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soundsexciting

soundsexciting
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Member since: 26.09.2005

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    • More +
      15.03.2009 08:56
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      • Reliability

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      Great stable router with great range and speed

      Picking a router is pretty difficult these days.
      There are an awful lot of routers out there and it is very, very difficult to choose the right one for you. The obvious things to consider are
      * Price
      * Ease of use/Ease of set up
      * Speed
      * Range
      * After sales support
      The more technical would also consider the functionality offered.

      The DG834N ticks the right boxes in each of these areas.
      Out of the box the router looks rather sleek. It's a white box roughly the same size of a hardback book. Some yellowish flashing lights at the front inform you whether the router is switched on, whether it's connected to the internet, and whether it is transmitting a wireless signal. It also has no external aerials which I'll come back to in a moment.

      The router comes with the standard 4 Ethernet ports and supports both ADSL and ADSL2+ and as far as I can tell is one of only a handful that support ADSL2+.
      Setting it up is extremely easy. It comes as most routers do, with a set up CD which takes you through the process of installing some software onto your PC. I went through the motions and installed the software and found there was nothing of particular interest to me so I uninstalled it all.

      Instead of going through the set up wizard, you can also connect to it directly in order to set it up manually. This is the option I chose. I connected my laptop to the router using the supplied Ethernet cable, stuck in the IP address in my web browser and I was instantly presented with the web interface.
      Here you have to log in using the standard admin user name and password and are expected to change that to something other than the default. Setting up the parameters required for my broadband supplier was easy and within a few minutes I was connected to the internet. My broadband supplier is BE Unlimited and they do not require a username or password. Obviously for those suppliers that do, you would need to enter that in the web interface.

      Once the basics were set up I was able to remove my Ethernet cable and place the router behind a hallway cupboard. Netgear supply the router with a small stand and insist that it is always kept upright. This is I presume to allow adequate ventilation.
      The router allows you to set up port forwarding and comes with a few predefined services. The ones I required were not shown in that list so I had to set mine up myself which is pretty straightforward if you know what ports the various services that you set up require.

      Security comes in the form of a built in firewall and WPA/WPA2 encryption. For a belts and braces approach, you can also restrict which devices can connect to the router by including their MAC addresses in an Access List. This is useful to prevent computers outside your network from accessing your router. For me this is particularly important because one of the old devices that I have only supports WEP encryption so I have to have encryption disabled to allow it to connect. Of course this means that potentially anyone could connect to my router so the Access List means my router can only be got at by devices that I allow.
      This router is a wireless 'N' router using MIMO smart antennae technology which means that it uses multiple antennas in order to achieve the high speeds and range. The 6 antennae are integrated within the casing which means no ugly protrusions on the outside . It conforms to the draft 'N' standard. I guess there is a small risk that it could be obsolete by the time the standard has been ratified by all the parties concerned however it is unlikely that this would happen. When I visited the Netgear website I found a firmware update and it's more than likely that any future changes to the 'N' standard would be reflected in further firmware updates.

      Applying the firmware update was as simple as it could be. You simply download the file from the Netgear website (www.netgear.com) and access it from within the routers web interface. It takes a few moments to apply the update and then it automatically reboots itself.
      In order to reach the speeds and range that this router is capable of (270Mbs) you need to purchase Netgears compatible USB adaptor. This doesn't mean that the router will not work with any other device. It merely means that the maximum speeds and ranges will not be attainable by them. As it happens none of my devices have the Netgear USB adaptor so my speeds are restricted to the 54Mbs which is sufficient for my needs.

      My experience of routers has been limited. This is my 4th router and only the second one that I've ever purchased. The other 2 came free with my broadband supplier. I replaced my old router (supplied free by BE Unlimited) because it simply couldn't handle the number of devices I had and would reset about once every day. In contrast, the DG834N has never reset once in the 3 months that I've had it. It is very stable even when I have many devices connected to it. As a test I connected the following all at the same time: Xbox, PSP, Wireless Printer, WAC Music Server, 2x WACS Music Clients, laptop, desktop and all of them connected for days in some cases and hours in the case of the PSP and Xbox. It managed to handle all 9 devices without any problems
      The router costs around £100. Its difficult to pin an exact price on it because it varies. I actually got mine for £75 from Comet on Boxing Day 2008, but the price has gone up since then.

