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I have now had an ADSL (Broadband) connection courtesy of Freedom2surf for a couple of weeks and I can say, in all honesty, that it has been a real eye-opener! For those of you out there who are still wondering if it?s worth the extra money, all I can say is give it a go: gone are the seemingly endless hours waiting for web pages to download; newsgroup messages and e-mails come in far quicker than you can read them; downloads (especially good-sized programs) arrive in the time it takes to make a cuppa instead of by next morning. So much for Broadband in general - but why f2s? My first reason for choosing this particular supplier was, I admit, price. I could not find any other ISP who could supply anywhere near the spec for a miserly £22.50 a month. At the time I was using Freeserve 24/7 and considered the extra £8.50 or so to be a reasonable amount for the extra speed. My connection in fact is the lowest speed ADSL at 512k - other faster packages are available but obviously more costly and aimed at the real enthusiast or business user. I would always advise having a good look at what else is on offer out there - but please check carefully what you are getting for your money; more than one company is offering ?broadband? with a download rate of about 128k - not what I would regard as broadband at all and only just over twice the speed of a 56k modem. Also, it doesn?t matter how fast the actual connection is if your ISP?s servers don?t send the goods. I have a friend whose modem connection always says that it?s moderately fast but on many occasions you simply have to give up on it ever producing a full web page - and that?s on cable! So, what do I think of f2s? Only one word is necessary -brilliant! I?ve read one reviewer here who complained about the service but I had a very different experience. An initial connection problem was sorted out quickly and courteously with a short phone call - it is important that all phone cables and connecti
on are in good condition. I have lost the connection a couple of times but am inclined to think that it?s more to do with the BT line that any fault of f2s themselves. With up to 20 e-mail addresses and 20Mb of web space along with a very reliable and extremely fast connection the package can?t be faulted. My conclusion is - if you are considering broadband, look at them all, weigh up what service is offered - and then go for Freedom2surf - unbeatable!
A lot is talked about the legendary White Van Man. He is variously: a good-for-nothing layabout; a purveyor of shoddy goods; a doer of seriously sub-standard work. But most often he is that tail-gating maniac who cuts up all other innocent motorists. If you listen to Sarah Kennedy he is the devil’s own brother. So what is the TRUTH? To ascertain the facts in a seriously scientific manner, your intrepid friend and social commentator (me!) set out on a glorious Saturday morning to take your life in my hands. The basic equipment is, of course, of paramount importance – and was my equipment basic! It took the form of the works white transit van - well, not strictly speaking pure white as the years have ingrained its once pristine paintwork with a sort of greyish sheen liberally adorned with attractive brick-red rust patches. The front is speckled with the remnants of innumerable tiny corpses from around the time that the Egyptians were still trying to balance a big stone on top of a little one (luckily they realized their mistake and eventually built the pyramids). With the ubiquitous “Clean Me” on the back, this is not a van to be messed with! To fully enter the character, I shaved my head, drew various crude imitation tattoos on my right arm, ripped off my t-shirt and pulled the seat belt up tight to make sure the beer belly kept my knees warm. Donning the substitute Rae-Bans, ear hoops clipped firmly in place, I uttered a cheery “Give it some welly” and started up the beast. Revving up to really annoy the neighbours, I revelled in the sheer power of 1800cc of throbbing turbo-diesel; I’ll swear that on a good day, with a following wind, it could have torn the skin off the proverbial rice pudding. When the smoke cleared, I drove down the local High Street, window down, yelling “Aw wight, darlin!” at everything in a skirt (must remember to avoid that Scotsman who smiled rather sweet
ly). The planned route was to take in Nottingham, down to Oxford then to London and return – a round trip of just over 300 miles, to record my impressions and the reactions of other road users. (Here I must make a teeny confession, as the trip wasn’t all for fun. What actually happened was that I suddenly seemed to acquire a dearth of sons of friends and relatives who, having reached studentable age, parted company with their homes and, seemingly, all their worldly goods. My mission was a brave attempt to re-unite these poor scattered souls with their possessions by setting up a round-robin delivery service. A little pressure had been applied!!) So, my first impressions on joining the legendary ranks of the universally despised? You can actually see where you are going! Unlike the poor plebs (whoops, Van Man speak) in their squashed-flat cars, I could see a good half a mile down the road. The second (and totally unexpected) plus-point was how pleasant and courteous were the artic drivers. I have a theory that they believe a White Van is actually a baby lorry, so they must be gentle and not make any loud noises or sudden movements to frighten it. Of course, those nasty little cars scuttling around like demented cockroaches are an entirely different matter . . . . Car drivers, I noted, behaved a little differently. There appears to be a distinct category of driver (I am ashamed to say, exclusively male) who seems to regard the White Van as a territorial threat and, rather like a lion trying to chase off an elephant, will push, turn and jostle until White Van Man either concedes the road position, reluctant to cause serious damage, or asserts his superior bulk (the van’s, that is). Other male drivers in general seem to be completely ambivalent, allowing W.V.Man to go on his way with a merry quip (f+’* &*%) and a cheery wave, for the sake of energy saving usually involving only one finger. So to the fai
