be useful to? I've read a few reviews where I end up thinking 'ah, it's a music site, but can I listen, download, or do I buy CDs?'. In fact, I've read one or two where I found out that you have to register, but that it's free, and that the site has great layout and navigation, but I'm still no wiser about what the site's actually about!
Give a description of the site. Does it look uncluttered and intuitive? Speed of loading is helpful - I've often followed links to a site and given up because they load so slooooooowly! Is the navigation easy to follow? It's also worth mentioning if the site relies on Flash, as work computers are often set to block this. Also, if you have dial-up (somebody must still have it!) or slow broadband, flash can take an age to load. If it has a Flash intro, is there a skip button? Is the content well written, so that you know at once what they offer and how to use it?
I like to know if it is easy to find what you want on the website. Particular bugbears are 'mystery buttons', where you have a symbol rather than a title, and have to hover over the link to see what it does. Can you get to any page, particularly the home page, from any other page?
**Range of goods/services and prices**
It's good to know if the site has an extensive range of products or services in its field. Also, describe the level of products. For instance, if you are reviewing a camera site, say if the range covers mainly compact and beginner level cameras, professional gear, or a spread across the whole level of users. Are the products described in detail on the site? I've visited sites where there is actually very little specification about each product, leaving me wondering if the item in question is suitable for me or not. Are the prices in line with other retailers?
**Authority and Guidance**
If the site is offering information, I need to know how authoritative the information is. Does the site have a section where the presenter/s offer their credentials? I reviewed an aromatherapy site which was very professional, with a good range of products at good prices, but it was quite obviously aimed at professional users, and had no information for beginners. A section outlining the company's qualifications and giving some guidance about safe use of their products would have been helpful.
If the site is selling products or services, how easy is the order process? They can range from simple to very complicated, and many's the time I've given up because I got fed up of jumping through various hoops trying to order. Do the company keep you informed of the progress of your order? How long did the item take to arrive, and did you think this time was reasonable? Did it arrive in good condition and well packaged? Another point I find useful is whether goods have to be signed for, as this can make a difference to people who are out at work all day.
If you had occasion to contact the site's owners, mention whether they were helpful, and whether they were able to resolve your problem. Also say whether it was easy to find out how to contact them - was there a form on the site, or a clear page with email addresses and telephone numbers?
**The good and the bad**
For a balanced review, mention both good and bad points - assuming the site had both. But don't rant! As soon as I read a rant, I immediately think that this was just one user's experience, and that the review didn't give me a balanced view. Come on, nearly every site has at least one good point! When giving the bad points, were these bad enough to put you off using the site, or were they things that could be improved, but that you could live with?
The most important part of the review, in my opinion. Overall, did you feel that the site offered a good experience? If it was a shopping site, did you find it easy to locate and buy your item(s)? If you were looking for information, did you find it? And once found, did you trust it and consider it useful? In short, would you use the site again and recommend it to others?
I bought this feeding station on the recommendation of cmh4135 - thank you cmh! My reason for buying was that I am a keen photographer, so wanted to attract birds to my garden for photographing them. My reason for buying this particular type was that we have a very small garden, so I didn't want the traditional table that takes up quite a lot of room.
**What is it?**
The central pole is tubular metal and, as you can see from the picture above, it has a range of arms and holders which slot on to the pole. These come with various amounts of fittings, but mine is exactly as in the picture, with two long arms, one shorter one, and holders for a water trough and mesh feeding table, which are both supplied.
**Setting it up**
This was fairly simple, although my husband had to help as the rubber sleeves that protect the joints are a tight fit (they have to be), and I have arthritis in my hand. The whole thing slots together, sliding on the various fittings as you go, and securing most parts with wing nuts. The central pole is hammered into the ground. The feeding tray slots into a bracket; the water dish sits in a metal ring, so both are easily removeable for cleaning.
As mentioned in a previous review, the station does not come with any holders for nuts, seeds, etc, so you have to buy these separately. However, I bought a mesh nut feeder and clear plastic seed holder, and I think they were around £2 each, so there's not a lot of extra expense. The upside of having to buy separate containers is that you are free to choose the type most useful to you, depending on which types of birds you want to attract.
**Where from and how much?**
I bought mine from Amazon. It cost £12.99, plus £5 postage. It was from a third party seller, and arrived the next day, so I was very impressed!
I've only had this a couple of weeks, but have been able to see the good and bad points about it.
On the plus side, it looks very elegant in the garden, and has a small spread, so will fit into even a very small garden. As well as feeding at the table or from the hanging containers, the birds seem to like just perching on the top arms. It's pretty easy to set up and the local birds approve wholeheartedly! Also, the water dish is big (about 6" diameter), so the birds can use it to drink from or as a bird bath.
On the minus side, if you have a stony garden or one with clay-based soil (as we have), it can be quite difficult to knock it far enough into the ground to be really stable, so it tends to rock a bit in the wind (although to the birds, it's probably not much different from a small tree, so it's not a disadvantage from that point of view). Also, the suppliers suggest you move it around from time to time so that the ground underneath it doesn't get messy with food spillage. However, since you have to knock it quite a distance into the ground, I can't see it being very easy to uproot when you want to move it.