      The router comes complete with everything you will need to get online. The box contains the router, a stand, all necessary cables , a micro-filter and comes with Netgear's standard 2 year warranty and I would not hesitate to recommend this

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      • More +
        14.03.2009 17:58
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        A new design for a speed camera

        Speed cameras are a necessary evil but I don't believe they are effective in catching bad drivers. I have 6 points on my licence and about to get another 3 but that's not the reason I'm against them.

        I'm against them because they are not flexible enough. They do not adapt to the ever changing road conditions.

        Driving at 50mph in a 40mph limit in good weather with clear visibility is not as dangerous in my opinion as driving at 40mph in a 40mph limit in a snow blizzard yet a speed camera would penalise a driver doing 50 in good weather and not do a thing about a nutter driving at speed in the snow.

        Excessive speed on it's own is not a problem. Excessive speed that is inconsistent with the road conditions at the time is the combination that causes accidents.

        I have an alternative design for a speed camera and the technology to build these exists now.

        All you need is the following:

        1x speed camera
        1x computer memory
        1x some clever software
        1x Bright LED Screen at the back to display a 2 digit number

        Such a speed camera would not only check how fast each car is moving but it would store its speed and store the speed of every other car that goes past it. Internally the software would at any given time know the average speed of all the cars that have gone past it in say the last 30 minutes.

        The camera would still take pictures of cars that are speeding but the definition of speeding would be subtly different.

        The camera would not simply go off when a car goes past at a certain speed above the limit for the road.

        Instead it would go off at a certain speed above the AVERAGE speed of all cars that have gone past it in the last 30 minutes. This average speed would be displayed on the LED screen at the back.

        So at any given time a road will have an average speed limit instead of a fixed speed limit.

        My theory is this:

        In good weather with clear visibility with perhaps few cars on the road, people will naturally drive a little faster than they would at other times because it is safe to do so. This would bring the average speed held internally in the camera to a value higher than normal. Hence only people speeding substantially more than every other person on the road would be caught. (say 60 in a 40 limit)

        In bad weather, the safe drivers will naturally slow down and with their slowing down the average speed on that road will drop. Any person driving past at a speed much higher than the new average speed would be caught.

        So taking my example earlier on a road with a 40mph speed limit:

        In good weather, the camera might not activate until a car goes past it at say 60mph
        In bad weather the camera might activate much sooner e.g. 35mph.

        In both cases the AVERAGE speed would be displayed at the back of the camera. Anyone doing more than say 7 or 8 mph more than that average would be photographed.

        On the same road with say road works on it, the same thing would happen.
        Most careful motorists would slow down and as a result the average speed on that road would be reduced. Therefore anyone going past the camera at a speed substantially greater than the other drivers would be caught.

        Exactly the same principle would apply at night. I would suggest that driving at 40mph on some 40mph roads at night is as dangerous as driving on the same road at 60mph during the day.

        I think speed cameras designed on these principles would be much easier to sell to the public who see current cameras as simply cash cows for the authorities. Cameras such as these would automatically adapt to the changing road conditions because they would follow the adaptations that motorists make themselves to the conditions that they encounter on the road. Cameras such as these would be much fairer in those it targets for speeding.

        If cameras designed along these principles were deployed then they would not be catching motorists who speed but motorists who speed irrespective of the road conditions.

        I'd be genuinely interested in any opinions out there.
        Am I completely barking mad ? Have I not thought this through? or should I head off to Dragons Den looking for an investment !!

        Thanks
        Soundsexciting

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        • More +
          14.03.2009 10:29
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          High Speed Internet at Low Speed prices

          Generally speaking most internet service providers are a bunch of cowboys.
          They'll sign you up for 12 to 18 months, promising download speeds superior to those of their competitors but once you've signed up, the reality is that you will most likely get a fraction of the speeds that they claimed you would get.
          The only thing that can combat such practices is healthy competition and luckily that's where BE Unlimited come in.

