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At the last company I worked for, paternity leave was unpaid and very much discouraged. Because of this, most new fathers would have to save all their holiday just to get some time with their new family. Inevitably, this meant working through other family times like Christmas and Easter and we had a very unhappy bunch of new Fathers. Thankfully my new company (who I have only been with for 5 months) gave me an extra week’s holiday and then, because there were some complications with the birth, another week’s compassionate leave. What a great attitude! I now understand that from next year, 2 weeks paternity leave will be offered to all staff. Great for me, I hear you say … However, I also understand that many UK businesses are now taking the issue of paternity leave seriously and are considering the same thing. This can only be good because although a baby is invariably much closer to the Mother in the early stages, he/she needs a Father’s love and attention too. And, probably more importantly, the Mother needs her husband/partner around to share some of the work and be supportive through a period of rapid change. Too often we see Fathers who have their commitment to work questioned because of their devotion to their family. In my eyes a man who successfully manages family life will generally perform much better at work, even if they don’t work the 20 hours extra a man with no commitments can. A bold statement, but in my experience those people with a content personal life are less likely to bring their problems to work, will be more committed to the job and more happy. Happiness is infectious too, so Companies really should make the effort to help out. So what do you do if your Company has no clear policy on paternity leave? I would suggest go straight to the HR or Personal Officer and talk to them. Even if they do not have a policy at the moment they will almost certainl y be working on introducing at least a week’s paid paternity leave for next year. Don’t forget that the Mother is entitled to Child Benefit and, if she has worked for 13 continuous weeks in the last 60 weeks she will also be entitled to Maternity Benefit (usually about £1,000 paid over 18 weeks). NikkiH has written a great review on benefits in this section – have a read if it’s relevant to you.
Having pushed around quite a few prams in my time, I knew that when my little boy came along we were going to get the best for him. No stubborn wheels, wobbly frames and poorly though-out designs for my lad! I did some research and thought that the Graco Voyager looked the best bet and the first time I saw it I was pretty impressed. As a three-in-one (pram, car seat, carrycot) it all seemed to work well together and we shelled out about £200, which was a little more than I was hoping to spend, but isn’t everything that you buy for a new baby? In the first few days it felt quite big and sturdy, but how would I feel about it after a few months? Well, I am full of praise for the Voyager LX and rate it as one of our best baby buys. Here’s why: 1. It copes with almost any terrain easily, even the muddy and very uneven tracks in our village. 2. The Voyager is incredibly light for its size. I can lift it easily with one hand. 3. It folds up pretty small and can even fit in my wife’s Mini (although it is a bit of a squeeze)! 4. Lots of little features that show the designers actually thought about it - like the see-through window on the hood and the good storage space underneath that stays in place when you fold up the pram. 5. The satisfying click when the pushchair is unfolded and the carrycot is placed back – a little thing missed by many manufacturers. I want to know our baby is safe! All in all a very well designed 3-in-1 that I can recommend to anyone. It may not be cheap but few quality baby things are.
When I was younger I saw everything in black and white – war was bad, love was good. But more and more, I realise that everything is a shade of grey. In the Second World War if England had simply rolled over (like many well-meaning pacifists wanted) the world would be a much different place now. War (a bad thing), was necessary to establish peace (a good thing). Similarly, how many times have we read about lovers who commit suicide (a bad thing) because of their love (a good thing). Shades of grey ... I work for a company that was heavily involved in the Human Genome project, but at the same time I buy organic food. A contradiction? Not to me. I do not believe it has been proved that GM food is safe, and I am particularly worried about cross-infection with other crops. I always remember reading a story when I was younger about a time traveller who went back to prehistoric times and captured a butterfly. When he returned to his own time the human race had never developed, and the world was inhabited by large insects. The point is that small changes have a huge effect, and there is no way of knowing what that effect will be. Believe it or not, humans do not have all the answers. In fact, all we do have is a collection of guesses and many of them will be proven wrong. In time, I believe that GM food will have a place in our society, but only in places where it is difficult to grow normal crops – like in the third world. Genetics and Genomics are a slightly different kettle of fish. Consider the following: 1. A little boy diagnosed with cancer at an early stage. The doctors say he only has a year to live and that year will be spent in chemotherapy. A pharmaceutical company approaches the parents and has a new drug that has a 75% chance of repairing the little boy’s gene. What do you do? 2. A man has a debilitating, hereditary disease and is desperate not to pass it onto his prospective children. A pharmaceutical company is able to give treatment that will ensure the condition is not passed on. Should we stop the man doing this? I agree that there are massive problems like growing clones and human spare-parts, and much needs to be done to prevent this. However, the genie is not going to go back in the bottle – Genetic Engineering is here to stay. I only hope that the governments of the world get their act together soon and lay down watertight guidelines. If so, Genetics could actually end up being a good thing.