UPDATE ON ABOVE COMMENT: We've just had to move it as we're having some work done in our garden, and it was a lot easier to uproot than I had thought it would be!
My overall impression is that there are slight failings, but for the price, it's very good and I'm really pleased that I bought this one.
In the hobby part of my photography, I particularly like to take close up pictures of flowers, and also still life images. For this reason, I wanted a mini tripod, and my husband bought me the Velbon CX.
**What is it?**
As the name suggests, this is a smaller version of a tripod, intended for use either close to the ground (eg for photographing flowers, insects etc) or on a table in a studio. I have used it for both.
(Taken from the Velbon website)
Maximum Height: 64cm
Folded Height: 30cm
Minimum Height: 22cm
Diameter of Leg: 20mm
Leg Sections: 3
I'm not sure why they put the last specification in, as, if it didn't have 3 legs, it wouldn't be a tripod! Edited to say that I think they mean each leg is in 3 telescopic sections (my brain wasn't in gear when I wrote this!).
For the metrically challenged, that means that, folded, it is about a foot long; the height can be adjusted from around 8.5 inches to 25 inches, and it weighs around one and three-quarter pounds. The diameter of the outer part of the legs is about three-quarters of an inch.
**Using the tripod**
The legs are extended in two stages by releasing clips and sliding out the telescopic part of the leg. Be warned, these clips are vicious, and I've spilt the blood to prove it! The centre pole is also height adjustable, and the head is adjustable in three dimensions: rotation around the stem; tilting sideways (so that you can use the camera in portrait, or upright, format); and tilting up and down, which is done by means of the 'handle': you rotate the end (like a motorbike twist grip) to free it, swing the head into position, and rotate the end again to lock it. The camera is fixed to the head by opening a clip, sliding the camera in and releasing the clip to secure it. The various tilts and raising/lowering of the central column are accessed by means of large screw-type devices.
This is a very lightweight tripod. I haven't been able to find out what it's made of, but the main tripod part is metal and all fixings including the head are plastic. The locking clips for the legs are, as I've mentioned, very robust - I imagine they'll last for ever. The head is very simple. Unlike a lot of tripods, the camera does not screw to it, but simply slides in. As far as I can see, the head is fixed, so you wouldn't be able to replace it with a universal or other head, but given the intended uses of this tripod, you probably wouldn't want to. The overall feel is of quite a sturdy tripod, considering its weight (and having carried video camera tripods across fields, I thank heaven for that!).
The suppliers do not suggest a maximum weight of camera for this tripod, but my camera weighs around 500g (just over a pound), and feels very secure on it. The Jessops website suggests that it is suitable for compacts, SLRs and smaller camcorders.
The tripod comes in its own carry bag, with a shoulder strap and zip fastening. The cost at Jessops is around £26, although I have seen it online for between £20 and £36, so it's worth shopping around. Mine was bought from an independent retailer, and I think it cost around £24.
This is never going to replace a traditional tripod, being only around 2 feet at its maximum height, but I have found it extremely useful for flower photography and still life. Another use I have found is that when I go out and about with the camera and don't want to carry a full size tripod, which can be surprisingly heavy, I take this one and perch it on any raised area that I can find, such as a rock or wide wall), to take general photos. If you're looking for a small, lightweight tripod that will fit in a backpack or can be carried in its own bag, I would recommend this one.
When I noticed that I was sitting with my face a few inches from the computer screen, I decided it was time to get my eyes tested again. I'd had them done a few years ago and, being broke, bought glasses off the internet, but I never felt they fitted properly. This time I decided to go to Specsavers in Bath.
Specsavers in Bath have quite a big shop which is well laid out and has level access, although if you need level access from the reception desk to the rest of the store you need to go out of the shop and back in again, or right to the back of the shop. There are displays of glasses around the store, with clear price labels at the top of each section and plenty of mirrors for when you're trying them on. The waiting area is quite small, but adequate. There are several examination rooms which are of a suitable size for their purpose. The branch in Bath also does contact lenses and hearing tests/hearing aid supply.
The reception and shop staff are very helpful, but, although the store wasn't particularly busy when I went, it can take a while to get some help with choosing your glasses. The optometrist who tested my eyes could not be faulted - she was friendly and helpful and answered all my questions.
**The appointment system**
I was rather hoping that I could walk in off the street and get an eye test there and then, but I had to make an appointment. The first available one was about 3 days from the time I made it.
**The eye test**
I'm not an expert in eye testing, but the equipment they used seemed to be very up to date - gone are the days when they put a pair of 'glasses' on you and then loaded it up with different lenses until you thought your nose was going to collapse! I was seen initially by someone who I think was an optical assistant and, as I'm over 40, I had the glaucoma test, where they blow puffs of air into your eyes. They have to get 3 readings on each eye, and it's really difficult not to blink, but the woman was very patient with me and eventually got her readings. She also gave me some focussing tests, where I had to look into a machine at a picture of a hot air balloon, and she checked how my eyes focussed on it. Then it was back to the waiting area before the main sight test.