          This is going to be a long review but bear with me. Hopefully at the end of it, worst case scenario is that you may understand how to get the best out of your current service provider.
          Ideally you will see the light and do what I did and move to BE Unlimited.

          Who Is BE?
          --------------

          BE Unlimited is one of the lesser known broadband suppliers who I migrated to after having been a customer of Orange for a number of years.

          I left just over 2 years ago after suffering close to a month of unreliable internet access having had no issues at all for the 5 or 6 years that I'd been with them previously.
          That single month of problems was a huge issue for me because I work from home and internet access is the only way I can do what my company pays me to do so I gave Orange my notice and cancelled my contract.

          I joined BE Unlimited because of the high speeds promised on their website and because at that time I had not yet read a single negative review about them whilst I'd read many negative reviews about EVERY OTHER internet service provider.

          BE Unlimited is one of only 3 companies in the UK that supply broadband using ADSL2+ technology; the other 2 being Bulldog and O2. Incidentally BE is now owned by O2 so I guess there are now only 2 suppliers of ADLS2+. BT hope to roll it out themselves as part of the 21CN project this year but they are actually a few years behind BE.

          The Technology
          --------------------

          What is ADLS2+ you may ask?

          Well although I'm an IT consultant this stuff is slightly out of my field. My understanding is that ADSL2+ sends twice the number of bits (data) that go up and down the copper wire between your house and the BT exchange. It also uses a broader frequency range to standard ADSL. The upshot of this is that you can get theoretical download speeds of up to 24Mbs and upload speeds of up to 3.5Mbs. ADSL in contrast cannot give you speeds greater than 8Mbs download and 1Mbs upload. Those limits are fixed by the technology not by the service providers.

          Not all areas can get ADSL2+. Only those exchanges that have been unbundled from BT by the ISP can potentially use ADSL2+. If BT is still in charge of the exchange then you will get ADSL.

          Fortunately the BE Unlimited website (www.bethere.co.uk) has a postcode/phone number search facility that will tell you whether you can get ADLS2+ and if so the likely speeds that you can achieve.
          Now this is the bit that rarely gets explained properly to the end customer but the speed indicated on any ISP's website is almost certainly the best optimistic calculation. It is based mostly on the distance that you house is from the nearest exchange. However even that is only the theoretical speed. The actual speed will then depend on the quality of the copper wire between the exchange and your house and also the quality of the internal wiring within your house from the BT Master Socket onwards. Poor quality extensions for instance can affect the speed you get. The speed you get can also be affected by other devices that operate in a similar frequency range and therefore generate interference. Digital cordless phones, microwave ovens and even christmas lights have been known to dramatically impact on the speed you get for your broadband. Not only that but what your neighbour gets up to can impact on the speed you get for your broadband!!

          Going off-topic for a moment here's a little tip for everyone; one that I picked up from the BE Unlimited user forum.
          If you are confident enough to do this, try opening up the BT Master Socket. This is the white box most probably closest to your front door into which the BT phone cable connects to from outside your house. Chances are when you open up this socket you will see a few different coloured wires, some of which (perhaps as few as 2) are connected to the actual socket. The rest will most likely be disconnected and tied back in a loop to keep them out of the way. Among those disconnected wires there will most likely be an Orange coloured wire. This is called the 'Bell Wire' and would normally be used to transmit the ring signal to any other phone connected in your house via an extension cable. These days most people have cordless phones and if the orange wire is not connected to anything then it can be cut all the way back to the cable's insulation. It's worth cutting those wires back especially the orange one because they act as antennae and cause interference; not enough to be noticeable during a phone call but enough to reduce your broadband speed by ½ to 1 Mbs. In addition, connect your router to the BT Master Socket. If you connect it to an extension socket then that will again reduce the speed you get by a further ½ to 1 Mbs.

          If you are battling with your ISP regarding the speed you get in your house compared to that advertised by the ISP then chances are that these 2 issues alone will be responsible for the discrepancy between what the ISP has promised and what you actually get.

