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I'll never forget the first time I saw someone playing Gran Turismo. I was in a toy shop at the time and to say I was blown away wouldn't even start to cover it. I didn't even own a Playstation at the time but I left that shop with cosole and game in my possession, itching to get home and plug it in.
The aim of the game is simple - you pick a car (not a made up car but a real car that you might own or see on the road) and you drive it as fast as you can around the track, either against other cars or against the clock. So what caught my eye? One word - QUALITY. Being of the generation that can remember steering a pile of blocks round a plain black screen on my Sinclair Spectrum, the graphics, sound, and everything else took my perception of computer games to a whole new level.
Of course, being as impatient as I am, I played the game in Quick Arcade mode - but even this has its surprises (the more races you complete, the more cars and tracks you can pick from). For the more adventurous, you can play the game in full Gran Turismo mode, in which you can build up a collection of new and used cars, customise them and enter in multi-event tournaments.
It is now 12 years since I played the original Gran Turismo and, despite having dabbled with the subsequent sequels, I still find this the most playable version and the one I always go back to.
The EOS50D was introduced as the replacement for the EOS40D (which it very closely resembles in outward appearance) and is aimed at the mid-range market, somewhere between avid amateurs and semi-professionals. Its 15.1 megapixel CMOS sensor is a huge leap from the 10 megapixel model used in the 40D, and the addition of the "live view" makes the 50D a much more versatile buy.
The body of the camera is a handful. It feels reassuringly sturdy but not too heavy and I've found that I can comfortably use it "in hand" for reasonably long periods without any discomfort - of course, this also depends on the weight of any lens you are using. The buttons are well-placed and, after using it for around a year, I can find most of the functions without shifting my eye from the viewfinder. The menus are clear and colourful and pretty easy to navigate - and the secondary LCD screen on top of the body (which I thought I would never have a use for) does come in surprisingly handy.
As far as functions go, it has everything you would expect from a mid-range SLR including a number of preset modes for Sport, Night, Landscape, etc, as well as Full Auto mode for those who are still learning (or can't be bothered to set everything manually). Shutter speed ranges from 1/8000th to 30 seconds (with a bulb setting) and the ISO can be expanded up to 12800 - although it is worth reading the section about noise below. Continuous shooting is especially useful for the type of high-speed wildlife photography that I favour, as it will happily fire away at 6 frames per second for 15 frames at a time. There is no video feature - which is a little disappointing when you consider that the EOS7D, EOS5D MKII and the Nikon D90 all accommodate this.
One aspect of the 50D that I am disappointed with (contrary to what a lot of reviews say) is the amount of noise at anything other than very low ISO settings and on anything other than a well-lit shot. Even with the Noise Reduction settings at their max, it compares very unfavourably with some much cheaper models. Whether this has anything to do with the amount of megapixels crammed into such a small space, I'm not sure. I have been told - by someone much more technically minded than me - that anything but the highest quality lenses will struggle to sharpen an image enough to suit this resolution.
I know that some of the "old school" purist photographers malign the use of remote controls but I haven't yet learned the art of sticking my head down a puffin's nest at the moment it is giving birth, whilst remaining invisible - so I swear by them.
In all seriousness, if you want to take decent photos, you should have some kind of remote control in your kit - and this one takes it a step further, allowing you to remotely view the camera's viewfinder via a handset.
I have been using Phottix gear for a few years now and I have always found it to be robust and reliable - and not too heavy on the batteries like some other remote controls.
It is expensive, I won't deny that - but it does what it says on the tin and it has a very usable range. I find it invaluable.
When I bought the Wii console I didn't really know what to expect. I had seen the adverts on TV so I knew the concept, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it is - and how addictive it is.
I got the Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort games with it and the secret intention was to get rid of a bit of weight without having to go out into the British winter to do it. To this end, it is ideal (it's too early to say if it's losing me weight but I am certainly spending hours in physical activity instead of sitting down).