The main test was carried out by an optometrist, who, as I've said, was friendly and helpful and asked a lot of questions about my lifestyle as regards computer use, driving etc. She carried out a range of tests, and decided that I needed glasses for computer use and distance vision, but not for reading. I asked her about contact lenses as well, and she said that they would be suitable for me, even though every other optician has said they wouldn't be. She explained the modern techniques that meant that people with my sort of vision (one eye long sighted and one short sighted) could use contacts.
I was then escorted back to the shop area to browse the frames on display and make my choice.
At this point, I felt that I had been abandoned a bit. I wandered around trying on several frames and eventually narrowed it down to two that I liked - on for computer work and one for distance. I took these to the reception desk and they said they'd get somebody to come and see me and help with fitting the glasses. I sat in the waiting area again and eventually, someone did come to see me. I'd read online that they had a two for the price of one offer on certain ranges, so I asked about this as it didn't seem to be offered instore. The assistant said that it was indeed available, so it was back to trying on glasses from those ranges. Eventually, I settled on two pairs again and someone was dispatched to help me with fitting. It was at this point that I was told that the two for one offer was for two frames with the same prescription, and that I would have to pay an extra £39 to have different lenses in the second pair. By this time, I was too exhausted to go back and choose again, so I stuck with the pairs I'd chosen, even though the cost was a bit more than I'd expected to pay. The frames were adjusted to fit me, and the order was placed. I had to pay there and then, but was told that the glasses would take a week to be made up. This was a surprise, as the receptionist had told me 3 days.
I went back on the appropriate day, and the glasses were fitted and adjusted. I was also given a case (I could have had two, but I've got several of the things kicking around at home), and a couple of cleaning cloths. I was also advised to only wear the glasses for 2 hours at a time while my eyes got used to them (advice which I totally ignored!)
**The range of glasses and prices**
Frames start at £25, which includes standard lenses with scratch protection. Other options, such as tinted glass, extra thin lenses, etc, can be provided at extra cost. Prices then range to over £100 for designer frames. The choice was pretty good, with a few 'oldies' frames in plastic, a lot of metal rectangular frames and several designs a la Gok Wan. I felt that there were not as many of the lower priced frames available as I had seen on their website.
The eye test itself cost £19.95, which I believe is pretty average.
In total, I was on their premises for an hour and a half for my main visit, which I feel was a bit much, but to be fair, they did say they'd had an 'optical emergency' in, which had pushed them into running a bit behind.
I couldn't fault the eye test - it's the best I've ever had. I'm 52, and have been wearing glasses on and off since I was 2, and for the first time ever, with my distance glasses, I can see in 3D. I'm still getting used to it; because of the difference between my eyes, I've only ever seen things as 'flat' until now.
I feel, all in all, that I did the right thing in going to Specsavers, but the staff do need to get their act together in getting someone to help customers with choosing and fitting, and in explaining the special offers.
I joined Onepoll after reading someone's review on it here on Dooyoo. It's been slow progress, but I've just received my first payout, so I think it's now fair to review it.
Onepoll's site is clear and colourful. Navigation is easy as there isn't much of it! Once you have logged in, and clicked through to your account, you have four options: surveys available for you; your account summary - this gives a list of surveys you have taken part in recently, and shows your total earnings so far; view or edit your details; case study. I'm not sure what they're expecting for this last one - presumably an account of your experience with an issue that has been covered in one of their surveys - but they claim to pay between £50 and £1000 if they use your case study. Clicking through to the surveys available page, there is a small message panel and an ad banner, then a list of surveys that are currently active.
*How it works
Unlike most survey sites, Onepoll do not email you when a survey becomes available. You need to check the site frequently, and pick from the list available those which you wish to complete. Ideally, you should check daily, as some surveys are only available for a short duration.
One of the best things about Onepoll is that, again unlike other survey sites, you don't spend ten minutes filling in answers and then find that you get screened out as ineligible. Each survey is listed in a table, and this is where you will find particular requirements, such as men only to answer, or people of a certain age group or location. It's really not worth pretending on this one, as your profile will give you away if you say you're a man or come from the south east, when really you're a woman who comes from Manchester!
Well, what can I say? Some surveys are just plain weird! Whoever creates them? There are a lot of leading questions, along the lines of 'why don't you like xxx?', when you were not asked whether you like it, or have already said that you did. Some surveys don't give you enough choices; for example, they don't cover people who are both employed and self employed, or they give a list of responses that don't fit my opinion, but no option for 'other'. Surveys cover all sorts of issues, such as beauty, celebrities, politics and money, along with many other subjects.
*Don't believe all you read in news items about survey results ...
Often, I'm asked to choose my favourite from a list of celebrities. The catch being, I've only ever heard of one of them, so I pick that one! I often choose any answer, because the one I would have chosen is not there. The other thing that happens often is that the survey asks why I don't do/use/like a certain thing, and more than one answer applies, but they only give the option to choose one.
*Show me the money
You're not going to get rich on this one. Most surveys pay between 5p and 15p, or offer the chance to win an i-pod. It's always an i-pod - I wonder why? I seriously hope I don't win these things, or I'm going to have to start an eBay site to sell them all! I've been a member since about May last year, and I've just reached my first £40, which is the lower limit for claiming. You can claim your payment in one of three ways: BACS (transfer to your bank account), cheque, or PayPal.