          The Packages
          ------------------

          Anyway back to BE.

          BE offer a number of different packages with the difference being the speed that they offer.

          * The cheapest package is BE Value which offers up to 8Mbs for £13.50 a month.
          * BE Unlimited offers up to 24Mbs upload speeds along with 1.3Mbs download for £17.50 a month
          * The top package called BE Pro offers up to 24Mbs download and 2.5Mbs upload along with a static IP address which is essential for anyone trying to host a website from home all for £21.50 a month.

          All 3 packages come with a wireless router (which I'll come back to later) and all 3 packages offer optional email addresses at an additional cost of £2 per month. BE also impose absolutely no restrictions on the amount of data that you can download, hence the name BE Unlimited and unlike companies like Virgin there is no throttling of speeds during peak times if you download more than a certain amount.

          Uniquely they also do not tie you into a contract. They merely ask that you give them 3 months notice if you decide to terminate your account with them which is very reasonable.

          Getting Started
          --------------------

          Moving to any service provider involves going to through the same basic steps.
          If you are already with a provider then you need to obtain a 'MAC'' code from them. This is the broadband equivalent of the PAC code you get when changing mobile phone providers. Once you have this, you simply give it to your new provider and they will get the ball moving

          If this is the first time you are enabling broadband on your line then things are even easier. The service provider will activate broadband on your line and you will be good to go. In this case BE like all other ISPs will charge a connection fee which is about £30

          In my case I got my MAC code from Orange, registered with BE and within a few days had switched over. During the switching over phase, I was kept informed by BE with regards to the progress and they despatch the router to you so that it arrives the day before you are due to go live with them.

          Connecting up the router is a doodle. BE do not issue any user names or passwords. If you have your own router you can simply use that instead. All you do is plug it into you BT Socket and you're good to go (assuming they have connected you at the exchange).

          When you first sign up to BE they warn you that the speeds you get will be erratic. The reason is that they will be trying out different configuration settings at their end to get the most out of your line. This takes about a week. Once things have stabilised the speed you end up with is essentially the best speed that THEY can get to you given the quality of the cable between the exchange and your house and the quality of your internal wiring.

          True to their word a week later I had a stable internet connection although it was no where near as fast as I thought it would be which I'll talk about in a moment.

          The Service
          ---------------

          So what's the service like ? Do they actually deliver the speeds that they promise ?

          Well the thing is that they don't actually promise anything. They tell you what speeds you could get in theory but if the wiring in your house is sub-standard then they can hardly be blamed if you don't get the speeds that they said you could. If BT's cable from the exchange to your house is 50 years old and has degraded then that is something that is beyond their control.

          I've been with them now for over 2 years. All this took me about a year to fully understand. I spent the first 6 months fighting with BE support about speeds and the next 6 months reading posts on the BE user forum and trying to understand all the things that could have an impact on my connection. I've now spent that last year telling everyone I know what a great service provider they are!

          In my case my theoretical speed was 17Mbs because I live just a couple of hundred meters away from my exchange. In reality I received 4Mbs. This was faster than Orange but a huge disappointment because I wrongly expected so much more. After many weeks of complaining to BE, I eventually joined the user forum where I found many other people with similar problems to me. At that time BE Support were inundated with support calls all complaining about speed. The call centre is based in Bulgaria and the fact that it was in a foreign country also gave rise to what in hindsight were unfair posts (including some from me) casting aspersions on the competency of the support team.

          Over the next few months I came to understand how things beyond the control of the ISP can affect your internet speeds. I cut the unconnected wires in the master socket, I played around with different makes of microfilters and downloaded software to tweak the settings of the computers in my house. Eventually I managed to get speeds consistently of 8Mbs with the occasional burst of 11/12Mbs which I'm happy with. I'm now pretty certain that the remaining difference between what I should get and what I actually get is due to the fact that the BT cable connected to my house was laid down in 1957 and is over 50 years old. BT will get around to replacing that eventually. I regularily see BT's Open Reach vans near my house and I can only presume it is because people are having problems with their phones and/or internet connections. Eventually I hope BT will get fed up of sending engineers out every couple of days and just replace all the cables in our area.