To personalise the experience you can create your own characters (called Mii) which then become your players or opponents in the games.
You do need a lot of space around you to play the games and there have already been occassions where I have sent ornaments crashing off shelves with my flailing arms as I get immersed in the games. This should be considered if you are thinking about buying one.
The system was easy to set up and doesn't require a great deal of technical know-how and the games are fun for all ages, incorporating gentler activities alongside the more vigorous ones.
There are a couple of features that I haven't yet used but certainly will be doing in the near future. The ability to manipulate digital images and to download and play older Nintendo games (requires internet connection).
The only downside I have noticed so far is that the batteries that were included with the handset ran out after four days - but I have used it a lot in this time.
For anyone who doesn't know, the Wii is a games console that uses the actual physical movement of the handsets to control the action on the screen - and Wii Sports is a collection of 5 sporting games, namely Tennis, Golf, Boxing, Ten-Pin Bowling and Baseball - all of which rely on a degree of hand-to-eye coordination and quick reflexes; skills that you enhance as you play the games.
The Ten-Pin Bowling and Golf have been largely superceded by enhanced versions that come with the newer package called Wii Sports Resort - in which the Motion Plus device is plugged into the handset to detect and incorporate subtle wrist movements. Even so, both are enjoyable to play and are relatively undemanding if you are unfit (like me).
Tennis is probably the most physically demanding game and you soon find yourself leaping around as you take part in a game of doubles (either controlling one or both of your players). This is not a game for confined spaces.
Baseball requires keen timing when you are batting but the game pretty much plays itself when you are the pitcher and I found this part quite boring.
Boxing incorporates the additional "nunchuck" control so that you can punch with both hands and soon makes you sweat, but is probably my least favourite of the activities as it doesn't seem to require much skill.
All of the activities give you a rating after each game and this spurs you on to keep improving and makes the whole experience very addictive.
If you thought Big Brother was as low as television could go, think again.
Someone picks a box with an unknown sum of money in and then picks other boxes to eliminate and gambles with an unseen benefactor who offers them money for it. The same thing was entertaining the masses in the 1940s when the only alternative was to watch a still of a girl sitting with a clown doll.
Not only is the formula so tedious that it makes Newsnight look exciting, it is hosted by the elusive 5th Bee-Gee and the contestants are drawn from a pool of people who, presumably, were deemed "not quite classy enough" to appear on Trisha.
Noel seems to completely dismiss the idea that choosing random numbers is random and keeps coming out with inane quotes like "you like your reds don't you" - which makes him look even more ridiculous than he actually is. It brings out the worst in me because I love it when the contestant leaves with 23 pence - but I justify that by knowing that their vulgar love of the filthy lucre has been equalised by their complete disregard for the law of averages.
How has this been going for 4 years?
Squidoo.com is a site where you can write articles, or "lenses" as they are known, on any subject (within the site rules) and they each have the potential to earn you money via the Google Ads scheme or by specialist tools that you can include that link to commercial sites such as eBay and Amazon. Money earned by the Google Ads is pooled and then a percentage of it is paid out pro-rata to the contributirs based on the average rank of your lens. I believe the split is 50% to Squidoo, 10% to charity and 40% to the lens owners.
I would be the first to admit that I am no William Shakespeare; I like writing articles and I like to think that I have a reasonable grasp of the English language - so I thought I'd give squidoo a bash. I was so appalled by the returns that I am almost embarrassed to share it with you. I wrote 48 articles in the first month - on a variety of subjects - and this earned me the grand total of $0.21, which equates to about 12 pence.
These were not articles that rated at the lower end (800,000), a lot of them were hovering around the 30,000 mark and were attracting readers.
There were a couple of things that raised my suspicions about how the "lenses" were ranked from the start. The first one was the fact that, for over a month, the "lens of the day" was the same one about making Punch & Judy puppets. Now, forgive my cynical nature, but I find it hard to believe that this is the hot topic on everybody's lips. Maybe I'm wrong and I haven't seen the appeal??? The second one was the fact that many of my "lenses" were ranked concurrently. I would have lenses ranked 35504, 35505, 35506, 35507, etc - a huge coincindence that my works appeared next to each-other in their league table.
