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Member since: 04.08.2006

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    • An open letter to.... / Discussion / 124 Readings / 109 Ratings
      More +
      26.01.2007 13:10
      Very helpful




      Dear Mr Brown

      Please find enclosed my completed self-assessment form for the last financial year. Hopefully your staff will process this before the 31st January, thus avoiding them the stressful task of writing to me asking for £100.00 for the late filing of this form. To avoid any confusion this year, I’ve returned the form, recorded delivery.

      I’m a team player and have worked extremely hard this year, so I trust you will put to good use the tax you have collected from me. As a faithful servant, even after providing for my wife and 4 children I’ve managed to save a few quid that should generate you further income from the interest this will attract.

      I do have one minor confession, I have drastically cut down on the fags and I sincerely hope the lost tobacco tax revenue does not cause you any undue hardship. I pondered the pros and cons and selfishly arrived at the conclusion my health was more important. The chances are I may now live longer, which should increase my overall earning potential and thus allow me to contribute more in taxes, I hope you understand.

      I’ve continued my private health care policy for the whole family to lessen the burden on our National Health Service, you may not know but my son was in a very serious car accident the year before last. The operations and health care exceeded £10,000, he’s made a full recovery I’m pleased to say and PPP picked up the bill. I trust my unused National Insurance contributions will come in handy and are put to good use.

      Possibly some good news, we are thinking of moving, don’t worry I’m not going to move abroad. I’m a loyal employee and will continue to contribute all I can to the treasury. The Stamp Duty or SDLT (Stamp Duty Land Tax) as I believe it's known now, should generate you a considerable amount of money. As you know I reside to the south of our Kingdom and house prices are extremely high compared to some of the other regions. The kids are growing up and we really do need a four or five bedroom house. As such we will smash the £500,000 band limit you so cleverly introduced a higher tax percentage on back in 1997. I must say you have done very well to hold these bandings at the same level all these years even though house prices have soared. It brings a smile to my face to know you will collect from me in excess of £20,000 for such an obscure tax.

      On the subject of SDLT, there has been some unrest in the camp; some of my fellow employees have been rather vocal expressing negative views to say the least. Many do not look upon this tax as favourable. I did point out you were only following tradition, after all Stamp Duty was first introduced way back in 1694 by King William III and his wife Queen Mary II to help fight the war against France. From that point on those in charge have added to the spectrum of the Stamp Duty levy. I told them Mr Kipling would have been proud of you as you have done ‘exceedingly well’ increasing the 2.5 billion income Stamp Duty produced when you first entered government to around the 9 billion mark it pulls in today.

      I argued that you did increase the limit from £60,000 to £125,000 before SDLT was due but my fellow colleagues informed me that the average first time buyer cant buy a residence for less than £125,000 in the area I live and the limit should be raised in line with the inflated house prices. They have a point, having 4 children myself this is a little worrying but I will keep saving hard, paying the tax my savings generate and what is left you can have because I’ll probably end up giving it to the kids when they want to leave the nest, to pay the imposed duty on their new home.

      I summed up my argument by informing those rowdy lot that we should all help each other, I did say you were on our side and at some point there comes a time when you may have to bend over and take one for the team so to speak but unfortunately I don’t think they were convinced.

      On a completely different matter I overheard a fellow colleague complaining about your Inheritance Tax, they felt the £285,000 limit before this tax becomes due was far too low. They said as house prices have risen highly, a lot more people would now fall in to this tax bracket. I even heard one of them say they were going to keep their relative on life support in a vegetative state for 7 years and then claim the house and savings were given to them as a gift, seven years previous. The lengths some people will go to eh? Might be one to look out for!

      Yours sincerely

      Brian Octavius Locks

      B O Locks


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      • Samsung LE-32R73BD / LCD TV / 79 Readings / 74 Ratings
        More +
        14.01.2007 16:32
        Very helpful


        • Reliability


        A great TV, only let down by the sound quality

        Choosing a TV can be confusing and whilst many suppliers offer what seems to be a fantastic price tag on a state of the art flat panel LCD or Plasma television, the picture and sound quality can differ greatly between models. Although your supposed bargain may look fantastic on the wall, once turned on consumers can feel let down by the picture and sound quality that somehow seems inferior to their old bulky box that previously took up half of the living room.

        The Samsung LE – 32R73BD is a 32” flat panel LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) TV, incorporating a digital freeview receiver and is reasonably priced but certainly not the cheapest at around £650.00. The same TV can be bought without the inclusion of a digital freeview receiver for around £70.00 less. We purchased ours from Currys using their website and saved £70.00 on the listed store price.

        *** Why this Particular Make and Model ***

        I had seen this TV in my local Currys store and was initially impressed with the overall appearance of the TV itself and quality of the picture. The connections on the rear seemed ample for my needs and when researching on the net, although there were not many reviews or opinions to be found, those I did find were not negative ones. This coupled with the fact I had purchased Samsung equipment before and their customer service in my opinion had been first class, persuaded me to part with my money.

        *** What’s in the Box ***

        The TV comes with a remote control (2x AAA batteries included), a stand if you are not going to be wall mounting the screen, a cleaning cloth and various paperwork including a user manual and warranty cards. Everything is very neatly packaged and an important point to note is even with all the packaging the total weight is around 40lbs, which is very light for the size of the TV and I was able to lift the box with ease. Out of the packaging, the TV and stand together weigh in at a fraction over 34 lbs, if you are going to be wall mounting the TV this is a major plus. Whether wall mounting or using the stand, one person will be able to site the TV in its location without the need for help.

        *** The Look ***

        As I mentioned earlier the appearance of the Samsung was a contributing factor when deciding to buy. The TV measures 800mm wide, has a height of 548.5mm and is only 80mm in depth. The casing around the screen is not invasive measuring less than 2” around the top and sides of the screen and is silk satin black in colour that looks simply stunning. I wall mounted the screen and at night with the lights out, the casing blends into the darkness of the room leaving just the screen visible, giving the illusion that the screen is floating in mid air.

        *** Installation ***

        The stand is packaged separately and if used will need to be attached to the screen using the 4 screws supplied. I purchased a wall mounting kit that had swivel brackets allowing the TV tilt up and down if required. By sheer luck paying the extra money for the brackets that tilt as opposed to a rigid fixed installation meant I could tilt the screen upwards allowing more room to get my hand behind the TV when mounted on the wall to plug in the component and aerial cables. If there had been no movement on the bracket, plugging in the cables would have been very difficult indeed .

        When turned on for the first time the TV immediately searches for digital and analogue channels and not much more than 5 minutes later, all channels were stored and I was up and running.

        *** Connections ***

        On the back of the panel there are an array of connections which should suit the majority of consumers. There are 2 scart sockets (only the bottom one carried the superior RGB signal), one HDMI (High Definition Media Interface), S-Video and standard A/V input sockets, PC in via a 15 pin D-Sub connection and audio, Optical digital audio out and a headphone socket. On the side (left hand side) of the panel for easy access when wall mounted is a further S-Video and standard video inputs as well as audio left and right and another headphone socket. These are ideal for connecting your camcorder or digital camera.

        *** Picture and Sound Quality ***

        We also have a 42” Samsung Plasma which we purchased about 2 years ago and I was anxious to see how the 32” LCD Samsung squared up against its big brother. In a nut shell the picture quality is just superb but its worth baring in mind I purchased high quality audio and video cables to connect to the TV as standard cables are inferior and have an adverse effect on the picture and sound quality, something I’d learnt when we purchased the 42” plasma TV 2 years previously.

        The quality of the picture is very clear indeed, bright and vibrant which seems to be down to Samsung opting to use a panel with a contrast ratio of 5000:1. The contrast ratio is the difference in light intensity between the brightest white and the darkest black. As a general rule of thumb the higher the contrast ratio the better the picture quality.

        On my 42” Samsung plasma I was slightly disappointed with the way in which it deals with darker colours. When watching night time or very dimly lit scenes, dark colours seem to blend together making it difficult to see what’s going on but with the 32” Samsung no such problem, the picture remains crystal clear with no colour blend. The bright colours are equally impressive, sharp and vibrant with skin tones looking very realistic. Using the high definition connection obviously produces the best quality picture and when linked up to an Xbox 360, which also outputs a high definition signal, you see your previously played games in a new light, absolutely stunning.

        The sound is not quite as impressive as the picture quality. In fact if I had purchased this for the main TV in the house I would be far from satisfied as it can be described as standard at best. The sound is loud enough but the inbuilt speakers lack bass and tones can at times sound muffled. We purchased this TV for our bedroom so I was not too concerned as we are unlikely to ever want the sound blasting out. The TV does support optical out and just to test, I lined the TV up to our hi-fi system and it was superb, that said slightly over kill for a bedroom TV.

        *** Remote Control ***

        The remote control is very easy to use, with all buttons clearly marked, so much so, you could learn 90% of the functions without referring to the manual. As well as controlling the TV and the inbuilt digital freeview, you can also program the remote to control other devices such as DVD players, VCR’s, Sky and Cable boxes which is a bonus as there’s nothing worse in my opinion than than having an army of remote controls.