*Speed of payout
All I can say about this is ... amazing! I reached my £40 this morning. At around 10 am, I clicked through and applied for my payout by PayPal. On the claim page, it says you should allow up to 10 days for PayPal or BACS payment. At around 11 am, I got an email saying the money had been transferred to my PayPal account. I logged into PayPal and, sure enough, there it was. That's what I call efficient!
As I said above, you're not going to make a fortune on this one. However, the surveys are mainly pretty short - they usually take me less than 5 minutes each - so it's a bit of pocket money for very little effort. My feeling is that it's there and easy, so why not? Onepoll could be improved though, by employing someone who can actually write sensible surveys - I can recommend a couple of books from my local library if they want to swot up on what makes a survey useful!
Oh, and Thedevilinme ... I know - surveys drive you nuts!
1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done
Started doing semi-pro glamour photography.
2. Did anyone close to you give birth?
3. Did anyone close to you die?
No. My husband's aunt and cousin both died, but I'd never met either of them.
4. What countries did you visit?
Wales. I haven't been abroad for several years.
5. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked
My health, but I don't think that's going to happen!
6. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your
memory, and why?
None in particular.
7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Overcoming my poor self-esteem by being successful at a newish hobby.
8. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I've been chronically ill since 1996, but I had no new illnesses. I hope that's not jinxing things!
9. What was the best thing you bought?
I didn't buy it, my husband bought it for me, but it would have to be my Digital SLR camera.
10. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
My husband's. He's an absolute rock when my illness means I can't do much for myself.
11. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Nobody's in particular.
12. Where did most of your money go?
13. What did you get really, really, really excited
Photography - I'm really getting into it and have a passion for it.
14. What song will always remind you of 2008?
I don't think there's one in particular.
15. Compared to this time last year, are you:
Fitter, happier, more productive? Probably more productive. I was already happy and I'm certainly not fit.
a) Happier or sadder? Happier.
b) thinner or fatter? About the same.
c) richer or poorer? About the same.
16. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Nothing - I had a good year.
17. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Worrying. I'm a born worrier and I'm trying to break the habit.
18. What was your favourite TV programme?
I don't watch TV, except for some of the property programmes, so it'd have to be them.
19. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this
time last year? Nope. It's a waste of energy to hate people.
20. What was the best book you read?
I've read too many to mention - none stands out as better than the rest.
21. What was your greatest musical discovery?
22. What did you want and get?
A hobby I could be passionate about.
23. What did you want and not get?
Better health - if anything, it got worse.
24. What was your favourite film of this year?
25. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were
I was 51 and spent my birthday very quietly at home.
26. What political issue stirred you the most?
I'm not a very political person, but it would have to be the run-up to the US elections.
27. Who did you miss?
My daughter. She lives 60 miles away. But we do talk on the phone every week.
28. Who was the best new person you met?
A friend on a hospital outpatient course. We went on to start a local support group for people with ME, the illness I have.
29. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in
Life is too short to worry about material things.
30. What do you want from Dooyoo in 2009?
For them to raise the word count and award miles according to ratings. Other than that, I'm happy with it as it is.
I've been a bit cautious about reading Stephen King books just lately, as I've felt that he hasn't quite got the 'edge' he used to have. However, Duma Key promised to be a good read, and I was pleased when a copy was given to me for Christmas. I've just finished reading it, and I wasn't disappointed.
When Edgar Freemantle is involved in a serious accident which results in a head injury plus damage to his leg and hip and the loss of one arm, he finds that his character is changing for the worse, and, following the advice of his counsellor, rents a property in Duma Key, Florida, to convalesce. He decides to take up his old interest of drawing and painting again, and starts creating pictures of the view from the window of his rented house, which looks out over the Gulf of Mexico. He soon finds that he does not make the decision of what to paint - it's as if some force outside of him is controlling the brushes and pencils. He begins to realise that he is painting pictures depicting horrific events that happened on the island 80 years ago, and from there, it is a race against time to lay the 'ghosts' to rest ...
Edgar has made a lot of money in the construction industry, and at the start of the book is shown as a not very likeable character. However, his flaws are revealed to be quite understandable, and I found myself really caring about what happened to him.
His neighbours on the island are an elderly lady, Elizabeth Eastlake, and her carer, Jerome Wireman. In what seems like a coincidence, both of these people have suffered head injuries in the past - although, this being Stephen King, nothing is a coincidence! Elizabeth is in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, and is portrayed very realistically as she floats between lucidity and incoherence.
Wireman is slightly less fully portrayed, most of our assumptions coming from his dialogue, which is succinct and a little cryptic at times.
The other major character is Jack Cantori, the local agent for the rental company. He is a younger man, who becomes friendly with both Edgar and Wireman.
All of the characters in the book are shown in just the right amount of detail, something King is very good at.