          No ISP is perfect, least of all BE. There are a number of issues that I still have problems with. Unfortunately I see no chance of them doing anything about those and for completeness I need to detail those here.

          The Router
          ---------------

          They supply a Thompson Speedtouch 780 router for free though if you leave and do not return it they will charge you £100. The router is very poor. It will connect you to the internet but that is about it. It will periodically overheat and reset itself which is damn annoying if you are in the middle of download/uploading a large file. It's even more annoying if you are in the middle of a web conference !!.

          If you connect more than 3 or 4 devices to it, it will reset. If you have a movie on you PC and you stream it to you TV using say an Xbox it will reset itself. I asked BE to replace it but they wouldn't admit that there was a problem with it. Reading their user forum it is clear that the router is simply not fit for purpose but BE continue to supply it. I guess we can't argue too much. It is free after all. In the end I purchased a Netgear DG834N and have not had any issues with since.

          The Support Team
          -------------------------

          Although the support team do the best that they can, it takes a long time for them to start taking you seriously. They read from a script so any thing that is reported to them results in you having to jump through hoops before they'll really take notice. They get you to reset your router, reboot your PC, go through configuration settings on your PC, get you to apply firmware updates to your router, get you to connect the router to the BT Test Socket etc. all this takes days at a time. If they could be more flexible to problem solving then discussions with them would get much less heated.

          The Billing Team
          ---------------------
          They make mistakes with the invoicing so you have to be constantly on the ball. The VAT reduction was an excellent example. In almost everyone's case they forgot to apply the VAT reduction and kept 'forgetting' until each person contacted them on an individual basis.

          Verdict
          ---------

          BE Unlimited is in my opinion the best overall supplier of broadband in the UK. They promise up to 3 times the download speed of their competitors and have the technology to back it up. They are unfortunately let down by poor wiring within older homes and antiquated degraded cabling laid down in some places over 50 years ago by BT but if you are willing to put a little time into getting your internal wiring improved then all things being equal BE offer 3 times the speed for the same price as their competitors

          They are also let down by the make and model of router that they supply and by a support team that cannot think outside the scripts that they are forced to read from.

          In their defence I would say that all ISP's suffer from the same problem. Also in their defence they have a first class user forum with users who are very knowledgeable with regards to issues related to broadband. Some of those users are ex and current BT personnel and they are always more than willing to help out anyone who posts a thread detailing their specific problem. These guys are so good, most users don't even bother raising issues with the support team because they can get a much faster response from the user forum!!

          Recently BE were purchased by O2 who offer similar packages and pricing to BE but the two networks are still distinct and the user forum on the O2 site is apparently no where near as useful to people as the BE forum.

          I would recommend BE to anyone fed up with poor service and slow speeds from their current service provider. Once the other ISP's wake up to a mass migration of subscribers then perhaps they will start treating their customers with a little more respect.


          Contact Details
          --------------------

          Website

          www.bethere.co.uk

          Sales Support

          24/7 sales assistance
          Sales hotline-0808 101 3424

          Member Support

          24/7 member assistance
          Member hotline-0808 101 3430
          Address

          Be House
          62 Lancaster Mews
          London
          W2 3QG

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          • MFI Kitchen Furniture / Furniture / 41 Readings / 38 Ratings
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            22.10.2007 09:55
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            MFI is still the same old company with a bad reputation. Nothing has changed

            In May this year (2007) my wife and I visited the MFI store in Leamington Spa to look for a new kitchen. We'd been to a number of other stores and had yet to see a kitchen that we both liked. After a good browse around the store we finally agreed that we both liked a kitchen called the 'Callisto'. We'd already taken the measurements for our kitchen so we sat down with one of their nice sales chaps who took our measurements, fed them into the computer and eventually came up with a design for our new kitchen. He gave us some advice on which options we could and could not have and all in all it took just over 2 hours to get everything we wanted in the design including the granite worktops.

            Next came the horrible bit. The quote.