rer sex. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I have nothing but praise for lady drivers (I really believe that every man should keep one in case of emergency) who seem to fall into two camps regarding W.V.Man. The first are those in whom the sight of a van in the rear-view mirror provokes instant panic, resulting in anything from a gentle slowing to a manic full-fledged test of the car’s ABS brakes. It is no fun being joined in the front seat by the total contents of the van. The second group, who gave me the benefit of their skills on at least three occasions, have a blind spot so big that a whole 6ft x 6ft x 12ft vehicle is totally invisible. Even I was guilty of the odd expletive – my “Oh dear, what a silly thing to do!” was probably drowned out by the squeal of tyres as I was joined by more goods and chattels in the front. So does becoming White Van Man change one’s personality? The answer must inevitably be yes. But it is only after a day of repeatedly being forced to brake sharply; of having to slow down to a crawl as some perverse car driver pulls out in front, to then see them accelerate into the distance as you sit and wait for some momentum to build up, only to have the same thing happen again; of being flashed at, hooted at, sworn and gesticulated at for being so slow, that you begin to realize why the majority of White Van Men really hate car drivers! Yes White Van Man does exist - my suggestion is to keep well clear and never, ever cause him to slow down – you may be tootling around on a leisurely jaunt, but he is always on his way somewhere important; make him late at your peril! Note: any reference to real persons - especially beer-bellied individuals – is entirely fictional.
In the good old days (I think it was some time just after God was born) there was Freeserve - 0845, local rate phone calls - and it seemed as if the Internet had at last arrived. Then came word from that rather heathen bunch of ex-pats accross the Big Pond that we were way behind the times. It seemed that they had actually been paying nothing, zippo, zilch for their connections bacause all those Good Ole Boys were raking it in from advertising revenue and . . . well . . advertising revenue, enough to pay for free phone calls to the whole world for ever . . . So lots of our home-grown ISPs jumped on a very shakey band-wagon amidst cheers and waving of flags and promises that we'd beat them Yanks at their own game. I, like many of you reading this, signed up to a totally free provider - in my case 4unet (or callnet 0800 if you prefer - strange how they all seem to have split personalities) who, good as their word, gave me access to the great wide world for absolutely nowt. O.K. - so it sometimes took 10 or 15 calls to connect; and they did disconnect me after 59minutes and 58 seconds; and the connection speed varied wildly; and sometimes it would take five minutes to download a page; and some e-mail addresses wouldn't work; and alladvantage didn't very often work; and it sometimes wouldn't access newsgroups; and so on and so on ..... BUT it was free!! Unfortunately, like many of you out there, I then received that fateful e-mail saying that the free service would stop on 5th September, all in the interests of their customers, of course, and I only had to pay £10 a month to carry on receiving such wonderful service! I therefore started to look for another ISP immediately!! The result is, as you've probably guessed by now, that I have returned to the bosom of Old Faithful ( as much out of lack of time to pursue other routes as faith in their service above all others). So here I am, connected to
Off Peak Freeserve Time via BT's SurfTime for the princely sum of £5.99 a month LESS a Freeserve rebate of £1 a month as long as I use the service. Here, then, is a first impression: Sign-up; This took about 10 minutes. You first sign up to BT who give you a refernce number. Then connect to Freeserve (using any current connection available) and sign up for Off Peak (or any of the other packages on offer. After that, just sit back and wait for the confirmation e-mail, which takes about 48 hours to arrive. This gives you your Activation Instructions. Activation; should take about 5 minutes - three or four to download their connection prog and then another minute or so to connect using the new number (unless, of course, like me you've forgotten what username you used to sign up - and it can take a few more minutes to get the brain in gear). What more can I say? Internet connection so far has been almost instant, connection rate seems constant at 46,667 bps, sites load much faster that they have of late on 4unet and everything I've tried has been accessible. It's early days yet, but so far WELL DONE FREESERVE!