        *** Other Features ***

        There are several buttons hidden on the right hand side of the TV, which can be used if you loose your remote (happens all the time in my house) or the batteries simply run out. The TV can handle PiP (Picture in Picture), which means you can overlay a second picture from your connected equipment whilst still watching your analogue or digital channel. The on screen menus allow for customising of both the sound and picture quality, there is also an inbuilt mini equalizer for the sound, when ‘tweaked’ this does improve the sound a little. The TV has a built in clock and timer and this can be set as an alarm function if you wish or set the TV to automatically turn on or off. Although I mentioned at the start the TV auto tunes itself, you can access the menu to retune one channel or set the auto scan off again if desired.

        *** Overall ***

        This is an excellent TV, however if you are purchasing it as your main ‘living room’ TV, I would seriously consider investing in a home cinema kit to greatly enhance the sound quality. The picture quality is superb and the array of connections won’t leave you wanting. Whilst not the cheapest 32” LCD it’s not the most expensive but you are getting exceptional picture quality, that for me represents good value for money. The Samsung looks fantastic wall mounted but be aware when choosing the wall mounting kit as I mentioned earlier.

        I would have to give this 8 out of 10 and would recommend this to others.


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          17.12.2006 18:15
          Very helpful



          Great value , excellent track list and fantastic sound quality

          Well bless my soul what’s wrong with me, who…., Elvis Presley I hear you say. Well, even Dooyoo has resigned the man himself to the archive section but being my first music review and with a member name of ‘rocknro11’ why not review an album spanning 21 years of number one hit records across the UK and American charts by an artist who started it all. To quote John Lennon ‘Before Elvis there was nothing’.

          Now I’m not quite an Elvis nut but my old man having a quiff and sideburns in his younger days meant Elvis would be played on that thing they called a record player more often than not, so hence this started my understanding of the guy they dubbed ‘The King of Rocknroll.’

          Elv1s – 30 Number 1 (plus one bonus track) was released in 2002 by BMG, who own the RCA record label. The compilation is taken from the original masters then mixed and re-mastered for optimum sound quality. There are as the title suggests 30 tracks, starting with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ originally released in 1956 and ends with ‘Way Down’ released in 1977 and was in the charts at the time of Elvis’ death, which increased its exposure and remained at number 1 in the UK charts for 5 weeks.

          If you like Elvis and already own many albums then you’ve most likely got all the tracks on this album, so why buy it? In my opinion the answer to that is simply, the superb sound quality. Recording Studios in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s aren’t what they are today; much of the quality was lost when recorded to tape. Take the first track, Heartbreak Hotel, the original 45 (yes I have it) sounded much like it was recorded in an aircraft hangar, the drums and double bass backing Elvis seemed to blend into the echo but this re-master is clarity at its best, it’s as though you are there at the recording. Bill Black on double bass suddenly enhances the beat to the point you can feel each chord played, Floyd Cramer on the piano sounds crisp which simply was not present in previous releases.

          Now if you’re not familiar with Elvis this album does track his career as each single is in chronological order starting at 1956 through to the year 1977. The album portrays how his sound, style and choice of song change through the 21 years up until his death and believe me it is quite different. Throughout the 30 tracks you are treated to pure Rocknroll, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel, Classical and some unforgettable Ballads.

          Elvis made 31 films and 2 documentaries, only a handful of the films would fall into the category of a ‘watch worthy’ film and most of these were early on in his career but many of the films produced hit singles, some of these reached number 1 in the charts and are included on this album. ‘Love me Tender’ was his first film, it was originally called the Reno Brothers but due to the success of the track Love me Tender was quickly renamed to the same. Anyone who has heard this track would have heard the ‘hiss’ ever present throughout the entire song. This track was actually recorded on the set of the film in the 20th Century Fox sound stage and the master had an inherent hiss that quite frankly by today’s standards is unacceptable. The re mastered track here is the best I’ve heard, the ‘hiss’ is still present but now does not overpower the song itself.

          Another film track is track 8, Jailhouse Rock. This for me is the young Elvis at his best. Originally released in September 1957, Elvis literally belts this song out and nails it in his own unique style that no one else in my opinion has ever come close to. The surging beat, and driving lyrics, accompanied by Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass and DJ Fontana on drums capture for me the crude rocknroll sound of the 50’s, that led to many banding teenagers who liked this music as vulgar delinquents.

          The only classical track on the album is ‘It’s Now or Never’ and is derived from the Neapolitan ballad ‘O Sole Mio’. A difficult song to sing but here Elvis proves his vocal talent is not limited to the rocknroll style. The re-mastered version is exceptionally clear on every operatic note.

          In the Ghetto and Suspicious Minds both number one hits for Elvis in 1969 are both great songs but the orchestral backing has been overdubbed and enhanced to make them for me the best I’ve heard.

          The last rocking number one Elvis had was ‘Burning Love’ in 1972 at a time in his life when he had separated from his wife. He may have had marital problems but this track is fantastic and the re-mastered version of 2002 well, is just magnificent. Both vocals and orchestral backing are strong, vibrant, powerful and crystal clear.

          The bonus track (31) is the remix by JXL of the song ‘A Little Less Conversation’ for the soundtrack to the Nike 2002 Secret Tournament advertising campaign. Well it is a bonus track but it does not live up to the standard of the rest of the album. The vocals are overpowered by the remixed synthesized accompaniment and for me it didn’t work. That said, it got to number 1 but that’s the power of advertising!

          Full track List :

          1. Heartbreak Hotel
          2. Don't Be Cruel
          3. Hound Dog
          4. Love Me Tender
          5. Too Much
          6. All Shook Up
          7. (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear
          8. Jailhouse Rock
          9. Don't
          10. Hard Headed Woman
          11. One Night
          12. (Now And Then There's) A Fool Such As I
          13. A Big Hunk O' Love
          14. Stuck On You
          15. It's Now Or Never
          16. Are You Lonesome Tonight
          17. Wooden Heart
          18. Surrender
          19. (Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame
          20. Can't Help Falling In Love
          21. Good Luck Charm
          22. She's Not You
          23. Return To Sender
          24. (You're The) Devil In Disguise
          25. Crying In The Chapel
          26. In The Ghetto
          27. Suspicious Minds
          28. The Wonder Of You
          29. Burning Love
          30. Way Down
          31. A Little Less Conversation (JXL Radio Edit Remix) (Bonus Track)

          To accompany the CD there is a booklet insert, which contains a few pictures of Elvis and a small write up of each track. You can pick the disc up on Amazon for £5.49 new or used from £2.50.

          I really enjoyed the whole CD and for just over a fiver new it’s well worth the money and I would recommend it if you like Elvis. If you’re a teenager and brave enough (don’t tell your friends, might not be that cool!) you’ll certainly find out what your Nan and Grandad may have rocked to in the 50’s.

          Now if there is anyone reading this with suspicious minds why I would review such an artist, don’t have and please don’t be cruel with your ratings. If you are, you may see me crying in the chapel, all shook up or one night, way down at heartbreak hotel wondering if anyone else is a fool such as I.

          All that’s left to say is … Well thank you very much for reading, you’ve been a fantastic audience.


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          • More +
            29.11.2006 21:56
            Very helpful


            • Reliability


            Cleans in seconds with minimal fuss

            It was ‘chucking it down’ the other evening as I left to pick one of the kids up from football practice. As I leapt out of the front door narrowly avoiding falling A over T on the wet leaves that littered our driveway I decided to take the wife’s car as it was closest.

            It’s a 7-seater people carrier and I jumped in and turned the ignition, the dash lit up and I immediately looked at the petrol gauge, something I’ve learnt always to do as I’m sure my wife has a phobia of petrol stations. One solitary amber bar was displayed, well that was enough to get me to the training ground and back again so off I went. As I pulled out of the drive a high pitched beep sounded and the dash displayed a picture of a petrol pump, sometimes I wonder if she’s not standing at the window pointing a remote control at the car to make this warning indicator appear.

            I have to say the interior of the car was sparkling, clean as a whistle, then I remembered she had said a few days earlier that she had spent an afternoon cleaning the car. There were a few smears on the windscreen but hey I’m not one to pick faults or look a gift horse in the mouth when someone else has cleaned the car. As I turned out of our road and the headlights of the on coming traffic bounced brightly off the windscreen, the few smears suddenly turned in to a mass of lines and scuffs. I could not see a thing, it was as though the windscreen had turned in to a block of cracked ice. Oh dear me I said or something along those lines anyway and pulled over as quickly as I could.

            Taking a handkerchief out of my pocket, ok I haven’t had one of those since my school days but it did sound posh! Taking an old tissue out of my pocket I rubbed the windscreen as hard as I could and managed to clear a patch big enough for me to get to the local garage safely. I filled up with petrol which would obviously put my wife’s fear of petrol stations to the back of her mind for a couple of weeks at least and also picked up a packet of ‘Holts Screenies’ to clean up the interior of the windscreen.

            This was the only interior screen wipe the garage stocked and I paid £2.99 for a pack of 20 wipes. The packs are about 6 inches by four inches and are packaged in the same way facial cleaning wipes or Johnsons baby wipes are. There is a self sealing air tight pull down flap on the front which when opened allows you to pull out a wipe much the same way you would pull a tissue out of the box. The flap needs to be closed afterwards so that the air does not dry the wipes out.

            The screen wipe is actually folded in half in its packaging and when opened out resembles a normal tissue in appearance, it’s moist like a wet wipe but not sodden and the fragrance is not unlike some cleaning detergents or could also be likened to a mild turps or white spirit smell.