The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was when I wrote a "lens" directing fellow anxiety sufferers to useful non-commercial sites where they could get advice about the condition - and this fell fowl of the squidoo rules on advertising pharmaceuticals????
I always try to keep an open mind and I'm sure I will get comments from people who think the site is great - but it is not for me.
The first thing that surprised me when I had the television delivered was the size of the box; the last new TV I bought was in the late 90s and the box was nearly as big as a garden shed. This one was only just bigger than a laptop case and was easily portable for one person - of course it's a smaller television but maybe it is also an indication that the electronics companies are listening to people's environmental concerns and cutting down on packaging materials? Anyway, weighing under 5kg, the unit easily sits on top of a study shelf and the stand that came with it is easy to mount in seconds.
For the sake of saving some space, I had downsized from my old 28 inch set and size wasn't really a prime consideration when I was trying to decide on the new model - as long as it wasn't so small that I couldn't see the screen. What I was concerned about was connectivity because I have a number of digital cameras that have HDMI connections, a VCR and DVD player that connect via SCART and an S-Video to Composite Video output from my PC for when I want to use a second monitor. The 22LH2000 has 2 x SCART sockets (of which one is RGB), 1 x HDMI, 1 x Coax aerial, 1 x VGA monitor socket, an audio input and a set of Composite Video sockets.
For the sake of experimentation (and nothing else) I did try plugging my PC into the VGA socket and the TV functions perfectly well as a monitor, with a maximum resolution of 1360 x 760 pixels. The quality of the display was more than adequate - although a little less crisp than my Emprex monitor. I'm sure I could fine tune this if it was ever going to become a permanent arrangement.
Initial set-up was easy enough, with the TV handling most of it for me. It had no problem finding all the Freeview channels that I used to get on my set-top box (yes it has a built-in Freeview tuner) as well as the analogue channels. The DVD and Cameras were recognised instantly, as was the Composite Video signal from my PC. The only thing I had to intervene manually with was the tuning-in of my old PlayStation (PS1) that connects via the Coax aerial; even this was only a 2-minute job.
I have read reviews that slate these less expensive LCD televisions for their sound quality; I haven't found this to be a problem. I played some music through it - via my PC - and at first the sound did get distorted at higher volumes but this was easily sorted out by experimenting with the settings in the Audio Menu. OK, it isn't Hi-Fi but I have a hi-fi for that.
I am no expert on HD televisions so I am not going to go into how good the picture quality is; suffice to say, I am happy with it and I have had no problems. A true connoisseur might find something to criticise about it but I can't. I do like the Picture Wizard that allows you to fine-tune the picture to the conditions in your room and I have made a mental note to learn more about this feature.
On the down-side, the 22LH2000 does feel cheap; not only because it is light, but the sockets and buttons, etc, don't have that reassuring sturdiness that you find on some electrical goods (apple for instance). While I was moving my furniture round to accommodate the new set, I had to reposition it a few times and I noticed that the SCART cables were detached every time. I am assuming this won't be a problem when it is in permanent situ.
In summary. I paid £250 for a 22inch LCD flat-screen TV. I knew it wasn't going to be the best model on the market because of the price, but I am very happy with it.
The concept is simple, the possibilities are endless; the combination is highly addictive.
The lemmings drop out of a hatch and walk - and without your intervention, that's all they do. Your job is to guide them towards their goal using a limited number of specialist skills.