I've just looked up a couple of definitions in a dictionary of MODERN English usage: Sports - games and other competitive activities which need physical effort and skill; Sportsmanlike - behaviour . . that is fair and decent,as it should be when you are playing a game. Surprise, surprise - it doesn't mention anything about setting a pack of howling dogs on an almost defenceless fox, or chasing a wild animal for miles until it's too weak to run anymore, then watching with glee as it's torn to pieces. It fails to point out the delights of wiping the unfortunate animal's blood on the faces of young children or the simple satisfaction of setting one animal to kill another... I wonder why. In my view, and it's a view shared by the vast majority of decent people in what we like to call our civilised society, fox hunting is exactly the same as dog fighting, badger baiting, hare coursing and any other of the barbaric rituals that are undertaken by a few savage and brutal oafs with nothing better to occupy their tiny minds. In all the years that I have followed this particular argument, the only thing that remains consistent is the pathetic bleating of the pro-hunting lobby about the dire effects on the countryside - a countryside whose rapid destruction many of them must be held responsible for. The fact that a comparative few may actualy have to find a decent job if fox hunting is banned brings no tears to my eyes - I have met a few of these 'saviours of our way of life' and one thing that soon becomes obvious is that few of them actually know what a real job is. Money and privilege have always led to a degree of corruption and the most vociferous supporters of blood 'sports' are those who have no respect for any form of nature, whether it be animal, environmental or human. As others have pointed out, this is the 21st century - there is no longer a place for the perverted
thrills enjoyed by a tiny minority and no excuse, with the technology at our disposal, to treat any creature in this despicably philistine manner. I'll leave you to decide which side I'm on!!
When I first got hold of a computer mouse, like most people of a certain age who can actually remember using a slide-rule in 'O' level maths, I admit to being a little confused. My limited experience of computers and the jargon surrounding them meant that I relly hadn't a clue about the power and scope of the modern machine. So, where to start? Well, one of the best things I did was to buy Windows 98 For Dummies, written by Andy Rathbone and in the usual prominent black & yellow livery of the Dummies series. This unique book begins with the very basics - such as What Is Windows 98? and how to turn on the computer. This may seem simple and obvious stuff, but is never patronising and even if you think you know it all, every chapter is worth a read if only for the amusing and tongue-in-cheek style of writing. At the same time, a series of icons tells you which bits contain warnings, tips, important points and the best one which means 'Watch out! ... pointless technical information is coming ... swerve away ... and you'll be safe from the awful technical drivel.' HOW REFRESHING!! There is a wealth of useful information here including the most important sections for any Windows user - clear and simple things to do when the damn thing refuses to work at all. Whatever stage you're at or whatever aspects of computing are your particular interest - you'll not do better than start at the beginning with the appropriate title from this series.