            The packaging does not state what chemicals the wipes contain. There is in fact very little information on the packaging at all. On the rear of the packaging Holts claim the wipes are non-smearing and clean in seconds. They also recommend using two wipes on very dirty surfaces. Their website offers little more information other than saying the wipes are ‘impregnated with a powerful cleaning agent’ and ‘Improve visibility, maximising all-round vision’.

            On the night in question I was in a hurry, as I did need to pick my son up, so it was just as well the wipes did clean in seconds. The people carrier has a large screen and I did end up using 3 wipes, but the wipes cut through the residue on the screen with ease, it did still look a little smeary but the third wipe I used left the screen crystal clear. I was unsure what the oily residue was on the interior of the screen but the wipes made light work of it and I was soon on my way.

            The easiest way of seeing if your windscreen is clear is at night with beams of light from the on coming traffic shining on your screen. I’m pleased to say the wipes passed this test with ease. I mentioned the smell of the wipes earlier and one point worth mentioning is the smell does not linger, five minutes after the screen was clean the detergent smell was not noticeable.

            On returning home, the rain had subsided, the screen was nice and clear, the tank was brimming with petrol, I walked in the back door to explain my eventful drive but first I saw the second cracking view of the evening as my wife was bent over loading the washing machine. Enough of those cheeky thoughts!

            As it turns out the Mrs was so into cleaning the car she had used household polish on the interior of the screen, just to buff it up! Well that explains that and well done to Holts, what ever the detergent impregnated into the wipe is it did a very good job of cleaning the windscreen.

            I am at a loss as to why they don’t state the chemicals used, could the wipe cause an allergic reaction to an unsuspecting user? I don’t know the answer to that but that really is the only fault I can find with the product.

            Halfords also stock these wipes and at the lower price of £2.49. Also, Holts produce Screenies for both the interior and exterior of the windscreen, the packaging is the same for both products except for the one word change. Make sure you choose the right one.

            Thanks for reading.


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              26.11.2006 09:55
              Very helpful



              Highly recommended portable USB drive.

              Western Digital have long been at the forefront of hard disk technology, their drives are reliable, their pricing is competitive and they offer a vast range of storage devices to satisfy the consumers ever growing requirement for digital storage.

              A couple of weeks ago the main PC in the house decided I’d been working it too hard and took an untimely rest. The PC was still in its 3 year warranty period and had next business day cover but the fault occurred on a Friday evening which meant I could not contact the manufacturer until the Monday, so the earliest an engineer could attend site would be the Tuesday, four days after the problem had occurred. During this time I was not without a PC as there are several in the house and Internet connectivity is through a wireless router and not through the faulty PC but I did require files stored on the main PC and I could not wait for the engineer to arrive so I had no choice but to remove one of the hard disks from it and then connect it to another PC.

              It wasn’t ideal and I realised even though all my work was backed up it was backed up to another disk on the same PC, which would be ok if there was a disk failure but not a lot of help to me if the PC would not boot up. I realised I needed to backup my files to a separate piece of hardware which was always accessible, thus enter the Western Digital 250 Gigabyte USB External Hard drive.

              ----- Why this particular Drive -----

              There are many external drives to choose from, my decision was based upon Western Digital’s proven reliability, its stylish appearance, its size, although not the smallest on the market it was still extremely portable and the cost was reasonable given the extra 250 gig of extra space I would gain.

              ----- Appearance -----

              I would think Western Digital thought of the name of this device ‘My Book’ before the manufacturing process had started, as the drive does resemble a small hardback book. You could also mistake this as a small Xbox console, jet black in appearance, measuring just 6.7 inches in height, 5.5 inches wide and just 2.2 inches thick. It has been designed to stand upright like a book would on a shelf or on its ‘cover’ allowing for further ‘My Books’ to be stacked one on top of the other if required. The drive is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and did not look out of place located next to the monitor as its colour matched the rest of my hardware.

              On the ‘spine’ there is a circular on/off switch measuring about one inch in diameter the outer edge of the switch glows green when turned on. At the rear, where you would find the pages of a book is located the USB port, power in port and a Kensington security slot.

              ----- Contents -----

              All required cables are supplied with the unit, which include the USB cable to connect the drive to your PC and the power cable. There are also 4 small stick-on rubber feet, which can be attached to the drive if you intend to stack the drives one on top of the other. A quick installation guide is included, 24 pages, written in several languages, each language taking up just 3 pages. There is no installation cd, as the software is pre-installed on the drive itself.

              ----- Compatibility -----

              The drive is designed to work on Windows 98 Second Edition / Me / 2000 / XP and Mac OS X 10.2.8+. The drive comes preformatted as a single FAT32 partition, as FAT32 has an individual file size limitation of 4 gig, if you do need to exceed this limit you will need to reformat the drive to NTFS. The user guide has links to the Western Digital Support site on how to do this.

              ----- Installation -----

              As with most hardware, the manufacturers recommend the latest service pack be applied to your operating system prior to install for highest performance and reliability and if you are running Windows 98SE you will need to download and install a device driver, which can be found at http://support.wdc.com.

              As I am running Windows XP and automatic updates are turned on I simply had to plug in the power cord turn on the PC and then plug in the USB cable. XP instantly recognised the drive and automatically installed the required drivers in a few seconds and that as they say is that. If you open up explorer you will now see the new drive configured using the next available drive letter, with 250 gigabytes of extra space to use as you wish.

              There is some bundled software with the drive and an install box will appear at the end of the hardware installation, which will allow you to install WD backup software, Google toolbar software and view the installation guide. Both of these are entirely optional.

              ----- Working with My Book -----

              The drive is extremely quiet in operation and does not emit a low droning sound as others do, mine is located on my desk next to the monitor and the only time you hear a slight noise is when files are being written to the disk. The drive runs as fast as your standard hard drive within the PC and the unit is always cool to the touch. The hardware is intuitive in that it will switch itself on and off when you turn the PC on or off as it detects the change in voltage on the USB port. When the disk is being accessed the glowing green circle surrounding the on/off switch will flicker in the same way a normal disk activity L.E.D would.

              I brought the drive mainly to backup files and if the need arises plug the drive into another PC to access them and this drive serves that purpose well. I’ve plugged it into 2 different machines, one running XP and the other running Windows 2000, seconds later I’m retrieving those files, as opposed to getting down on my hands and knees and cranking open the computer to remove the hard drive and then open up another computer to install it.

              The backup software bundled with the drive is also extremely efficient, although termed Western Digital Backup it is actually a cut down version of backup software produced by Arcsoft, a well known and well respected software developer in its own right. The software allows you to be selective in the files you backup as well as being able to backup everything. You can schedule the frequency of the backup and also select full or incremental backups.

              ----- What does an extra 250 Gig of space give you -----

              If you were using a 6 megapixel camera set to high resolution producing on average 3.5 meg per picture, that would equate to 71,000 photos. If the average 4 minute mp3 song is 4 meg in size the drive could hold 62,500 songs or if storing downloaded movies at DVD quality is your thing you could hold over 100 hours of your favourite films.

              ----- How much and where to get it -----

              Its widely available at most major hardware stockist online, Amazon currently stock it at £64.99, which seems very competitive. Walk in to PC World and buy it off the shelf at £99, if you order through their website and pickup from the store you will pay £88. I’ve reviewed the 250 gig version but Western Digital do produce 80/160/250/400/500 gigabyte versions of this drive.

              ----- And Finally -----

              Yes I would highly recommend this USB drive for its elegant appearance and build quality, portability, ease of use and very reasonable price. Based on the price you can buy this new from Amazon and if my sums are right the storage space is 26p per gigabyte of data excluding shipping.

              Thanks for reading my little black book.


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              • Tomy Pop Up Pirate / Board Game / 86 Readings / 75 Ratings
                More +
                11.11.2006 16:50
                Very helpful




                We recently decided to try and get the kids more involved in games played as a family or with each other, rather than the TV or playstation being on all the time, so when my wife was browsing the books at a car boot sale the other day I picked up a couple of games to have a trial at.

                One of them was Pop Up Pirate by Tomy and although I only paid £1.50 for it, it is easily found in all major toyshops like Woolworths and Argos for around the £10 mark.

                The game comes with only a couple of parts and is very easy to play, we managed without any instructions, which is good as I really hate it when you have to spend ages putting things together and then spend a further few hours reading the instructions before you can attempt a feeble first go.

                Basically you get a large barrel with slots all round the edge and a base that the barrel sits on but is not connected to. A funny looking pirate which twists down inside the barrel and around 24 swords, six each of four different colours.

                The aim of the game is to get your players (2 to 4) equally spaced around the barrel. Players have their own coloured swords and the pirate figure needs to be twisted down into the barrel. The players take it in turns to insert a sword into one of the slots in the side of the barrel and this carries on until eventually one of the swords will make the pirate pop up out of the barrel. We usually play that whoever makes the pirate pop up is the winner, rather than the loser as it is much easier for the age group this is meant for to understand.

                *** Opinion ***

                We have had a lot of fun with this game so far. Our two younger ones (5 & 2) are the intended audience, although my 11 year old has been known to get down and join in on occasion, which has been fun.

                The game is not without fault though and there are a few irritating things about it that need to be mentioned. Firstly the swords obviously come joined together when this game is brought new. The owner should then snap them apart from each other and discard the plastic frame they were attached to. All good so far except if this job is done casually, without much thought, it is easy to leave small plastic edges on the swords which hamper the insertion into the slots on the barrel. Our game was second hand and there are at least half a dozen swords that needed trimming allowing for easy placement into the slots in order for them to reach the mechanism inside the barrel that makes the pirate pop up. It would have been better for Tomy to provide them in a sealed bag, already separated.