The pace of the book
This is a seriously big book - nearly 700 pages - but I never felt that there was any part where the action was too slow, or that any parts were 'filler' sections. There are no 'side plots' which leave you wondering how on earth they are relevant to the story; you just want to keep on reading. The last couple of chapters build up to a climactic ending.
As I said, I felt that Stephen King's more recent work hasn't had the 'bite' of his earlier work. The previous King novel I read was Lisey's Story, and that left me quite disappointed. However, this one I found very difficult to put down. At his best, King has the knack of introducing just enough information to get your brain working, and then pulling the threads together just at the right time, so that you've almost worked out what something means, and reading on confirms whether you were right or not. This one has a high 'creepy' factor - I read lots of crime/murder/horror stories, and this one had me just a little bit afraid to go to sleep!
Among my many interests is aromatherapy. Many years ago, I qualified as an aromatherapist, but have not been able to use my skills much due to poor physical health. However, I recently got hold of a book about making perfumes using essential oils, and decided that this would be a great way to use my skills.
Aromatherapy, for those not familiar with it, is the practice of using essential oils for their therapeutic properties - some are calming, some help lower blood pressure, etc. The oils can be used for massage, in burners to scent rooms, in the bath, and many other ways. Oils have a limited shelf life, and since mine had gone out of date some time ago and been thrown away, I needed to buy a selection for my perfume-making activities.
Looking around the web, I came across Base Formula, a company I have used in the past for supplying my oils. As their prices are reasonable and they have a good selection, I decided to use them again.
This is at https://baseformula.com. If you put in www.baseformula.com, it redirects to this, their secure site. In appearance, I feel that the site is rather vivid and busy, but in its favour, it is very easy to navigate. Across the top, you have the usual 'admin' buttons - about us, contact, etc. Down the side are text links to the various product categories. On the home page, there are highlighted products including sale items and new arrivals, and a panel for latest news. There is also an FAQ link, which details delivery times and charges, how to order, privacy and returns policies, etc. There are two links on the page to download their price list in PDF (printable) format. Following these links leads you to further links, where you can download the list for the category you require - eg oils, blends, couch accessories, etc. If you only want items from a certain category, this is a good way of not having to print so many pages, but would be a little frustrating if you are setting up a treatment room and need items from a variety of sections. Having said that, all prices are clearly shown on the site, so this is only a problem if you want a printed list to keep.
The site is clearly aimed at experienced aromatherapists, as they sell couches and accessories, bottle labels, etc. They do not have any information on the properties and uses of the oils, only their method of extraction, origin and 'note'. The note is, to simplify a bit, whether the aroma is the first scent you get, which 'settles' after a while, or the deeper, long-lasting scent. Worryingly, there are absolutely no warnings and cautions on the use of oils, either generally or specifically. For instance, there are certain oils which should not be used when you are pregnant, or if you have epilepsy, and nearly all oils need to be blended with a carrier, or vegetable oil, before being applied to the skin. This again suggests that the site is not aimed at the casual user.
As well as essential and carrier oils, the site sells storage boxes, bottles and caps, couches and accessories, labels, ready-blended oils and made up products such as lip balm, base products such as beeswax (used to make solid perfume and aromatherapy candles), base mixes such as shampoo, and sundries such as mixing pots and stirrers. They also sell kits, which can be ordered with or without a wooden carrying case, and contain a variety of oils and products suitable for students or practitioners. The student kits are geared towards the oils needed for the popular qualification courses.
***Ease of ordering***
Ordering is very simple. As you add things to your basket, the list is visible on every page you visit. When you view your basket, each item has the option to increase the quantity or remove it from the list. Payment is straightforward, using Paypal or credit/debit card. Delivery to the UK mainland is £5.50 on all orders under £95 excluding VAT. At the checkout stage, the total cost is shown broken down so that the VAT is shown separately. You can also apply for a credit account with the company.
***Customer Service and delivery***
Delivery is promised within 5 - 7 working days for UK mainland orders, via Royal Mail. They say that an email is sent when the order is dispatched; I did not receive this email, but, having placed my order on 16th December, and despite the Royal Mail being very busy with Christmas deliveries, I received the package three days later, on Saturday 19th.
The goods were in a box with a lot of polystyrene beans. Everything was well packaged, all items (including glass bottles) arrived intact, and the order was complete.
In terms of product range and speed of service, I can't fault this company at all. My main adverse comments are that the website does not look as professional as it could, being a bit too busy and cluttered. Also, although the site is clearly aimed at professionals and qualified aromatherapists, there is nothing to stop anyone buying their products. You do need to register with the site, but they only ask for the usual details - name and address, email etc. Therefore, I really feel that they should place an overall warning about the use of the oils, and the description each oil should include contraindications - the circumstances in which that oil should not be used. There could also be a short list of the oil's properties, such as calming, invigorating, anti-inflammatory, etc.
Overall, I would recommend this site to professionals and those who are familiar with the use of essential oils, but not so readily to casual users.
Most web hosts provide some statistics about the visitors to your site, but for more control, I use Statcounter - www.statcounter.com. There is a free version and some paid ones. I'm reviewing the free one as my sites have fairly low visitor levels at the moment, but the main advantage of the paid versions is they they will list a lot more visitors - the free one lists only the first 500 entries, or 250,000 page loads in any given month. The paid ones are in 3 levels, from $9 to $29 (US dollars) a month, depending on how many visitors/pageloads you need it to show - up to a maximum of 25,000 entries, or 15,000,000 page loads a month.