I've had some experience of visiting and flying from several of the country's major airports and I think that Stansted is probably the best. To get to some - notably Gatwick and Heathrow with the inevitable nightmare of braving the M25 - is a harrowing experience in itself; no way to be starting a holiday and, more important, no way to finish one when tiredness after the journey and a simple desire to get home quickly can make the end of a trip a horrendous challenge. In contrast, there is Stansted. The layout of the airport is neat and a traveller's delight. Car parks are large and easy to use (no multi-stories) and a short walk takes you to the ultra-modern main terminal building. The open plan design with a cool and calm atmosphere make it a pleasure to use. All the facilities are there - modern check-in desks, several shops and excellant snack and meal provision. The whole place has an air of unhurried efficiency that is totally lacking at many other airports. So, if you have the choice, start your holiday as you mean to go on and finish it with a relaxed final leg - choose Stansted!!
Oh Dear - what an incredibly tragic accident, not just for those who died, their families and friends, but for a part of the magic of human flight. Having flown on Concorde, I can honestly say that it must be one of the greatest experiences available to anyone, regardless of their age or financial position. To think that such a wonderful machine may be coming to the end of its useful life must surely bring a tear to the eye of anyone who has been lucky enough to have travelled on one, however briefly. The age-old problem, of course, is at what point do we consider that the safety of the passengers can no longer be guaranteed at a cost that makes the plane commercially viable. At least the latest incident, as with so many similar tragedies, has brought to the attention of the public the awareness that all safety considerations are balanced against cost. Harsh though it may be, plane crashes, like those involving cars, trains or ships, should not in themselves cause the demise of the vehicle concerned unless it can be clearly proved that they are inherently dangerous. In the case of Concorde, while it has never before been involved in a crash with loss of life, it must now now be the job of the accident investigators to look at all aspects of the plane and review all its past history of both major and minor problems. Only then will people feel secure. My fervent hope is that the planes still in service can be proved to be safe, with whatever repairs and modifications are necessary being carried out regardless of cost. If such a tragedy should occur again, it will probably lead to the planes being taken out of service and such a great part of our aviation heritage could never be relaced. It may be a worry to many people, but on balance I would, given another chance, love to travel on this fine aircraft again.
My current - and first - computer was assembled for me by a small company based in Doncaster (for those from the affluent south - that's 'up north' somewhere!) The system I bought in April 99 was 400Mhz Celeron with 64 Mb ram, 10.4Gb hard drive, an A-Open motherboard, 16Mb Video card, 17" Smile monitor, Intellimouse, Sound Blaster, DVD, MLI powered speakers, Diamond modem and basic software. Total cost at the time was just over £800 which seemed good value compared to most other systems. I collected the computer myself after ordering it by phone and my initial impression was that it was a very solid and well-built system. I had read good reports of their work and this was confirmed when I first looked inside the tower to find a very neat interior with loads of room for expansion. The motherboard is compatable with pentium processors, so upgrading is very straightforward and the company will install new components free if the tower is taken to them. O.K. - now the horrors! To cut short a very long and boring story, I had a serious problem just over a year after buying the computer. It crashed at the slightest opportunity and eventually IE5 simply ceased to work. Then I lost sound on odd occasions and the system began to freeze for no apparent reason. After phoning the company, they were also baffled, so in the end I took it to their factory. One of their technicians immediately set to work, replacing its inner bits with different items, all tio no avail. I left it with them and it took a full day to find out that the motherboard had failed - only obvious when they discovered that the first new board they tried was itself faulty! The whole business probably cost me about £15 in petrol, which I thought was very good value! Not everyone has such a serious problem with their computer, but from other opinions I have read, I'm in no doubt that I was lucky to buy mine from a company that really cares about customer se
rvice and made every possible effort to ensure that I was satisfied.