                Secondly is the insertion aspect itself. It is pretty hard to hold the barrel and insert the sword with enough force for it to be pushed all the way in, without almost hugging the barrel, or an adult always holding onto the barrel. You can’t press down on the top as the pirate is there, waiting to jump out, and as the game progresses it is more and more difficult to hold the sides of the barrel as they become clogged with swords. It would have been much better for the barrel to be fixed to the plastic base it sits on and rubber added to the bottom of the base to minimise the barrel slipping whilst you place the swords.

                It’s not all bad though and my youngest two children have really enjoyed it so far. It has begun to teach them about sharing out things. They both want to give out the swords and while my five year old is attempting to do it properly by counting, my youngest just seems to throw a pile at each player. Highly amusing for her! They are learning about taking turns and do seem really keen to have their go, so it must hold their attention which is a good thing.

                I’ve not been able to let them play alone yet as the game always descends into anarchy and at times a bit of fighting (anyone with kids will know!) but if there is a responsible adult playing (oh, must be the wife then!) it can be a fun game that if led down the right pathway will be total enjoyment.

                A word of warning, the pirate will pop up based on different slots each time you play. This has been a huge source of amusement to the kids, as you never know when he will go. On occasion it has popped at the first sword (a tad annoying, as you have to start again) but other times it has gone to almost the last sword being placed in before he shoots up. The pirate does pop up with a fair amount of force so make sure the kids are not looking down over the barrel if you want to keep them with two eyes each! Tomy suggest the game is aimed at ages 4 and above but as I said my two year old plays it with a fair amount of success so as long as you are supervising, I think it is easily playable from a young age.

                Now, where’s those pieces of eight to bet who’s going to win with?

                Thanks for reading.


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                • More +
                  29.10.2006 10:16
                  Very helpful



                  If you haven't got one, get one.

                  Many may have recently read or heard the devastating news that two children died due to carbon monoxide poisoning whilst holidaying in Corfu during the October half term break. The two children were found dead in their beds, their Father and his partner were found unconscious, immediately rushed to hospital and placed on life support. The room adjacent to where the family slept housed a gas boiler and experts are now carrying out an inspection of the device to ascertain the origin of the poisonous gas.

                  My heart felt wishes go out to the immediate family and friends affected by this tragedy.

                  A smoke detector is commonplace in most households but how many households have a carbon monoxide detector, not that many I would imagine. I for one have not, well that was before this weekend, the recent news was for me and should be for others somewhat of a wakeup call to the dangers that everyday appliances can present. All fuel burning appliances should be checked once a year, had yours checked lately? Well even if you have that does not negate the need for a detector after all appliances do go wrong and ventilation points like chimneys and flues can become blocked.

                  Carbon Monoxide (CO) or the Silent Killer as its often referred to is an extremely toxic gas, it is invisible, tasteless, leaves no detectable odour and can kill if a sufficient quantity is present in the air we breath. According to the BBC website 50 people each year in the UK alone die due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. The poisonous gas is produced by appliances and vehicles burning fuels such as coal, wood, gas, petrol and diesel and if inhaled will be absorbed by red blood cells within our lungs resulting in rapid damage to our heart and brain due to oxygen starvation.

                  I was already going to Homebase this weekend and whilst there decided I would look at the detectors they offered. Located on the same shelf as the smoke detectors, I was quite surprised at the selection as there was several types available from different manufacturers consisting of mains powered, battery powered and even a portable credit card sized detector. I opted for 2 types of detector both made by Ei Electronics.

                  **** Carbon Monoxide Alarm – Model No. EI2040EN ****

                  This unit conforms to British Standards EN 50291. is white in colour and looks like your average battery powered smoke detector. It measures 13cm by 10 cm, 4cm deep and is powered by 3 AA batteries that were included with detector. There are three LED lights on the front of the unit, green indicates the battery power, red will display when the alarm sounds and a yellow LED if there is a fault with the unit. Just below the LED’s is a single button labelled ‘Test and Hush’, this is for manually testing the audible alarm and for turning the alarm off should it sound.

                  One half of the front face slides off to reveal the battery compartment and also the screw holes for wall or ceiling mounting of the unit. Two screws and raw plugs are included for this purpose. A detailed instruction booklet is provided that covers the dangers of carbon monoxide, how many detectors you may need in your house for adequate protection and the ideal places the unit should be located as well as how to operate the detector. As I live in a bungalow and have two appliances that can potentially omit carbon monoxide (gas central heating boiler and an open real coal effect fire) I located mine 15 cm below ceiling level in the part of the hallway next to the 2 rooms which house the units. For me this seemed adequate protection but some homes may need more than one unit. The alarm when it sounds is extremely loud (as it should be) giving out 85 decibels. In operation the green LED light will flash once every 45 seconds to indicate sufficient battery power and the alarm will bleep every 45 seconds if the batteries become depleted. These detectors are more expensive than standard smoke detectors and I paid £23.99.

                  **** Carbon Monoxide Detector – Model No. Ei 201 ****

                  This I felt was an ingenious idea; the detector is the size of your standard credit card, is coated in a durable plastic, which houses a small tablet. It requires no batteries and is a visual alarm only. Once removed from its packaging the tablet absorbs the air and will change colour if carbon monoxide is present in the location it is sited. Yellow indicates normal, Green means be cautious and ventilate the area and Dark Blue indicates dangerous levels of Carbon monoxide are present.

                  This type of detector is designed to measure carbon monoxide emissions of an individual unit and is not designed for full protection of your house. It should be located near to the fuel burning appliance but no closer than 1.8 meters. There is a magnetic self adhesive strip located on the back of the card and on the front, an area for you to mark the date you first removed it from its packaging as it only has a lifespan of 12 months. This card cost me £7.99 and does state it needs to be opened by January 2009.

                  I located mine just outside the cupboard that housed our central heating boiler and gives instant visual peace of mind that all is well. Being so small and portable this type of protection can be used and taken anywhere even on holiday if you feel the need and in light of recent events is something I will certainly be doing.

                  One hour after returning home I had read the instructions and installed both detectors, something I should have done a long time ago. Although British Gas service our appliances yearly I will now sleep easy knowing I’ve done what I can to detect a killer that I cannot see, taste or smell after hearing the very sad news this weekend. If you haven’t got a Carbon Monoxide detector get one now.

                  Thanks for reading


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                  • General / Discussion / 76 Readings / 67 Ratings
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                    25.10.2006 13:25
                    Very helpful




                    Flatulence is perhaps one of those subjects that effects us all but is never really a subject you often hear spoken about and in truth is considered taboo. Often known as a ‘Fart’ and possibly in your younger days a ‘pop-off’, flatulence comes in many forms and guises, has a tendency to creep up on you making itself known at an inopportune moment and can be the source of both embarrassment and humour.

                    Now why does a fart smell, well obviously one reason would be for the benefit of the deaf but those who like a more scientific approach to this question would say the potency is dependant upon the type of food or drink consumed by the host and the enzymes and bacteria present in the digestive system. Whatever answer you prefer there is no getting away from the fact that the smell can be considered offensive and can clear a room in a few seconds, leaving for some its host embarrassed or for others a feeling of empowerment.

                    Did you know for a subject that is somewhat poo poo’d there have been several publications on flatulence such as Who cut the cheese: A Cultural History of the Fart by Jim Dawson, Fart Proudly by Benjamin Franklin and even a children’s book by Shinta Cho entitled The Gas we Pass.

                    Before I go on, some must be thinking what the hell is he writing this for, well why not, last Friday whilst enjoying a few drinks with friends, my wife’s best friend unintentionally ‘dropped one’ so to speak, her embarrassment was a source of amusement for the rest of the evening and I’m sure a few more weeks to come yet, so why not write about it. I will make sure she receives a copy of this in her inbox and will forward any comments that are suitably left, after all if it had not been for her ‘thunderous’ moment this piece would never have seen the light of day.

                    If I reminisce back to my school days we had a whole science lesson devoted to flatulence, we were captivated and the teacher made a point of saying he had never had students participate as much in one lesson before. By participate I mean give opinion as opposed to actually demonstrating the process, although many did the hand under the armpit chicken impression.

                    Some people suffer from flatulence more than others but the fact of the matter is, we all do else we would run the risk of illness through the build up of gases and pressures within our intestines. Also it may or may not surprise you to know that even after death you parting gift to this world can be a small combustion of wind between the legs as gases mutate and leave our body.

                    Nerves can play a big part in the production of wind and I myself have experienced this whilst giving a presentation to over 200 delegates. Although when the need arises I can make a public address I honestly can say I don’t relish the prospect and in the early days of seminar speaking it was not uncommon for my cheeks to be rattling ten to the dozen, to the point that self-levitation was a distinct possibility. But why should being nervous increase flatulence? Well if you think about when you are nervous, your heart rate quickens, as does your intake of air as you breath faster. Its this air or at least the oxygen element of it, that when combined with other gases produced due to our stomach acids that devour the food we eat, coupled with the bacteria that exist within us, produce the common fart as our body naturally expels unwanted waste products. Thus the more intake of air the higher the chance of a ‘rumble’.