The media – the downfall of 3 of the last 4 managers – does it yet again. Don’t get me wrong, Keegan wasn’t the man for the job and that should have been seen early on by the FA. BUT, remember the media coverage when Keegan was asked to take over as England manager? Every, and I mean every, newspaper supported the move. I read the Daily Mail on Monday (unfortunately those big *important peoples* papers are difficult to read on the train) and they were trying to make out that they never supported him. Not true. However, they were one of the first to start criticising him. So, what did he do wrong? In my humble opinion he was swayed by public and media pressure to take a job he knew he wasn’t up to. The early (and lucky, if I remember rightly) win over Poland got people talking about his motivational skills and Keegan was tempted to go full time. I have no doubts that if a more reserved opinion was expressed by the media at that time Keegan would have seen that the job was not for him. We can’t blame him for that. What we *can* blame him for is not owning up at the right time. Resigning BEFORE Euro 2000 would probably have been best so that a tactically-minded manager could take over. I hate to say it, but everyone in the country could see the flaws in Keegan’s tactics on Saturday – Rudi Voller must have been dancing a jig when he saw England’s formation. Poor Voller – let’s hope the German media don’t put pressure on him to go fulltime. Surely most average First Division managers could have arranged the Germans to beat England on Saturday. So what now? It’s clear we need the right person in the job. The foreigners mentioned (Wenger, Jacquet and Lippi) are unlikely to take the worst football job in the world. Remember how even our “successful” managers Robson and Venables were treated terribly by the media. So it looks like we are down to what little home-grown (UK rather than just England) coaching talent there is: Alex Ferguson – would be a total fool to even consider it. Doesn’t need the hassle or the money. Bobby Robson – considered by most to be too old which is a shame seeing how he turned Newcastle into a half-decent team following the Gullit debacle. Brian Robson – consistently fails to bring anything like the best out of his multi-million pound array of foreign mercenaries. Why do people think he could succeed with England’s prima donnas? Glen Hoddle – er, no thanks. John Gregory – the man who can’t control his own players? Who turns seasoned professionals like Southgate and Ehiogu into transfer requesters? Not a chance. David O’Leary – has done well, but had George Graham to thank for the ground-work. Shows great promise but is too inexperienced. If he messed up with England he may never get another job! Terry Venables – the people’s choice, and rightly so. But will Noel White (FA jerk) ever let him be considered? The best choice for the role, and hey, here’s a good point, he wants the job! Sorry for such a long review, I just had to get it all out. I feel better now. Anyone still reading this? Oh okay, just to finish up ... The FA need to carefully consider what they do. Hiring a high-profile under achiever is not an option. Neither is pandering to their own egos (Noel White take note). Venables is the only option and whilst the squad of players is hardly world-class (Becks, Scholes and Owen excepted), he would be sure to get the very best out of them. He can also handle the press well, which must surely be a quality the FA are looking for. I live in hope.
Rarely have I read a book as quickly as this one, but rarely has a book been so easy to access. Steve Biddulph doesn’t mess about with fancy words, he writes in a very conversational way that is easy to read. As the title suggests, it is a book about raising boys, and Steve goes to great lengths to describe why boys are different to girls - and I must admit to recognising some of my own traits from when I was younger. Taking this as a starting point he then describes the stages that boys go through when they grow up and what they are looking for in parents and peers. One point that comes through clearly is that many problems relating to boys (violence, sexual deviance, etc) are caused to a great extent by “underfathering”. This means the absence of a positive father figure in the boy’s life. Boys also need rules and need to know that they will be enforced – in fact much of the advice is common sense, but yet it’s not immediately obvious to us! He is particularly sensitive on the area of smacking children, and the potential problems that can bring. Whilst the book is aimed much more at fathers, most of it is relevant to mothers too and there is a chapter devoted to the mother/son relationship. The main text only takes up about two-thirds of the book and it is interspersed with “Tales from the heart” (stories from contributors), practical examples, and plenty of pictures to illustrate certain points. This does help to break up the book and make it easy to read, and it also helps to have different angles on the same subject. Steve Biddulph has a bit of a reputation as a spokesperson for the new “sensitive and masculine” man after his book “Manhood” and this book reinforces that positive image. Fathers and mothers need to really get involved with their sons, actually understand them, and make a difference in their lives. P arenting is incredibly hard and no one is going to bring up a boy perfectly. Reading this book will, however, give you confidence that the problems you are facing are not uncommon and can be solved. I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who has a son or is about to have one. It’s never too early or late to make a difference.