The site is very clear and easy to use, with explanations at various stages of how to use the statistics, and clear menus along the top (profile, account info, support, etc) and down the side (stats categories).
Signing up is pretty easy, then the next stage is to add a project. This is done with the following steps: first, you give your site a name, then enter its url (web address). You can then set various options, such as type of site, time zone, etc, and create a cookie which tells Statcounter not to list your own visits. You can also choose whether your hit counter is visible to visitors or not. The software then creates html code, which you copy and paste into every page of your site where you want visits recorded.
Once you have created the project, it is shown on a list on your main Statcounter page. Each item on your list has several options: view the stats, install code or customise settings, control user access to projects (where you can add or delete other users - useful for a group project), schedule email reports (I've never used this so don't know how efficient it is), or delete the project entirely. Any changes require your password. There are also columns showing a summary of your visitors: today, yesterday, this month, and total since the project began.
Now you can view your visitor statistics. If you want to make your site the best it can be, it's useful to know where your visitors are coming from, what browser they are using, etc. You can then optimise the site accordingly. Clicking on the view stats logo takes you to a bar chart showing visitors each day for the current month; these details are also shown as a list. You then have a side menu with lots of options which give you great detail about who is visiting your site.
Popular pages - this lists all your most popular pages in order of how many hits they have had.
Entry pages - shows a list, again in order, of which pages people are landing on when they arrive at your site.
Exit pages - ditto for which pages they are leaving from. This can be helpful if visits are not converting to sales - maybe there is one page where visitors are getting lost/confused and giving up?
Came from - this gives the link, if any, that visitors followed to get to your site - useful in knowing which of your links on other sites and directories are actually bringing in visitors.
Keyword analysis - shows which of your keywords are actually attracting visitors.
Search engine wars - this shows, in the form of a bar chart and a list, which search engines your visitors are using - mine shows Google, AOL, MSN, etc.
Visitor paths, visit lengths and returning visits - as the name suggests, this shows the path visitors take through your site, how long they stayed, and how many have visited your site before. Stats are shown in the form of a pie chart and a list in each case.
Country/state/city/isp - good for knowing how many of your visitors come from various areas, particularly if your site has a local bias.
Browsers - shows, in the form of a bar chart and list, which browsers your visitors are using. Since you should try to optimise your site for all the main browsers, this is useful in throwing up ones you may not have thought of.
Lookup IP address - all visitors are shown by their IP address (a marker unique to each computer), and you can change this to show the actual name/identity of the visitor. I have family members tagged in this way, so that I can see how many of my visitors are potential customers, and how many are family just checking how my site's looking.
Finally, you have the option to download the statistics, either as an Excel file, or in CSV format, which stands for comma separated values, and can be used, for instance, to send bulk emails. Thus, you could email all your visitors to notify them of updates or offers (except that you'd probably be shooting yourself in the foot, as this would be considered spam!).
In most of these sections, there is the option to 'drill down', ie to get further information about the visitors. For example, say you found that most of your visitors were using Firefox 2 as their browser. You could then 'drill down' and find out the IP addresses of those visitors and what screen resolution they used.
As I have said, most web hosts provide some statistics, but they vary in detail and are not usually very customisable. For webmasters, Statcounter provides a huge range of very useful statistics, which you can use to tailor your site much more closely to your visitor demographic. There are a couple of downsides: one is that, to stop it recording your own visits, you create a blocking cookie, which lists your own IP address as an exception. However, many computers have a dynamic IP address - that is, it changes for each session on the computer - and Statcounter doesn't seem to be able to block these, so your visits are actually recorded even if you've created the cookie. The other is that if you have a large site (one of mine has over 300 pages), it can be a right pain in the whotsits putting the code on every page. I've actually only put it on the main category pages for this particular site!
Intute is a learning site with a bit of a difference. It's not a search engine or a traditional tutorial site, but shows you how to search for information you want on the internet. It works as follows.
On the home page, there is a list of subjects you can follow, divided into Science, Engineering and Technology; Arts and Humanities; Social Sciences; and Health and Life Sciences. These are further broken down into individual subjects. There are also links to job searching, feedback and internet detective (which goes into some detail about how to evaluate what you find on the web). The home page is very clear and straightforward, with buttons on the left for the sections, text links at the top for matters such as help files, contact details, etc, and text link lists on the main body of the page for the subjects. There is also a quick links box.
The path I chose to follow was digital photography. Clicking on this in the subject list takes you to the digital photography start page, which introduces the guides who have written this topic, and has button links to each part of the 'tutorial'. These are as follows:
Using the tutorial
A very simple explanation of what to expect. Basically, the tutorial will take you through the steps of searching for digital photography information on the internet, evaluating it, etc. Links are suggested along the way, and you can add these to a 'shopping cart'. When you have finished the tutorial, you go to your cart and you have a few options: view or print your chosen links or email them to yourself (I chose the latter, and the email came quickly with all the links shown as clickable); see a list of all the links in the tutorial; add a comment to any or all of the links you've marked; turn the links basket off altogether. You can navigate through the tutorial either by using the button menu, or by clicking on the back/next icons at the end of each section.