                    Now I’ve started this I really cant avoid the question, who suffers from flatulence more Men or Women? Well this caused quite some debate in the classroom if I recall and a quick search on the net did not really give any evidence to decide which sex suffers most. Its probably fair to say that men are more comfortable in ‘dropping a couple’ than women are, so by that token you will hear more men fart than women. There is some evidence to say that women express a more pungent smell than men but on the other hand the male fart has more volume (greater amounts of gas), so the two counter each other out. My opinion is an individuals diet is the most contributing factor.

                    It has long been established that certain foods and drink such as beans, cauliflower, eggs and beer to name just a few will increase flatulence. Many will associate beans with farting and that always reminds me of the rhyme, beans beans are good for the heart, the more you eat the more you fart. As well as being nutritious beans have a high content of sugar that our digestive system struggles to consume, the result is the natural bacteria within us feast on the sugars creating gas.

                    Squeezing one out at the wrong time is embarrassing and we humans have certainly learnt the art of self-control but what is worth remembering is whilst you fight to keep this gas in for fear of unwanted criticism, all you are doing is adding to the inevitable event. Pressure will build as will the nitrogen content of the gas; this will undoubtedly affect the ability of self-control and increase the chance of a more pungent smell being omitted.

                    Self-control of flatulence is very evident in the human courtship, hands up who farts on the first date… not many I would think but as time goes by your confidence grows, you start to understand your partners habits and thoughts, you can slip a few in and its just laughed away. By the time you are married, many throw caution to the wind and ‘drop one’ as soon as the urge is felt, some mornings whilst in the bathroom having a shave I could be mistaken for hearing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture reverberating around the kitchen.

                    It has been said that many of us ‘pop-off’ during sleep as the body relaxes and that you can be prone to ‘sleep popping’ if you have exercised the art of self-control throughout the day. If anyone is wondering what that means, well to put it bluntly you’ve ‘corked’ the gas all day. Now if you fall into this category you may well not realise that you are cutting cheese as you sleep but please bear this in mind and spare a thought for your partner lying next to you. Try and squeeze a couple out in the bathroom before bed, that way the duvet has less chance resembling an incoming tide lapping the shores whilst you sleep.

                    What ever your thoughts of the fart, its here to stay, yes you can limit its existence but eradicate it you cannot. So put it to good use when those blighters turn up on Halloween. If you ‘drop one’ they may well pop off quickly or leave with the impression their costumes, really were scary.

                    I would like to thank S… no I won’t say her name, for provoking my thoughts and for such an enjoyable Friday evening.

                    Thanks for reading.


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                    • Rogue Traders / TV Programme / 83 Readings / 73 Ratings
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                      19.10.2006 08:21
                      Very helpful



                      Catches those dodgy traders red handed

                      Rogue Traders first hit our screens in 2001 courtesy of the BBC and is now on its 5th series. Its purpose is simply, find companies or tradesman that exploit the public or break the law and then name and shame them on National TV, whilst at the same time increasing public awareness. Each programme is 30 minutes long and is aired on a Monday evening every week at 8.30pm on BBC1.

                      Every episode tends to focus on a different subject, targeting two different traders or scam artists. The 5th series so far has included Roofers that have charged £1300 for a simple £150.00 repair job, Gardeners who charge up front but never return to complete the work, Plumbers that change complete taps when only a washer is required and most recently Fly-Tippers who charge you to take your rubbish away only to illegally dump it in someone else’s driveway. With the aid of surveillance camera’s, microphones, tracking devices, actors and some extremely lifelike prosthetics, the unsuspecting trader goes about their business, blissfully unaware that their every move and spoken word is being recorded.

                      No detail is left to chance, experts are called in prior to the ‘sting’ to assess any work needed for example on a car or boiler and with that information, the viewer can sit back knowing what’s wrong and listen to the utter crap some so called tradesmen will concoct to essentially extort money from the punter.

                      Each week the show builds up to the ultimate showdown where the presenter Matt Allwright confronts his unsuspecting victim and the viewers get to revel as they watch the denials and sometimes aggressive behaviour of the rogue trader that follows. To trap the rogues, Matt often poses as the average punter and in this series has with the aid of prosthetics, disguised himself as either 22 year old ‘Joe’, ‘middle aged eco-warrior ‘Bob’ or an elderly gentleman named ‘Stan’ thus enabling him to get into the thick of the action to coerce his victim to show their true colours.

                      By the fact that this show has reached its fifth series and has an average audience of 7 million viewers per episode, it must be hitting the right spot for many a viewer. It is definitely both informative and entertaining, anyone made to look a complete idiot and fraudster on TV will appeal to many. Matt Allwright, the front man for the show, also recognised as one of the UK top consumer journalists as well as a presenter, has interestingly stamped his own style as to how the show portrays its message. Amongst all the good information relayed to viewers on what to look out for and credentials to check when employing the services of a tradesman, Allwright tries to inject humour wherever he can. It can sometimes suit the situation but in my opinion there is a little too much of it and tends to grate after a while and don’t forgot its only 30 minutes per episode.

                      That said the BBC did in my opinion make the right choice. Matt made his name on their flagship consumer programme Watchdog and during his four year stint worked his way up to anchoring the programme when Anne Robinson finally threw in the towel. He certainly showed us he had what it took and one would assume the BBC did not need to think hard when choosing the presenter for Rogue Traders, as he moved from anchorman in the studio to doorstep confrontationist extraordinaire.

                      Matt’s sidekick on the show is Dan Penteado who speeds around on a motorbike with Matt riding shotgun, both clad in leather in search of a dodgy trader. Dan has been with the show for the last four years and at first I wondered why he was needed unless employed just to be a chauffer for Matt, as it turns out when not filming Rogue Traders, Dan is kept busy as a Private Investigator both in the UK and abroad and is known to the crew as ‘the man who wasn’t there’. Not a bad feat to pull off, seeing as he is 6’ 4”.

                      Much of the ‘forced’ humour on the show is when Matt and Dan interact and for me its fairly dull and lifeless and not necessary, the two leather clad Ronnie’s they are not. If you can get past this and perhaps I may have been a little harsh, then you will probably love the show.

                      The three identities Allwright assumes basically represent, young, middle aged and the pensioner, a good cross section of our society and are used extremely well in tempting the tradesmen into believing they are vulnerable and an easy target to make money.

                      There is no doubt that each likely candidate for being a ‘Rogue Trader’ is thoroughly researched and proved to be ‘on the take’ long before Matt and Dan set up an elaborate plan to expose them but expose them they do and there is little doubt that any viewer watching would ever employ the services of these ‘crooks’ in the future, therefore the programme as well as entertaining has served a purpose. The public can only benefit from programmes such as these, you may think you are not dumb enough to get caught out by such scams but did that plumber you last use really replace a faulty pump, did you first check he was Corgi registered? Did you realise when you paid ‘Stan the man with his handy van’ to clear some of your household rubbish and he turns out to be an unregistered fly-tipper, that YOU are liable for a £5,000 fine if the rubbish can be traced back to you?

                      All in all I would give this programme 4 out of 5 stars, curtail some of the ‘forced’ humour or dull gags and it would get the full compliment.


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                      • Road House (DVD) / DVD / 81 Readings / 76 Ratings
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                        13.10.2006 13:00
                        Very helpful



                        Enjoyable 80's Film

                        Road House – Film Only Review

                        It was one of those what shall we watch type evenings, nothing seemed to catch our attention on Sky, so we decided to sift through our own dvd collection. About an hour later after many nope’s, no’s and er… maybe’s, I caved in, sorry I mean we both decided on Road House.

                        Road House was released in 1989 and Patrick Swayze plays the lead role. Although I’m not a huge fan of his, I loved one of his earlier films, Red Dawn and if I’m honest I really liked this film back in 1989 when I first watched it but how has it faired now 18 years on.

                        --- The Plot ---

                        James Dalton, has earned a reputation as being one of the best Coolers or Bouncers in the business. He follows trouble from bar to bar, clearing up the trash and turning rough, seedy bars into decent, good time establishments where the locals are not afraid to drink and have a good time. Dalton is a well educated man who fears no-one but struggles to come to terms with the fact that he had previously killed a man although it was in self defence.

                        Arriving unannounced in Jasper, Missouri, Dalton sets to work straight away at the Double Deuce, spending his first evening as a customer, observing the current bar staff and bouncers at work. After firing employees he feels are bad for business, he immediately informs the rest of what to expect and how they should behave and react with the rowdy locals.

                        The Double Deuce seems to have more than its fair share of the violence and Dalton soon finds there’s much to be done. The town is small and is run by a wealthy businessman named Brad Wesley whom the townsfolk are afraid of and all business’s within Jasper are forced to hand over so called protection money to Wesley in the guise of the “Jasper Improvement Society”.

                        During one particular fight Dalton sustains a knife injury, which results in a trip to the local hospital, where he meets Dr Elizabeth Clay. Clay is related to one of the local businessman in Jasper and had also previously had a relationship with Wesley and her involvement with Dalton just antagonises Wesley further.

                        Dalton’s interference with the way Wesley runs the town sets the scene for the films ultimate showdown between the two.