            He pressed a button and the computer added up all the bits, stuck in the Bank Holiday discount and the price came to around £12000 including fitting which was about £2000 more than we had budgeted for. We juggled around with the design a little more but it was clear that we wouldn't be able to get the price down to where we wanted it. Eventually after a word with his manager, the price was dropped to exactly £10000 so we happily left a deposit of £2500 and a promised delivery date of 25th September 2007 subject to a 'pre-fit survey'. It could have been delivered a little earlier but we needed time to get other elements of our grand kitchen design in place such as the lighting so we asked for the delivery to be made sometime in September.

            A week after our order was placed, the fitter came to our house to conduct the pre-fit survey. This was basically to ensure that the measurements I'd taken were accurate and to make sure that everything in the design was feasible. This was also an opportunity for MFI to squeeze a little more cash out of us. The fitter explained that additional work was required. This included extending the gas pipes to the other end of the kitchen to accommodate the new position of the gas oven. It included a few hundred pound to ensure that all the electrics conformed to the new safety regulations and other bits and bobs. In all he quoted an additional £1200 and stated that unless some of the electrics were modified he couldn't allow his men into the property due to health and safety reasons.

            Annoyed at this, I went back to the store and said that unfortunately I was not prepared to have the extra 'remedial' work done and that I would have to cancel the order and ask for a full refund which according to their terms and conditions I was entitled to do. The manager asked if I would consider going ahead if MFI paid for 50% of the additional work which I agreed to.

            During the summer we got the kitchen ready and in August we received a phone call from the MFI Depot informing us that the majority of the kitchen would be delivered in September but that unfortunately they could not get hold of 10 of the 11 doors that fitted onto the units due to a change of supplier and that these would have to be delivered at a later date of 6th November at the earliest. I was furious at this so once again went back to the MFI store to complain and potentially cancel my order. The first thing I found was that the kitchen I'd ordered had been discontinued and replaced by a new model. The second thing I found was that the manager had also been discontinued and replaced by a newer model so I explained to him the situation and said that unless I could accept that the odd bit might be missing but for 10 out of 11 doors not to be delivered meant that I would have to unfortunately cancel the order and ask for a full refund.

            The manager was very apologetic and rang the depot to determine what the problem was. He pulled a few strings and managed to locate 8 of the 10 missing doors and arranged for them to be delivered with the rest of the kitchen. The remaining 2 doors could not be made available before 6th November. I reluctantly agreed to not cancel my order on condition that nothing else go wrong before the delivery date.

            On the 25th September an MFI truck parked outside our house and 2 guys came and rang my doorbell. They took a look at me and said 'You're not gonna like this but some of your kitchen is missing'
            I said that's okay I know about the 2 doors. They looked at each other and then gave me the delivery sheet. The document stated that 11 doors would be delivered at a later unspecified date along with about 6 other items such as pelmets and end panels.

            The delivery guys told me that MFI do this all the time and advised me not to accept the delivery. If I accepted the delivery I would be entering into a 'contract' with MFI by showing my acceptance to take the kitchen as it was and I would be implicitly agreeing to have the missing bits delivered in November. They also told me that the November date was also unlikely to be met. They called their depot for me and allowed me to speak to their manager and I told him that I would be rejecting the delivery because about ½ of the kitchen was not there. I then went back to the store and told the manager there that I wanted a full refund. His response was to ask me whether there was any financial incentive that he could give me to accept the kitchen as it was and wait until November for the doors and I said thanks but no thanks and asked again for a full refund which he reluctantly agreed to.

            A week later MFI refunded the money I paid and kept £626. As the deposit was paid by credit card, that matter has now been referred back to the credit card company who are chasing the difference.

            The MFI terms and conditions are very long and make lots of statements about what would happen if the customer cancels the contract but makes no mention of what the customer is entitled to if MFI fail to deliver what they promise. They will offer financial incentives to you to not cancel the order but frankly I can't see the point in accepting a reduction of a few hundred pounds from your order when your order is unlikely to be delivered in the first place

            For any potential customer of MFI I would advise you to stay clear and perhaps try B&Q with whom we've just placed a new order for a kitchen, which it turns out will be delivered before the MFI doors would eventually have been delivered.

            update: 03/02/2008
            MFI Leamington called me the other day and asked me what the problem was regarding an unpaid refund. I explained that my credit card company was probably chasing them for the unpaid amount of £628 and after a bit of waffle the manager said asked me to pop into the branch to collect my refund. The next week I was finally given the remainder of thee refund.