After the initial reviews in the US (which were incredibly bad), this film has managed to be quite a success. The very idea of Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland being launched into space is crazy. But to actually put them in charge of a billion-dollar space shuttle when there are 2 well-qualified astronauts sitting in the back??? Unbelievable. That doesn’t make it a bad film though, and there is much to like in this slow-moving and heart-warming film. Certainly the acting is great as you would expect of such respected actors, and the supporting cast are competent throughout. The story, whilst predictable, has a few surprises, and the now expected love interest between a 60 year old man and a 30 year old woman (The Horse Whisperer, Entrapment, etc, etc). I guess it’s the characters and the tensions between them that keep you interested – you actually care about these old blokes! It’s not a film for everyone, and it does seem longer than its near 2 hours length. If you enjoyed Apollo 13 you will probably like this, although there is less action. What action there is (and it all occurs in the last 30 minutes) is created by the excellent ILM and looks very realistic. In fact, if you are a space-buff you will really love the shuttle re-entrance sequence and crazy flying techniques. I usually determine if a film is good by whether I would like to see it again. Space Cowboys is not a film I would rush out to buy the video or DVD, but if it was on TV I would probably watch it. That makes it a 3 out of 5 for me.
When you are considering buying a laptop there is always a trade off between functionality and portability. In one corner there are the ultra-light notebooks like the Toshiba Portege 3440CT, Fujitsu Lifebook and the Sony Viao. In the other corner are the “weighs-more-than-a-desktop” laptops like the Dell Inspiron 7500. The problem with the ultra-light ones are that they make too many sacrifices – no floppy disk, CD-ROM, and in extreme cases not even a PS/2 port, so anything you want to connect has to be by USB. Great – but you only have one USB port ... This means that you have to use port replicators with wires everywhere just to work normally. Unless, of course, you never use floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, external monitors, mice or keyboards. Suffice it to say, for all their good looks, ultra-thin notebooks have quickly lost their appeal with me. That is until I saw the IBM T20 ... From the moment I unpacked it, the T20 oozed quality. At 4.7 lbs, it weighs a little more than the Portege, Lifebook and Viao, but still much less than a standard laptop, and it looks beautiful. Opening up the lid confirmed my suspicions; this is a very different kind of laptop. Instead of just building a run-of-the-mill machine, IBM have actually given it some thought. What do laptop users want? Everything built into the laptop but also make it incredibly light. That’s what they have done. The screen is 14.1” and is quite simply the best I have seen on a laptop – crisp, clear and can be viewed at any angle. A 56k modem, and a 10/100 Ethernet card are built in, leaving 2 free PC Card slots. The battery lasts about 3.5 hours, making good use of the Pentium III Speedstep 700/550 processor. RAM is upgradeable to 512Mb. And lastly the 6 x DVD/CD drive is a joy to use. Everything is built amazingly well, and after years of trying many different laptop manufacturers, we have now s tandardised on the IBM T20. Make no mistake, this is the laptop your boss will be asking for. Quality comes at a price - £2,500, but believe me it’s worth it.
Amazon, Amazon, the amazing loss-making bookseller. For years the supplier of hard-to-find books, music and videos at low, low prices. Add on the postage and you still get a bargain over most high-street shops. Add in the convenience of having your purchases delivered anywhere and you’re onto a winner. However, the market place is getting more crowded by the day – how does the original internet bookseller stand up against the rest? Choice & Usability In 3 years of ordering from Amazon I have only once found them unable to supply a book I wanted. No other mainstream bookseller (bol, Barnes & Noble, etc) sold it either and I had to buy it from a specialist online shop. The choice is exceptionally good, and the added value of customer reviews and showing you the purchases other buyers have made, is outstanding. Over the years Amazon has listened to its customers and made its site incredibly easy and intuitive to navigate. The addition of Music, Video, DVD, software and auctions has been made seamlessly and you can easily browse these other areas in the same way as the books section. If I could improve one thing it would be the immediate stock in the UK site. Often more obscure titles take 2 days instead of next day to be delivered. Price & Delivery Okay, so they are not always the cheapest, but if Amazon are not making money on a sale then how can anyone else be? I’ve found them to be the cheapest on most occasions and their postage and packing is cheaper than some who undercut them. In any case I would normally pay any extra £1 on a £30 order to get it a day earlier, which, in my experience, is what Amazon tend to do. Service & Reliability Customer Service, although it is fully automated, is very good. Confirmation emails of orders and emails when your order is sent out. The timescales given are (in my experience) always met and o ften exceeded. Many times I have been told that a book will take 2-3 days to come in to Amazon and yet received it within 2 days. In conclusion, my experiences with Amazon lead me to rate them as the top quality online bookseller. Long may they continue to provide and easy-to-use and consistent service to this happy customer. (No I haven’t got shares in them, I just think they do a good job ....)