The skills are as follows:
Climber: Once a lemming has been turned into a climber, he will climb any vertical face
Floater: Once a lemming has been turned into a floater he will survive any fall by opening a little umbrella
Bomber: A bomber will blow himself up after 5 seconds. This is useful for removing blockers and blowing through obstacles
Blocker: A blocker will stand his ground and not let anyone past, forcing the lemmings to change direction
Builder: A builder will build a diagonal staircase of 12 bricks in the direction he is walking
Basher: A basher will bash his was through an adjacent vertical surface
Miner: A miner will dig diagonally down through vertical or horizontal surfaces in the direction he is walking
Digger: A digger will dig vertically down through any horizontal surface
The trick is to work out how to use your limited skill set to get from start to finish, losing as few lemmings as possible. Each round has different scenery, posing a new set of challenges, and a different target number of lemmings to be saved.
As well as being addictive, the game is educational and develops the lateral-thinking skills of the player as the rounds get harder and harder. Planning, timing and patience are essential as you draw on your genius to tackle stages that initially seemed impossible.
The lemmings themselves are cute, funny and frustrating, and the quirky sound-effects and occasional hidden perils only add to the charm of the game - and the "nuke" button is hilarious.
Set against a backdrop of near-idyllic family life, Michael Green (Andy Garcia) is a successful airline pilot who has married Alice (Meg Ryan), the woman of his dreams and taken on her oldest daughter as his own. They also have a younger daughter together and things seem to be all rosy.
However, the pressures of work and motherhood are starting to tell on Alice and she turns to drink in order to cope. As her dependency on alcohol grows, she develops more and more cunning ways to hide it, feigning illness and exhaustion to disguise her often incoherent state.
Things come to a head one day when she has an accident in the shower and ends up in hospital; it is only now that she has to face the fact that she has become an alcoholic.
The film follows the family as they struggle to cope with her addiction. Alice learns a lot about herself through the people she meets in rehab and Michael learns a lot about Alice through the children and soon realises how little he actually knew his beloved wife and how blind he had been to her problems.
It is a wonderfully touching story that will have you wailing into your popcorn in places, but at the same time, there is an inspiring sense of defiance that shines through in the way the family help each-other throughout. Ryan and Garcia are well cast in their parts but, in my opinion, they are guilty of a little overacting at times. Not so for the children, who are smart and funny and, without trying, become the focus of it all.
Leon is not just an assassin; he's a loner and a perfectionist - and it is no coincidence that, when there's a "job" to be done in the Italian Quarter, he's the man they ask for. He lives a life of few possessions, flitting from one seedy apartment block to another with just the tools of his trade and his cherished pot-plant for company. Never settling, never mingling, keeping below the radar of both the establishment and the law, his only pleasure being the occasional cinema trip to see his idol, Gene Kelly.
Matilda is a school-girl who, thanks to her dysfunctional family, spends very little time at school. She lives with her father, her step-mother, her half-sister and her beloved baby brother just down the hall from Leon's latest haunt, and when her father gets mixed up in a drug deal that goes wrong, their paths cross and the strangest of relationships is born.
The story centres around Matilda's quest for revenge against a corrupt Drugs Enforcement Agency officer, Norman "Stan" Stansfield, and the bond she forms with Leon along the way. Reluctant at first, Leon accepts the girl into his lonely existence, not only learning to like her, but to love her. Of course, the film raises all sorts of ethical questions; not only on the subject of kids becoming killers, but also about the relationship between Leon and Matilda which is at best morally uncomfortable, and at worst, disturbing.
There are some interesting sub-plots and Leon's relationship with his one-time mentor, Big Tony - who is quite obviously ripping him off financially - gives glimpses of a heartbroken past that has made Leon the man he is now.
The story is extremely absorbing and the contrast between the super-cool Leon (played by Jean Reno) and the psychotic Stan (Gary Oldman) leaves the viewer in no doubt where the boundary between good and bad lies - despite the fact that the good-guy is a paid killer. Natalie Portman's performance as the young Matilda is superb for her first feature-film and betrays an acting ability far beyond her years.
I am a fan of iTunes and I realise, from looking at other reviews and the net in general, that this might put me in a minority.