Having just returned from a week’s trip to France, I thought that some of you might be interested in one of the slightly more unusual ways to cross the channel – the SeaCat. Like most people taking their car to the continent, I usually use one of the ferry services but have also been on the hovercraft and via the channel tunnel (the last being by far the most civilized way to go, albeit the most expensive). This time, however, money being one of the major considerations - especially as most cross channel fares have risen by over 50% in the last year – I got a good deal on the SeaCat crossing from Folkestone to Boulogne, paying about £180 return for car and three passengers. The outward crossing at 7:30 am was fine. The sea was smooth and, although the harbour at Folkestone is a fairly grotty and miserable sort of place, overall the trip was pretty quick and comfortable. During the sailing there are the usual drink and cigarette offers – including an amazing single packet of B&H per customer for abut £1.50 “for use on board” – a good deal but a little tricky when you realize that the Cat is a strictly ‘no smoking’ vessel! When we set off for the return trip (8pm u.k. time), the captain casually remarked that there was some wind in the channel and the sea would be “a little choppy”. Oh boy!With waves of around 6-8 feet a normal ferry would barely roll at all – but not this baby!Remember all those films of small fishing boats being tossed around like corks? It probably wasn’t quite that bad and it did feel perfectly safe, but with the queues for the loos lengthening by the minute, peoples’ drinks refusing to stay in their glasses and the sound of breaking glass from behind the bar, it was at least exciting! Thankfully, with a speed of some 35 knots, the trip doesn’t last long and I’d still recommend it – but if you don’t enjoy
fair rides or just don’t travel well – make sure you take a travel sickness pill before you start!!
This is a site that has a lot going for it. Designed, constructed and maintained by Chris & Dave Newsome (who's name some of you may have come accross on DooYoo), it doesn't have all the fancy bells and whistles of more expensive sites. What it does have, however, is good, solid content from people who are obviously enthusiastic about the sport. From the home page, you can go to several different areas: 'F1 news' gives a very thorough run-down (pardon the pun) on the latest from the F1 scene, with points tables and snippets on drivers and teams; 'Site of the Month' is a link to, at present, Johnny Herbert's web site; '2000 Season' has some really interesting info on teams, drivers, line-ups, engines, race calender and results; 'F1 Links' has most of the team sites as well as the drivers' own sites listed - really valuable; 'F1 Circuits' gives maps of each circuit with loads of info including speeds and gear-change points; 'Features' - well, features some more great info and includes some Very pretty pictures (!) An outstanding site by F1 enthusiasts for F1 enthusiasts - have a look.
Hey, I'm probably in my usual position on this subject - a minority of 1 - I watched just over half of the first episode of this, shall we say unusual, show before switching off what can kindly be described as total mindless rubbish. There are obviously two reasons why those taking part are there - they either want the money ( a sensible enough motive), or they are pure out-and-out exhibitionists. There do actually seem to be a couple of the 'contestants' who may possess more than the average two brain cells, but the only reason I can see why anyone would want to watch these antics is that it makes the viewer feel infinitely superior. This show, rather in the vein of Cilla Black's Blind Date, seems to be designed with the sole purpose of showing the worst possible side of human nature with no other purpose than to make the fat cats of the tv world even portlier. I'm sure the show will be a roaring success, break all viewing records and make a mint for its producers, but I won't be watching another episode!
For the second year, I've been researching various travel insurance companies to try to find something better than last year's choice - Atlas Direct. I have to say that I can't do any better. Why? I hear you ask, so here goes! First, they are easy to contact; you can write to them at 37 King's Exchange, Tileyard Road, London N7 9AH: you can phone 020 7609 5000; Fax 020 7609 5011; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their web-site for an on-line quote at www.travel-insurance.co.uk. Second, they are really good value: for 9 days' comprehensive cover in Europe for two people, I have just paid the grand total of £22.78 - can't be bad! My mother, at 77 years old, has just received cover from them for three weeks for just over £17, their only stipulation being that you must inform them of any treatment you are getting and they will then tell you if you will be covered for a particular illness. Third, their policy is very comprehensive - for example,it covers things like business documents, cancellations, delayed baggage, loss of deposit, loss of passport as well as all the usual medical (up to £10m!), legal, personal liability etc. They will also offer special policies for backpackers, coach tours, multiple trips and so on, as well as cover for high-risk sports like ballooning, jet-skiing, scuba diving - even skiing. Fourth, they are very helpful and efficient - I received a written quote in the next day's post - and there is plenty of info on who to contact in an emergency. Finally, their policy states that "If you see a lower price offered for a like-for-like policy from one of our competitors, we will beat that quote by £1 per person without quibble" Give them a try!