It’s the qualification that more and more employers are asking for, but how do you pass your MCSE? The key is to find the right method for you, and what works for someone else may not work at all for you. There are 3 main ways to study and I will detail the pros and cons of each. (Note: For the purpose of this review the MCSE is for NT4 and I’ll update it when I’ve completed the Windows 2000 upgrade exams) Home Study Pros: The least expensive option, around £500 will get you all the study materials you need. You choose the pace of the study and the times when you can do it. Cons: Least likely way of actually passing the exams. You will need access to at least one computer (or 2 networked PCs if at all possible) that you can install NT Server and Workstation on. Course Pros: Everything is spoon-fed and if you get a good teacher this will be the quickest way to learn. Cons: Incredibly expensive (at least £4,000 for any decent course) and time consuming (4 weeks or more). They often tell you to take a break after the course before taking the exams, which means that many people never take them at all. Home study and intensive course Pros: Cheaper than the full course and you can study before the course at your own pace. Cons: You need to have done about 100 hours of solid study and passed entrance exams to get on the course. Which did I do? The home study and intensive course worked out best for me. 3 months intensive study (getting up at 3.30am!) using books, exams and online testing was followed by a two-week course. It was great because everyone else in the class had passed the entrance exam too which meant the whole two weeks was very fast-paced. I took one exam every day and a half and passed all first time round, and so did 3 out 4 of the others on the course. Was it worth it? It cost a lot in te rms of time and money but I do believe it was worth it. Having said that, I had to move jobs to get any recognition for my qualification – which is so often the case in Britain! The exams are not that hard if you are well-prepared for them.
San Francisco is well known for amazing landscapes and tolerant population, but I was still not prepared for some of the sights that met my eyes. As one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world San Francisco is rich in culture and the mix of Latin, European and Native American is compelling. You can find yourself in a French bistro, turn the corner and be entertained by an energetic Mexican band. It ‘s the kind of place you just love to visit, but to stay too long would have you yearning for the history behind these transplanted cultures. It’s a city of contradictions. With Silicon Valley just 25 miles away from San Francisco International Airport you expect more when you get off the plane than the 70’s architecture that greets you. Driving down highway 101 reveals more building and demolition work than impressive buildings. It’s a place that never seems to have a centre but still remains endearing. Fisherman’s Wharf is a prime spot for visitors, and rightly so. Interesting restaurants and souvenir shops are complimented by truly original art and pottery shops – although these are often hidden behind the main street. It is certainly worth a day visit just looking round the area and talking to the genuinely friendly people. Shopping in San Francisco was different to how I expected. No factory shops except the large complex just past San Jose (about 70 miles away), but Bloomingdales and Frys are places you should visit for great value designer clothes and electronic goods respectively. There are two words that people say to those travelling to San Francisco for the first time – “expect fog”. More often than not a thick covering of fog masks the view of the impressive Golden Gate Bridge, so it’s important you are not disappointed. All in all, this was a great trip full of interesting sights, and San Francisco is a place I will definitely be v isiting again.