I used to work as a DJ and I started out in the days when you had to transport a van full of vinyl records to each gig. Ovbiously, these were replaced in time by the more reliable, but similarly bulky, CDs - and then by MP3 technology and the ability to play a whole party with just a laptop and I find iTunes very handy for this.
The library-type interface is easy to use, easy to navigate, and lightning-fast when it comes to sorting or finding songs, even with a database of around 30,000 tracks. It is very easy to create as many playlists as you like using drag-and-drop and you can set sort criteria for "Smart" playlists that will automatically select songs based on Year, Genre, BPM, etc. Also, more importantly, I have NEVER know it to drop-out or skip when playing a song as some applications do.
Of course, to get the best out of it, you need to put in the hours making sure that all songs are correctly tagged, but I also find that iTunes makes this quite easy.
The iTunes store is something I have only used ocassionally, but I found searching for, and purshasing songs, very easy and I understand it is even easier now that Apple have removed the DRM data, allowing downloaded tracks to be played via any application or MP3 player.
I bought this set when I saw it on offer at half-price in Tesco and I must say, having used it for about 3 months, it would have still been quite a bargain at the full price.
It consists of a keyboard, a mouse, a receiver, a software cd, and all the batteries you need to get started - which are 1 x AA battery for the mouse and 2 x AAA batteries for the keyboard.
It is very easy to set up; simply insert the batteries and plug in the receiver, which has one USB plug and one PS2 plug (you may need to restart your computer afterwards). My Vista machine even allowed me to start using it without installing the accompanying software - although you can't take advantage of all the function buttons until you do.
The software itself installed smoothly with no complications, but be aware that it will try to install a copy of the Yahoo toolbar if you don't uncheck the relevant box.
The mouse and keyboard both work right across the other side of my room from the receiver (about 10 feet away) and, while I had to replace the mouse battery after about 4 weeks to keep this range up, the keyboard is still on its original batteries.
The mouse does no more or less than you would expect it to, but the keyboard has several auxillery function keys dotted around the edge. Specifically, these are...
On the left:
Close (closes window)
Back (navigates back on browswer)
There is also an F Mode key that switches the standard function keys (F1 - F12) to a new set of functions, which include launching MS Office applications and Undo/Redo - although I haven't learned how to use these yet.
In summary, anything that costs less than £20 and allows you to sit in bed and answer your emails has to be worth evey penny.
Having been a lager drinker for more years than I care to remember, I have come to notice the subtle differences, not only between brands, but between draught lagers and their bottled/canned equivalents. That is what I like about Fosters lager; it is pretty much consistent whether you get it from a pub or from a supermarket.
It doesn't have the quality pedigree of Stella Artois or Kronenburg (or the same mind-bending strength) but I often think the premium lagers have a musty aroma to them that puts me off before I even taste them. It also doesn't have any creaminess about it - which I find quite sickly in lager. Apart from that, without using the usual words like "crisp" and "refreshing", it is difficult to describe the taste.
The other prime consideration for me is the price - which is comparable with others in its class (Carling, Castlemaine, etc) and considerably cheaper then the stronger brands. Of course this will vary in supermarkets that use such products as loss-leaders.
I initially bought this product because I thought it would be a cheap no-frills way to back up all my work documents - which for about 15 days it was. It was easy to use, just plug it into a USB slot and it was there in the background, the way you want a hard drive to behave.
Unfortunately, after about 15 days, it started making strange ticking noises from inside the box. These didn't seem to be affecting its performance, just annoying me. Then after a couple of days it stopped working altogether. You could hear the motor stopping and starting as the drive was trying to work, but windows would not recognise it as a drive and neither would DOS, so I couldn't access anything on it. I couldn't even access it to reformat it or run a disk check.
I was then in a dilemma. Should I send it back to the retailer and ask for my money back or a replacement (knowing that all my work documents, letters, and emails may one day be recovered from it) or should I shoulder the £50 loss and learn not to trust this brand again. I opted for the latter.