                        --- The Cast ---

                        Swayze plays the part of Dalton reasonably well, Stallone or Schwarzenegger he’s definitely not and although not built like a ‘brick sh*t house’ his physique lends itself to a martial arts fighter and thus adds credibility to the character he plays. Sam Elliot gives a sterling performance as Wade Garrett, Dalton’s friend and teacher. Although you don’t see Garrett until over an hour into the film he again adds credence to the plot. Walking with a limp and looking like a rough and ready cowboy, he doesn’t look out of place in a bar room brawl and although ageing in years its more than conceivable that he can still pack a punch.

                        Ben Gazzara is also perfect for the role as Wesley, he very much looks the part of a smug entrepreneur who believes he is king of a small town. As the villain he has that air of rich, cocky idiocy about him that makes you want to plant one on him yourself. Kelly Lynch plays Dr Elizabeth Clay and is Dalton’s love interest. Although she does not have a major part in the film and some might say the love scene with Dalton is comparable to Swazye’s and Moore’s scene in the film Ghost, she did seem a little too over the top at times and the character didn’t add much to the film other than to provoke Wesley.

                        Marshall R Teague plays Jimmy, Wesley’s lethal weapon, clad in denim and a supposed martial arts expert has no qualms about hurting anybody who gets in his way or following Wesley’s orders. He’s fit and ready for action proving to be a worthy opponent for Dalton and he makes most of the fight scenes seem realistic.

                        The rest of the characters were made up of loyal but trod upon rednecks around the town and employees of the Double Deuce with no other notable actors that are worth mentioning.

                        --- Opinion ---

                        Although this is an extremely dated film, set in the late 80’s with shoulder pads, mullets and tall leggie blond Barbie look-alikes, it is still an enjoyable watch and the occasional cheesy line is overlooked in favour of the enjoyment of a simple action plot that keeps you watching. You don’t need a degree in psychology to understand the script nor the plot and the fight scenes really are filmed in bar brawl fashion. The scenes are very well choreographed and you will wince with every crutch-kicking, knee-cracking blow you see. That is except for one move, where you see Jimmy use a pool cue much like you would a pole vault.

                        Again in true eighties style Swayze has to endure a ‘Rambo’ moment as he is seen sewing himself up after being slashed during a fight. It’s a bit over the top in my opinion and not necessary; thankfully the scene only lasts a few minutes and is soon forgotten.

                        The film has a fantastic blues style soundtrack to it, with the odd rock n roll song thrown in. It is lively and enjoyable with many of the songs being performed by the resident band in the Double Deuce who are actually the real life and extremely talented Jeff Healy Band.

                        All things considered this is an easy watch, enjoyable film. Yes it is dated but if you were in your teens in the late eighties you’ll probably still enjoy it now and will definitely smile at some of the haircuts you will remember from yesteryear. Although it was the wife’s choice, I really enjoyed watching Road House again.

                        I will leave you with an amusing line, spoken by one of the shopkeepers to Dalton early on in the film:

                        “Don’t marry an ugly woman – it takes the energy right out of you!”

                        Fortunately I didn’t, now where’s the wife, I wonder if I can get her to proof read this.

                        Certificate: 18
                        Total running time: 109 minutes

                        Thanks for reading.


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                        • Homeward Bound (DVD) / DVD / 64 Readings / 59 Ratings
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                          09.10.2006 07:32
                          Very helpful



                          An adventure of love, courage and devotion that may very well have you reaching for the tissues

                          ….. I’m tired and I want to go to bed. We’ll that’s how I feel most Sunday’s as it’s my turn to get up with the kids at some ungodly hour in the morning.

                          Today, after making a bit of brekkie and downing a few cups of tea, I decided on the easy option and suggested we watch a film, that way I could sprawl across the sofa blanketed by my two youngest and have an ‘easy like Sunday morning’ and nope before you ask I wasn’t at a karaoke bar the previous evening.

                          --- Synopsis ---

                          In 1993 Disney released a remake of the 1963 classic The Incredible Journey based on a book by Shelia Burnford. The story is of three family pets, a Golden Retriever, an American Bulldog pup and a Himalayan Cat who are placed in temporary care whilst their loving owners look to relocate hundreds of miles away. Sensing their owners may be in trouble, the three loyal pets escape their temporary care and thus embark on an incredible adventure across the ruggedly beautiful Sierra Mountains, in the direction they know to be home. It’s a journey of companionship across the wilderness as the animals overcome the danger that humans and nature itself present, whilst they persist with their uncontrollable desire to come to the aid of their owners.

                          --- Opinion ---

                          The premise of this movie is no different to the original made in 1963, where it differs is that the loveable animals now have voices as opposed to the original being narrated all the way through. Disney chose well lending the distinctive voices of Michael J Fox to ‘Chance’ the American Bulldog, Sally Field as ‘Sassy’ the Himalayan Cat and lastly Don Ameche as ‘Shadow’, the Golden Retriever.

                          A well known distinctive voice will conjure up an image in the audience’s imagination, so its important the right voice is chosen to portray the animals and this in my opinion is why Homeward Bound works so well. ‘Chance’ is a young fun loving playful clumsy character and the boyish voice of Fox suits the image of the American Bulldog puppy. 6 years later we heard the same voice portray a fun loving mouse named Stuart Little. Sally Field (by the way does this woman ever age) donates her upper class and somewhat sexy voice to ‘Sassy’ the snooty, sharp-tongued Himalayan Cat and lastly Ameche at the age of 85, you may remember him from Trading Places, lends his voice to ‘Shadow ‘ the wise old Golden Retriever. Each voice in its own right works extremely well enhancing each of the animals’ personas.

                          Throughout the perilous journey ‘Sassy’ and ‘Chance’ constantly bicker with each other whilst Shadow tries to instil decorum. Again differing from the original the writers have introduced humour, most of the humorous lines are given to ‘Chance’ and the charisma of Fox wins the audience over, even if some lines are slightly cheesy.

                          Cinematography is stunning as many scenes capture the rugged untouched terrain, fast flowing rivers and breath taking views of the Sierras as three domesticated animals cross the unknown in search of their masters voice.

                          Much patience would have been needed when setting up and filming the animals performing stunts, whilst we assume no harm would have come to them, some scenes are very realistic and credit should be given to Joe Camp who trained all three animals.

                          The family in the film who own the animals have three children and each child associates one of the animals as their own. Peter the oldest boy favours Shadow, his trusty companion, Hope the daughter loves the female Himalayan Cat and Jamie the youngest child, dotes on ‘Chance’ the Bulldog puppy. This association will I’m sure bring memories of childhood flooding back for some, when they reminisce their own experiences shared with their pets. It is also very poignant within the film when each of the children realise that their pet is missing and will inevitably have some of the audience fighting back the tears.

                          --- Conclusion ---

                          The film is aimed at a wide audience, the kids for the wild adventure and lovable animals, the adults for the family entertainment and many clichés and of course any Dog or Cat lover will find this film irresistible.

                          Often a remake of older films produce great visual effects but nothing new when compared to the original and leaves the audience somewhat let down as their expectations aren’t met. In 1963 the Incredible Journey was well received and Homeward Bound had much to achieve if it was to do as well but the 1993 remake gave the animals a voice, introduced some humour and left the narration out making it for me, more of a movie than a documentary type film seen 30 years previous.

                          Homeward Bound is an adventure of love, courage and devotion that may very well have you reaching for the tissues. We really loved the film and at 81 minutes it is not too long for the younger viewers.

                          Although there are no extras on the dvd, priced at £5.99 on play.com its well worth a watch.

                          --- Info ---

                          Certificate U
                          Directed by Duwayne Dunham
                          Based on the novel ‘The Incredible Journey’ by Sheila Burnford
                          Screen Play by Caroline Thompson and Linda Woolverton
                          Running Time 81 mins approx
                          English Subtitles


                          Thanks for reading.


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                          • More +
                            05.10.2006 08:11
                            Very helpful



                            Leaves your mouth feeling dry

                            I’m not really a biscuit or chocolate lover for that matter and it was an impulse buy when I picked up a packet of McVities Moments from our local garage whilst paying for petrol on the way home one evening. I was only really drawn to grabbing a box due to a huge but neatly stacked pile of them being placed next to the counter with a large ‘New’ sign above them.

                            There are a few different types of McVities Moments and these seem to be the latest offering, simply entitled Triple Chocolate Cookie. If we believe McVities this Cookie is supposedly a crisp, melting triple chocolate cookie half coated in smooth Belgian milk chocolate and are perfect if you want a relaxing moment to yourself. Yeah right… well not in my house anyway, before I have even peeled the cellophane off, the dog would be on its way quickly followed by the kids, I definitely won’t get a chance to eat these on my own.

                            --- Packaging ---

                            The box is oblong shaped measuring 9 ½ inches x 3 ½ inches and is 1 ½ inches in depth. The background colour is a deep royal blue; there is a standard McVities logo and the word ‘Moments’ in a large typeface decorated in a brushed gold colour. There is a picture of 3 cookies stacked upon each other, with a few chunks of chocolate around the bottom cookie and of course the word New in Red in the top right hand corner. Inside the box is a small plastic tray with three compartments each containing 3 cookies. There is a plastic airtight cellophane wrapper covering the biscuits to keep them fresh.

                            --- Appearance ---

                            They say appearances can be deceptive and I’m so glad of that because if you walked into a room and saw one of these cookies on the floor, you could be mistaken for thinking the dog did not make it to the back garden in time. Measuring 2 ½ inches in diameter, they are of the standard circular domed shape cookie and are a dark brown burnt rusty colour. The surface has many lines; ridges and pit marks resembling the surface of some far off distant planet with small lumps of dark brown chocolate protruding out from the pitted surface.