This further breaks into 4 sections - Sources, which gives you some ideas of where to look for offline information, such as libraries, special interest groups, news media, etc; See the Sites, which is broken down into various sections such as photography organisations, how-to sites and image resources; Quiz, where you can test your own knowledge of what you've read; and Sum Up, which does what it says on the can - sums up what this part of the tutorial has covered. You don't necessarily need to follow all the sections right through - you can jump to the ones that interest you.
For the purpose of this review, I followed the Tour section called 'How-to' sites on the internet for beginner to expert'. This is spread over six pages, covering basic how-to sites, buyers' guides, digital photography courses, image editing information, photography techniques, using the internet to share your images, and dp forums and networking sites. On each page, there is a short introduction, followed by suggestions of sites that may be helpful, with short explanations of what each site offers. By each of these, there is a button so that you can add the site to your links basket if you wish.
This is about good internet searching. It helps you to compare different search tools, create search strategies, and try some searches to test these out. In this case, the search tools covered are search engines, internet directories, and specialist search tools for photography. Pros and cons are given for each type of search. Again, there are lots of links to add to your basket. Search Strategy covers ideas such as defining what you are searching for, coming up with keywords, thinking of alternative words (such as 'resize' instead of 'change size'), and combining keywords to get the best results. Again, in the discover section, there is a test yourself page, and a summary of what has been covered.
This, as the title suggests, teaches you how to judge the value of the information you find, pointing out that anyone can write anything on the internet. It suggests questions you should ask yourself (things like, does the writer have a commercial interest in the product/service he is recommending?), and other points such as the location - for instance, if you are looking at something of a legal or social nature, is it relevant in your country? It also shows you how to break down a url (web address) so that you can discern where the information might have come from. Again, at the end of this section is a quiz and a summing up.
This section give case studies of people who have used the internet for a given search. Let's face it, the people probably don't exist, but the case studies are realistic. Again, there are links in the text that you can add to your basket.
This is a sort of rounding-up section, which reminds you to go to your links basket and view it, email it to yourself, etc, asks for your feedback and tells you how to submit it, and suggests that you may want to try other tutorials (giving a link back to the home page so that you're ready to start if you want to).
The last link is 'For Tutors', which suggests briefly how you might incorporate the tutorial into various types of course.
I found this site really useful. I often find that search engines throw up a lot of commercial sites and totally irrelevant sites, whereas the sites listed on here are all hand-picked to be useful for the subject. I love the fact that you don't have to go to each individual page during the tutorial and bookmark it, losing the thread of what you are reading. You can just list and save them at the end and go to them in your own time. It's difficult to cover the site fully enough in a review, but there is an absolute mountain of useful information in there. I haven't (yet) tried any of the other subjects, but I fully intend to. I think for a student or someone taking up a new interest, this has to be an invaluable site, and I've certainly not found anything else similar on the web. I thoroughly recommend it.
In these tough economic times, most of us are looking for ways to cut costs, and QS is one way to do this.
QS is a nationwide chain selling mainly clothing, although I understand that some stores sell homewares as well. The branch I use is in Bath, and does not have a homewares section.
There are ranges for men, women and children. The prices are very low - cheaper than M&S but not as cheap as Primark.
This includes casual wear, underwear and nightwear. The casual wear consists mainly of jeans, sweatshirts and tshirts, and tracksuits. The style is fairly young generally, and the quality seems reasonable, although their jeans are not as hardwearing as the label would suggest (but what can you expect for £6??). I bought a sweatshirt today which cost £4 and is a good length and very warm.
This seems to fall into two types - young and old. There is very little for those who want something in-between - the young section consists mainly of tops and jeans, and the 'old' section has things like trousers with permanent creases. They also sell shoes, nightwear and underwear in the women's range.
There is quite a good children's range, although I have never bought from this, so can't comment on the quality. The styles look pretty modern to me, and there are quite a few novelty items, such as socks with 3d faces on.
Generally, I have found the quality of QS clothing to be very good for the price. The underwear doesn't wash too well, but then I bung everything in the machine, and again, for the price, you wouldn't expect a lot. I have a lot of QS garments which have lasted me several years, including trousers and tops.
This is the weak point of the store. Presumably they buy in from different sources, and the sizes vary enormously. I am usually a size 16, but I have stuff from QS ranging from size 12 to size 20! You really do have to try everything on.
The layout of the store is fairly good, with a fair bit of room to manoeuvre. However, there are few mirrors, and the ones in Bath are hidden behind pillars! Another good argument for trying things on! Also, there are only two changing cubicles, so you can end up in a long queue. The store is generally kept pretty tidy, and items are pretty easy to find. There is a reasonable amount of space between fixtures - important if you are shopping with a pram or wheelchair.
I have found most of the staff very helpful, and they do seem to be able to deal with quite long queues without fuss, leading to more satisfied customers.