Once again this week we have seen 'Our Boy' David Coulthard beaten fair and square by a 'b***** foreigner' and a lot of people seem to be getting up-tight about the fact. I'd love to see an Englishman win the top title again, but it seems to me that this is another case of the 'Tim Henman' syndrome - an excellent high-achiever who has tremendous ability to perform, who has the most incredible guts, particularly in David's case after his extremely lucky plane crash escape, but in the final analysis, he lacks that little extra 1% that makes all the difference. On Sunday there is no doubt that David drove tremendously well - the slowest F1 driver, after all, makes mere mortals look like kids on tricycles - but I'm afraid that, had it not been for luck, which always plays a part in top sports, he would probably not even have made the podium. Can there be anyone who thinks that, given equal cars to drive, there is anyone in the world at present who could beat Michael Schumacher? I think not. At the same time, is it really conceivable that with equal quantities of luck, David could consistently beat his team-mate, a man with an obvious fire in his soul? Again, reluctantly, I have to say I don't think so. All this does not detract from the fact that David is English - whoops, sorry, British - which is probably a good enough reason to give him every possible support. I hope, as much as the next man, that he can pull off the a few more surprises and take the ultimate accolade. I just hope that unlike Henman and many other British sportsmen, he is not simply too nice a bloke to have the killer instinct when it really matters.
This is an incredibly silly site that takes the p(roverbial) out of our beloved prime minister. Of course, as they clearly stated on the site, "This site demonstrates bioVirtual 3D human technology in an amusing way for entertainment only. "PhonyBlair" is an autonomous computer-generated model, not a real person. He has no connection with, or endorsement by, the real Tony Blair. "PhonyBlair" is not intended to cause offence to any person or group, or suggest any political message." If you haven't got 'Pulse Player' by Pulse Technology (and I'm sure you won't have it) you will have to load it first, but this should only take a couple of minutes. You will then have a 3-d image of Mr Blair, with which you can play around to your heart's content; you can change his expression, give him a long nose, big ears, big head, punk hairdo etc. or simply move his image around using the mouse. The technology is very clever and the site will appeal to those who have nothing but respect for our glorious leader - not! It will also really appeal to kids who have no idea who PhonyBlair is meant to be.
The first time I read any of Donaldson's work was when I picked up a story he wrote in 1977 - what was to be the first part of a six-part story called 'The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever'. This is pure fantasy as in JRR Tolkien and, in my opinion, he surpasses that author at his descriptive and imaginative best. The six books are now available combined in two three-part editions published by Harper Collins. The series recounts the adventures of Thomas Covenant, an erstwhile author who's life has fallen apart on discovering he has leprosy. His wife and child have left him, he is shunned by everyone and his whole existance revolves around his illness. Then, as he is struck by a car, he suddenly finds himself in a terrifying magical land where he is miraculously made whole, but at a frightening cost. The only way he can preserve his sanity is to deny to himself and all the people and creatures he meets that it is not real. His self-denial, giving him the nick-name The Unbeliever, leads to deaths and even the rape of his rescuer when he finds himself whole again. In spite of this he is hailed as the saviour of The Land from its destruction by Lord Foul - the devil incarnate whose devastation he must watch, all the while asserting that neither he nor the magic embodied in his white gold wedding ring can really exist here. Amazing exploits follow among the Lords of The Land, their protectors the Bloodguard who never sleep,the Ranyhyn - great white horses of The Plains and the Ramen who protect them, The Giants - a great gentle people whose ancestors lost their homeland and built the great fortress of Revelstone. The evil Cavewights, Ur-viles and Ravers, tools of Lord Foul are forever the enemies, destruction being their only reason to live. If you like the Tolkien style of fantasy and are the sort to be enthralled by this type of fiction at its best, read these books and be eternally captivated.