                            Taking a bite purely to see a cross section of the cookie reveals a fluffy even darker brown inside resembling that of an aero chocolate bar. The base of the cookie is smooth in texture and is chocolate covered.

                            --- The taste ---

                            Well it is definitely a Cookie, perhaps lighter than others, definitely not stodgy and it does melt on your tongue. As you bite into the cookie, you first pass through the crunchy biscuit layer, before reaching the fluffy but dry wheaty chocolate centre and the taste of coco is very present in this layer. Lastly you’ll reach the smoother layer of rich Belgian milk chocolate. All in all it’s quite a pleasant taste but one that does tend to linger long on your palette after you have finished the cookie. After one, I felt I needed a drink to re-lubricate my mouth as it was left feeling dry and chocolaty.

                            --- Nutrition ---

                            One biscuit contains 1.4g of Protein, 12.7g of Carbohydrate, 6.4g of Fat, 0.6g of Fibre and less than 0.1g of Sodium and 114 Calories.

                            If you consider the average daily amount of Fats consumed by a woman should be no more than 70g, you had better not eat all nine Cookies because everything else for the day would need to be fat free.

                            --- Opinion ---

                            Not really for me, they were far to dry for my taste and extremely messy. As the base of the Cookie is Belgian Chocolate unless you eat the whole thing in one go you will get chocolate covered fingers and if you have kids that’s far from ideal. The kids loved them but surprisingly my wife was not that keen saying ones enough.

                            Personally I thought as the base was Belgian chocolate, the overall taste would be more chocolaty than biscuit cookie but it was not and as I paid £1.49 in the local garage this does not represent good value for money considering you only get nine cookies. Sainsburys do sell these for 20p less at £1.29 per box but still that’s not the bargain of the century. Give me a mug of tea and a rich tea finger to dunk and I would be a happy man.

                            Thanks for reading.


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                            • Wild West Gunslinger / Fancy Dress / 64 Readings / 58 Ratings
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                              02.10.2006 08:05
                              Very helpful



                              Simple idea and loads of fun

                              Having four children means Christmas is always hectic but hey, who cares, as Dad gets to be a child again and experience the toys of the next generation. There are always a few presents which catapult me back in to my childhood days and last year the Wild West Gunslinger did just that.

                              Every year we buy a few family games that we open and play during Christmas Eve, to help build the excitement and anticipation of the big day ahead. When my wife walked in to the living room carrying a couple of board games and a large box containing a gun, a replica log and some fake cans and bottles of beer, our three boys faces lit up and the grin displayed on Dads face was a sure sign of my boyish competitive nature.

                              The four of us, sorry I mean Clint, Wild Bill, Butch and Sundance went straight for the gun, the board games would have to wait.

                              Now before you start the shoot em up you will need 6 batteries, 2 x AA that are included and fit in to the gun handle and 4 x D batteries that fit into the log which are not included. This seemed a bit ridiculous to me as for the game to work you will need all batteries fitted. The battery compartments are secured in place by a small Phillips screw and care needs to be taken not to bur the Phillips head when undoing and doing up.

                              The concept of the game is quite simple, simply aim the gun at the cans and bottles, pull the trigger and if your aim is good, knock the cans and bottles off of the log. No bullet or object will leave the gun when fired so you do not need to worry about anything hitting your child. It’s all made possible by infrared, just like you change channels on your TV with the TV remote.

                              The Gun has an infrared transmitter and speaker built in and when the trigger is pulled a gun firing sound is heard and a beam of infrared light is omitted in the direction you are aiming the gun. The replica log has four inbuilt infrared receivers and if the beam omitted from the gun hits the receiver on the log it releases a sprung peg, firing anything that was sitting on top of it. In this case a bottle or a can.

                              If your aim is good and the beam hits the sensor on the log, the peg fires and a ‘peoooooow’ sound is heard just like in those Spaghetti Westerns. So you do get the sense of realism when firing the gun, the kids loved it and I was most impressed.

                              The Log itself is made of plastic and is about 24 inches in length and 4 inches high; with the batteries in place it is quite heavy. The gun itself although life like in scale is light, making it easy for younger children to hold and operate. You get 2 plastic cans and two bottles. The bottles actually come apart into two pieces so when they fly off the log, they break in half adding to the visual effect.

                              It’s a boy’s toy for all ages, in fact it does say on the box age from ‘Junior’ and our four year old had no trouble operating the gun. The limited instructions say that you can shoot from up to 30ft, in reality we found it accurate up to about 20ft. We purchased ours from Woolworths and it was priced at 19.99 and still is when I checked today on their website.

                              This game is fantastic, producing hours of fun and has been used many times in the 9 months we’ve had it. You can even place other objects on the log rather than the supplied cans but be careful not to use Mums best China!

                              Who can draw the fastest, who can shoot the cans and bottles off the quickest, how far away from the log can you shoot and remain accurate? It can become quite competitive and to my mind that’s all the better, the kids might wipe the floor with Dad on the playstation but give me a gun and I can hold my own!

                              The one surprise I got was the wife, I think she must have practiced prior to Christmas Eve because Calamity Jane didn’t take prisoners that night. In fact when we got the kids to finally go to bed, She suggested one more go and threw in the incentive that I would receive a personal early present if I were to beat her, so confident was she of the outcome.

                              My weapon was half cocked and ready for action before her sentenced was finished!

                              This is a great toy giving hours of fun, it’s simple to use and does not actually fire bullets or objects but still manages to keep its realism with exploding bottles and realistic sound effects. For £19.99 you really can’t go wrong.

                              Thanks for reading


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                              • More +
                                25.09.2006 08:11
                                Very helpful



                                Great Pub Grub at affordable prices

                                When my family go out for lunch it normally costs a small fortune, yes my wife can put the food away as though a famine was about to commence but I also have four children and by the time we have all finished working our way through a 3 course meal the pennies have certainly mounted up. That said if we ever find a restaurant that offers good food, an area for the kids and value for money we tend to frequent it often as opposed to searching out another.

                                The Red Barn in Blindley Heath, Lingfield (about 1 mile from Lingfield race course) is just such a place. Whilst its location is less than half a mile from the main A22, you wouldn’t know it once you arrive at the entrance to the Red Barn, it has a truly idyllic setting surrounded by countryside, a small pond and lush foliage without another building in sight. Once there, you truly feel you are far off the beaten track and not two minutes from a busy main road.

                                --- History ---

                                The restaurant itself is made up of two buildings, which were extended and joined together some years ago. It is easy to visualise today how it would have looked years previous when it was a Farmers house and barn, the renovations were subtle and kept much of the original features. The Red Barn dates back to the 16th Century and in a book called ‘150 years of Blindley Heath’ the now restaurant is listed as a 16th Century Hall House with a King Post roof. It was known as ‘Snouts Farm’ until 1937, when the then owner leased the property granting the tenant a 21-year lease. The lease describes ‘Gardens and Pleasures Grounds’ and made provision for the premises to be used as a ‘Private Hotel’, Road House, Tea and Refreshment Rooms and/or Club’. From this point onwards it has been known as the ‘Red Barn’ and today is part of the Brewers Fayre chain offering ‘Pub Grub’ at affordable prices.

                                --- The Food and Drink---

                                I have to say; each time we have eaten here we have not been disappointed. On our last visit my wife and I managed to off load the 3 older kids and went with just our daughter. There are 3 different menus, the main pub food menu, a snacks menu and a children’s menu. The main menu consists of traditional pub dishes; you have a choice of 11 starters, 36 different main courses, numerous side orders and 13 different desserts. The snacks menu offers 25 lighter meals, with choices like Ploughman’s lunch, Jacket Potatoes, baguettes or small dishes of ham, egg and chips for example. The Kids menu is divided into two, the smaller and larger appetites, these include puddings and are £ 3.50 or £4.50. There are 7 smaller appetite meals to choose from and 13 larger appetite choices. For dessert the kids get a choice of one of three desserts.

                                Brewers Fayre offers a daytime meal deal from noon to 6pm on the adult meals. Not all meals and desserts are included but there is a wide choice and on this occasion my wife and I selected from the meal deal choices. This meant that each adult’s 3-course meal would be £7.99.

                                I had the breaded garlic mushrooms and my wife opted for the potato skins topped with cheese and bacon. For the main course I opted for the breaded scampi, served with chips, peas and tartare sauce and my wife chose sausage and mash served in a giant Yorkshire with thick onion gravy. For dessert we both went for the chocolate fudge cake. Our daughter opted for the smaller appetite chicken nuggets, peas and we asked for the chips to be swapped for rice.

                                Everything was perfect, hot, fresh and delicious. The portions were more than ample and arranged on the plates as opposed to dropped on. Our daughters meal especially was arranged in a sort of octopus shape, the rice was served as a dome in the middle of the plate, with rice tentacles spraying out and in between each tentacle were chicken nuggets on one side and peas on the other.

                                They offer a full bar and a good selection of wines, we had 1 pint and 2 halves of Carling with our meal (not each) and my daughter had a blackcurrant fruit shoot. For the want of a better phrase we were stuffed by the time we’d finished and the bill came to just under £25

                                --- The Service ---

                                The waitress allocated to our table checked during each course to make sure everything was to our liking and was prompt to clear our plates ready for the next course but only after we had all finished the particular course we were on. There is in my opinion nothing worse than plates being taken away whilst other members of your party are still eating. The waitress was courteous at all times and paid special attention to our daughter who took an instant shine to her. All staff seemed friendly and were happy to chat. When talking to the manager, she was more than happy to explain to me a brief history of the place.