I would like to see more clothing in the middle age range - I often feel I have the choice between 'mutton dressed as lamb', or 'old dear'! It would also be useful to have mirrors that are accessible, especially when there are long queues for the changing rooms. The sizing variations annoy me a little, but I don't suppose they can do much about that. Generally, if you're shopping on a pretty tight budget, you could do a lot worse, although I think Bonnmarché have a better range for my age group.
My husband broke his watch yesterday, and I decided to give him an early Christmas present and get him a new one. This review gives my experience of buying one in H Samuel.
My husband knows what he wants in a watch, so I went into the shop and outlined exactly what I was looking for. It had to be analogue rather than digital, on a strap rather than a bracelet, with a good clear face and preferably a date, and under £50.
I listed all these to the sales assistant, who produced a range of about 5 watches which fitted my criteria, from which I chose the one I thought my husband would prefer.
The shop is in the centre of town, and was well laid out with plenty of space. A range of products is displayed inside the shop; these tend to be special ranges, such as children's watches and ornaments. The more popular, mainstream stuff is mainly in the windows.
The man who served me was very pleasant and helpful, allowing me to take plenty of time to choose the best watch, and agreeing that I could take it back and change it if my husband didn't like it. He did try to sell me a cover plan for it, but was not pushy when I said that I didn't want to buy the insurance. His general attitude was friendly but not over-familiar.
**The range available**
I was looking at a relatively low price range, as my husband has a very physical job so I didn't want to spend a lot on a watch that would get knocked about at work. The salesman came up with a good choice of watches within my price range, plus one that was some way above it but fulfilled all my other criteria. Had I had a higher budget, or been looking for a bracelet style watch, the range would have been a lot wider, but I guess straps are not very popular at the moment!
I have used this branch of H Samuel before, usually for quite small purchases, and have always found the staff to be very helpful, and the products good value for money. The range of goods is generally quite middle of the road, but for the sort of money I am usually looking to spend, I think Samuel's have a good selection. If you are looking for something a bit different, though, this is probably not the place to go.
Please note, I am reviewing Digital Camera Magazine, as shown in the picture, not Digital Photo Magazine, as shown in the title.
As a keen amateur and semi-pro photographer, I buy quite a few camera magazines, and I have to say that this is one of my favourites. Published by Future Publishing, it is issued monthly, and at present has a cover price of £3.99. The magazine is aimed mainly at the amateur market, with articles to suit most skill levels.
**Layout and presentation**
The magazine is A4 sized (110 x 297 cm, or roughly 11.5 x 8 inches), and printed on good quality glossy paper with a good solid glossy cover. Each issue includes a CD, which contains images and tutorials relating to that month's articles. The current issue (December 2008) runs to 162 pages.
The December issue has the following contents:
Detailed content list
Welcome letter and short bios of guest photographers
Shooting water scenes
Shooting rainy weather
Using depth of field
Outdoor fashion shoots
Reader showcase - a sort of gallery of one reader with some explanation of the thought behind each photo
An assignment, for which a prize is given - there are a couple of pages of images submitted for the previous one, with explanation of why the winner was chosen, plus the brief for the next assignment
Black and white masterclass, including various ways of converting images to black and white, increasing contrast, and toning
Calibrating your printer
A general gallery of shots from various readers
Ask the team - readers send in photos for advice on how to improve them
Ask the team Law - readers' legal queries
Interview with a portrait photographer
More camera reviews
Software review - this months is Photoshop CS4
Christmas gift guide - in association with Jessops, so could be biased!
Digital Photo frames - each month is a different subject; previous ones have been canvas prints and photobooks
Several pages of advertising
What's on the cover disk
It has to be said, there is a lot of advertising in this magazine - in addition to the adverts section mentioned above, there are also several adverts scattered throughout the magazine. However, I dread to think what the cover price would be without them.
**Quality of content**
Each tutorial style article is explained clearly with step-by-step procedures, and plenty of illustrations. I find the level about right for me - they're not full of unnecessary jargon, but not too simplistic, with enough content for me to learn from and go out and practise. The illustrations are good sized and of a high quality. An added bit of fun for me is that I live in Bath, where the magazine is produced, so if I want to try their techniques, I can actually recreate the same photos! Plus I always look in the street scenes to see if I'm in any of them!
The equipment reviews are excellent, with a good mix of fact and opinion - I always think you can have the 'best' camera in the world, but if you're not comfortable with it, it's not going to work well for you. There are lots of example photos with the camera reviews, showing how well that model performs with various subjects, such as skin tones and low light. At the end of each article is a tech-spec list, and the camera is rated for performance, handling, features, etc and given an overall percentage.
**My overall impression**
Photography magazines vary in price, and for £3.99, I think this one is good value for money. The masterclass section is always interesting, and goes into a lot of detail, and the equipment reviews and service reviews (such as canvas prints) are very useful. I like the tone of the magazine; they get a lot of information into the articles without being dry and boring, and you get the feeling that they really enjoyed the activities involved in putting the articles together. For a beginner/intermediate photographer, I'd recommend this magazine wholeheartedly, and even my husband, a very experienced photographer, finds the equipment and services reviews really interesting.