Virgin Atlantic. The name used to conjure up feelings of quality service, comfortable planes, excellent entertainment and friendly cabin crew. Now the planes are a little older and the excitement seems to have worn off somewhat since my first trip with them 10 years ago. A flew Virgin for a return flight from Heathrow to San Francisco (Aug 19 – 27), and here’s my review of the journey … Check-In Short queue and a friendly and helpful person to check us in. Even though one of my bags was over the 6kg weight they gave me another bag and to put my laptop in. They seemed to be okay about me carrying 2 bags as long as each one weighed less than 6kg. The Plane It looked like one of the original 747-400’s that Virgin bought all those years ago and the upholstery was pretty shabby. Leg room was okay, but I knew that half-way into the 11 hour flight my legs would start to ache, and they did. The Cabin Crew Very professional, smart and courteous to all the passengers, even the difficult ones! I also noticed that our plane was incredibly well staffed with at least 12 cabin staff. The Food & Drink This was better than I expected, with what amounted to “posh” micro-meals with wine, cheese and biscuits and snacks. The only duff meal was described as a “3 cheese and broccoli ciabatta” and tasted of absolutely nothing! The Entertainment This is what I remembered from my first Virgin flight – the personal TV! There was a choice of 12 films and if you timed it right you could watch 3 films all the way through. There were other channels too, about 5 different radio stations and 15 Nintendo games all on a little TV in the back of the seat in front. Great. The Flight Travelling on a plane for anything over 5 hours is never going to be pleasant. You’ll undoubtedly get restl ess, uncomfortable, annoyed with other people and aware of how bad people smell after not washing for a day. Having said that it was okay, and at least the cabin crew looked after everyone well. Conclusion I would fly Virgin again, but it doesn’t stand out as by far the best like it used to. Just a tip as well – if you find a Virgin flight is booked up, try booking a Continental Airlines flight at the same date and time and you’ll find yourself on the Virgin plane and probably save a little money too.
As a long-time buyer from Amazon I recently thought I'd give bol.com a try and see if they were competitive on price and service. Off I went in search of a couple of books that were easy to buy on other sites. Any joy at bol? Not on your life! I thought I’d look for similar titles and instead of a list of books with descriptions at Amazon, bol just gave me the titles of the books. Not very helpful. Getting slightly annoyed at this point, I checked out the prices on some books I’d bought recently on the internet and bol was more expensive every time. Selling books over the internet is an incredibly competitive marketplace. If someone the size of Amazon loses money on every sale, there’s no way for anyone else to compete. So, in summary, bol: - Doesn’t have a wide enough range of books - Doesn’t have enough detail of each book - Isn’t the cheapest In my opinion this site would be pretty good for people looking for popular books and don’t want all that much information before they buy. If, like me, you want to know everything before you buy go to Amazon.com (Amazon.co.uk still doesn’t have a full catalogue in stock).
It took me 3 weeks and about 10 hours of looking to finally track down a pair of Camper shoes. Eventually I bought a pair in Hull after disappointment in Cambridge, Norwich, Lincoln and York, but they were worth the wait! This little-known Spanish company makes some of the best looking and most distinctive shoes around. They’re actually very comfortable, no need to wear them in and no blisters (which makes a nice change). The quality is good too although the soles will probably not last more than a year. The only place I could find that sold them was Sole Trader, but I got terrible service at more than one of their stores and they didn’t seem to be bothered whether they sold me a pair or not. The manager at the Cambridge store was particularly rude. Anyway, a little independent shop in Hull had just received a delivery and they opened the box for me. I now walk around town looking like a bowler (the shoes I chose look pretty much like bowling shoes), but it brings a smile to people’s faces. £80 for a fashion accessory? Yes, it is excessive and I had to promise my wife I would get a good 2 years wear out of them. Anyway, I like them and I feel happy when I wear them .... sad, eh?
The delay of the PS2 launch must be great news for Sega - but will they make the most of it? Technically the Dreamcast can do stuff the PS2 can't and should be the better games machine. Unfortunately it is suffering in a similar way to the Saturn - excellent technology, poor games. No one (well, not many people) will buy a console because it can do fancy graphics and sound. They buy it for the games. Soul Caliber is one of the few truly excellent games on the Dreamcast and Sega should really use the next few months to launch some amazing games. Shenmue looks great and shows that Sega are on the right track because other new games like World Series Baseball will not bring in the punters. Sega's time is limited because you can bet that the day PS2 launches Sony will have ten or so fantastic games that everyone wants to play. By that time Dreamcast needs to have a better range of top titles. If I were Sega I would be ensuring that the top PS2 games are already available on the Dreamcast by the time PS2 launches.
I've seen all the reviews saying what a great mobile this is and I do agree there are some good points like: - snap-on covers - nice shape and feel - good shortcuts to menus - good array of features - long battery life (about 3 days standby) But, to me, it has some basic design faults and the manual is a waste of time - it doesn't even tell you how to put the keylock on! Here are the things that annoy me about it: - the covers are incredibly easily scratched (maybe a ploy to sell more snap-ons?) - the ariel is encased within the phone which should be great, but in pratice leads to very inconsistent service. Look at the bars on a 3210 against another phone (certainly with Orange) and you'll see it go from 0 to 4 bars and back again pretty often - tends to vibrate slightly which is a little disturbing ... - won't let you display the date on the main screen Anyway, it does the job, but it's the little features that seem to have been overlooked in the current Nokia Style Wars.