                                You are also given a comments card, with the general managers name on it encouraging you to give feedback, good or bad regarding your visit.

                                --- Facilities ---

                                The restaurant is divided into three sections, a family area, bar area (the only area that allows smoking) and a further ‘main area’. The only difference between the main and family area is a large indoor ball park and kids play area located just off of the family section. The inside of the restaurant is lost in time, from solid oak beams and supports to the original open fireplace, that coupled with a countryside view when you peer through the windows makes this an ideal setting, for me anyway. After our meal my wife and I could relax in a tranquil environment whilst the kids caused havoc in the play area. Also within this area is a sit and ride plane and a kids grabber machine, which thankfully for £1 keeps going until your child wins a toy.

                                The bar area again is very large and also has tables you can eat at if you wish and don’t mind the cigarette smoke. Here you will also find a quiz machine and a few fruit machines. There isn’t a jukebox but background music has been played each time we have visited.

                                There is a huge garden area with many tables and a massive kids playground with climbing frames, slides, rope swing and small rides all set on a safe soft tarmac.

                                Double doors to the rear and front of the premises allows for disabled access, the tables were arranged in such a way that you were not cramped, allowing for wheel chair access and the toilets were clean and fresh smelling.

                                There is a long drive way running down the side of the restaurant which opens out into a massive gravel car park, easily allowing for well over a 100 cars and I would estimate that the restaurant could cater for about 100 – 120 people at any one time.

                                --- Opinion ---

                                Out of the five stars I would give the Red Barn the full compliment, the staff were friendly and courteous, the food was fantastic and the atmosphere, just wonderful. If I was to be really picky, the only slight fault I could find is that Lingfield is right on the flight path to Gatwick and when sitting in the garden area you can here the planes overhead, its not too loud and they weren’t that frequent. The planes however cannot be heard from inside the restaurant.

                                The different sections of the restaurant works extremely well, allowing the kids to have their fun time whilst the knackered parents sit gazing at each other not wanting to move after a filling meal. Those without kids or young couples not wanting the children running around are catered for at the far end of the restaurant. An ideal place for everyone if you like good old pub grub, that delivers great service and value for money.

                                Thanks for reading.

                                © 2006 Rocknro11


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                                • More +
                                  22.09.2006 08:02
                                  Very helpful


                                  • Reliability
                                  • Reliability


                                  Great camera but will you use all it can offer

                                  During the last 2 decades technology advances have seen no bounds, striving further and further forward making everyone’s life supposedly easier and convenient from wind up radios to handheld satellite navigation systems, so where does that leave the good old point and click camera.

                                  Well the camera certainly didn’t miss the boat thus entering the world of mega pixels and mega bucks. Choosing the right camera for you depends entirely on how adventurous you are, how much time you have on your hands to learn the array of functions they have to offer and not forgetting how much your budget will stretch to.

                                  Liking a gadget or two, I considered the more functions the camera offered the better and I decided upon the Fuji Finepix S7000.

                                  The S7000 made its debut in July 2003 and had a recommended retail price of £599, I purchased mine one year later for £399 and now three years on you can expect to pay £280. Neatly packed into a box measuring 8.5 inches x 6 inches and 8.5 inches deep, it seemed a small package for £399 but upon opening and viewing the jet black beauty that resembled those more professional looking camera’s, I felt like David Bailey and soon forgot about its price tag.

                                  Accompanying the camera is the inclusion of a 16 megabyte xD memory card, 4 AA sized alkaline batteries, shoulder strap, lens cap and holder, a USB cable, cd rom containing Fuji Finepix software and a 119 page user manual.

                                  So what were the headline grabbing features that drove me to part with my hard earned cash? Well, a 6.3 effective mega pixel and 12.3 recorded mega pixel camera was bordering top of the range in 2004, it had the ability to shoot moving video with sound at 30 frames per second, it could store 2 different memory formats at the same time and finally it boasted a 6 x optical zoom lens.

                                  --- The Look ---

                                  The S7000 resembles yesterdays non-digital camera, big and bulky but with an air of professionalism about it and is a far cry from the small compact ‘man from uncle’ type cameras that are commonly seen. A huge 6 x optical zoom lens dominates the front of the camera. There is a large handgrip, which is required when steadying the camera but its size makes for comfortable handling. The whole casing is finished in black, which adds to its uniqueness. The flash is hidden away but with a touch of a button pops upright when required. Just behind the flash is a ‘hot shoe’ allowing for the fitment of an external flash and both flashes can function at the same time. To the right of the flash is located the ‘Mode Dial’ and at the rear of the camera can be found a very respectable 1.8 inch lcd monitor capable of displaying a resolution of 118,000 pixels. To the right of the screen on the side of the camera is a compartment that holds CF and xD memory cards and on the opposite side can be found the power input socket (mains adapter sold separately), Audio visual output socket and the usb 2.0 port. Unsurprisingly on the underbelly of the camera can be found the tripod mount.

                                  --- The Offering ---

                                  The camera boasts a multitude of functions and has a mass of buttons, skipping the manual and going for broke is really not an option and is probably why a quick guide leaflet was not included. The manual is lengthy and I soon found I could not possibly retain all the information it offered in a single sitting. There is so much to remember its best to take it one step at a time and the manual has been written specifically with this in mind and includes many diagrams to complement the instructions.

                                  The control centre of the camera is the ‘Mode Dial’ and has 8 different options and I will briefly run through each of these:

                                  Set – This is the set-up option, here you can set the time and date, which memory card you would like to use, power save options, image format, video format (NTSC/Pal) and volume setting ect.

                                  M – Manual mode, you’re on your own with this mode both the shutter speed and aperture settings are user definable.

                                  A – The camera is put into automatic mode but allows the user to set the aperture.

                                  S – The camera is put into automatic mode but allows the user to set the shutter speed.

                                  P – This setting allows the user to change any other settings other than shutter speed and aperture.

                                  AUTO – Point and Click, it’s all done for you.

                                  SP – This setting gives access to 4 types of shot, which are, Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night scenes.

                                  The last setting is depicted by a small movie camera and gives the camera the ability to record moving images with sound.

                                  ---- The Use ---

                                  I spent a considerable amount of time familiarising myself with the camera during the first month, as there is just so much to understand and master. Initially I found the 16mb xD card wasn’t nearly enough to hold photo’s and video without running back to the pc every 5 minutes to download them via the USB cable, so wallet in hand I splashed out another £150 on a 1gigabyte CF card and a 512 megabyte xD card.

                                  The software that accompanied the camera was easy to install and not only allowed you to transfer the images and video from the camera to the pc but also gave you the ability to manipulate and retouch the images if you desired. As soon as you attach the camera to the PC the software program loads immediately and finds all media stored on the camera.

                                  The camera is very impressive; although bulky the weight is evenly distributed allowing for ease of use. The electronic zoom glides in and out effortlessly making it easy to keep the camera steady whilst zooming in on your target. You can manually focus each shot or by pressing the shutter half way down, will allow the camera to auto focus for you. The auto focus was extremely quick and effective, which is essential to capturing that one off picture. I played around with many of the settings, a few of them by trial and error and some of the results were absolutely superb, detailed images captured in pure vibrant colour, lifelike skin tones with exceptional clarity.

                                  Continuous mode shooting produced some great shots of the kids, lining the cross hairs on the viewfinder on your target, kept the subject in focus whilst capturing motion in the background. The flash being mounted high away from the lens reduced red eye to a minimum during night time shots and the macro mode produced some truly amazing results. The 6 million mega pixel resolution produced excellent quality and created an image size of about 1.5 megabytes meaning the 1 gigabyte memory card could hold around 750 pictures.

                                  The video capture caught me by surprise; it was both detailed and smooth and I wasn’t expecting such good quality. Unfortunately the zoom does not function when in video capture mode, which means to close in on the subject you will need to walk nearer to them and by doing that its virtually impossible to avoid ‘camera shake’. Video mode allows you to capture in 640 x 480 or by 320 x 240 resolutions at 30 frames per second. This roughly means you can capture about 15 minutes of video at the higher resolution and about 30 minutes at the lower on a 1 gigabyte memory card.

                                  When capturing video, battery life is appalling and I recommend anyone buying this camera to use high-powered rechargeables, otherwise you will be forever replacing the normal AA alkaline batteries.

                                  The only real stumbling block I found with this camera was myself, 5 months of not using the camera, left me struggling to remember all the settings. I became lazy and now use auto mode all the time. Don’t get me wrong it still takes great pictures but I am not utilising the camera to anywhere near its full potential.

                                  --- The Conclusion ---

                                  The S7000 is a superb camera and in the right hands will produce stunning results time and time again. I consider it has been designed for the long term experienced amateur or semi-professional as opposed to your normal everyday user. The auto mode does allow the lesser experienced like myself to operate the camera and produce some good photographs but I could have purchased a cheaper camera, with fewer features and probably produced comparable results due to the way I now operate the S7000.

                                  Highly recommended for those in the know, for your point and click amateur a cheaper less technical offering should do just as well.

                                  Full specifications can be found at www.fujifilm.com

                                  Thanks for reading.


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