            Strangely I received a letter yesterday from MFI explaining that the Gas Oven I bought from them was only covered for a year against malfunction and suggesting that I purchase an extended warranty for an oven that I never ended up purchasing from them.
            Amazing how the various departments in MFI have no idea what the other departments are doing.

            I was also given a letter to use at any time that gives me 10% off anything I negotiate in the store but frankly what's the point with service like that. I've thrown the letter in the bin

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            • First Alternative / Car Insurance / 48 Readings / 42 Ratings
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              15.01.2007 20:04
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              Competitive Insurance and great service when you need them

              Calm down madam, it's only a commercial …….

              First Alternative Car Insurance is a sister-company to Esure the guys with the ever so annoying Michael Winner and the now (in)famous tag line

              Why have a sister company with it's own brand?
              The answer is Market Differentiation. Most companies break up their market sector into segments and try to offer each segment a set of products or services that would appeal uniquely to them.

              Esure provide insurance exclusively to drivers who have a full no-claims bonus and who have never had an accident. In that way they can offer low premiums to the best drivers out there.

              However as a business model that means an awful lot of drivers are excluded by the company. The result is the setting up of First Alternative who offers a competitive insurance to drivers who still have a full no-claims bonus but who may have had an accident in the last 4 or 5 years.

              I took out car insurance with them last year because they were about £50 cheaper than the company I'd been with since about 1993. It was a surprise because every year I'd ring around insurance companies and every year I'd get silly quotes for car insurance so year after year I'd stick with my old company. However last year after being redirected to First Alternative from the Esure website I finally found an insurance company that was cheaper than my current one.

              Company Background (taken from their website)

              First Alternative was founded by a chap called Peter Wood and launched its motor insurance product in April 2004. The company runs alongside Esure - also founded by Peter Wood in 2001- and between the two companies they aim to offer cover to around 95% of drivers. Both companies specialise in drivers with a relatively good driving record and offer a no-claims discount of up to 75%, which is 10% more than other insurance companies. Both companies also offer a courtesy car for those drivers who take out fully comprehensive insurance.

              My Experience

              As readers of my previous reviews will know, I recently got rid of my old MGTF and bought a Honda Accord. Unfortunately after nearly 6 months of owning it, I was involved in an accident. It was entirely my fault and contrary to normal advice given under these circumstances I immediately admitted to it as the other driver in involved was an old lady who was just driving along minding her own business when I carelessly pulled out in front of her. I called Honda Assist (the AA) and they took the car to a Honda Body Shop whilst I contacted First Alternative. I called their claims number and was immediately put through to a very nice lady who took all the details of the incident over the phone. She filled out the claim form for me and took the details of the other car and driver and arranged to take my car to one of their approved repairers. I told her that I wanted the car looked at by the Honda Dealers and had already arranged for it to be taken there and she told me that this would not be a problem but that their policy states that a courtesy car would only be provided if the car was repaired at their approved garage. I figured it was a small price to pay to have the car looked at by a proper Honda Dealer so I told her that I would not require a courtesy car. The AA dropped my car off at the garage and I went home. I later found out that First Alternative would have quite happily arranged for the car to be taken to their approved garage or any garage of my choice.

              Ten days went by and I contacted First Alternative to check on progress. This was over the Christmas period so I figured I'd give them an extra few days get started on my claim. When I called them, I found that not only had they started on my claim but they'd already received a repair estimate and were deciding whether to repair the car or no. Now First Alternative sub-contract the work of an insurance assessor to a third party so they arranged for this third party to contact me the next day with a progress report. The next morning I was indeed called by their assessor who told me that the repair estimates received from the Honda Dealer was about 60% of the market value of the car and that they would unfortunately be writing-off the car. I was rather surprised by this as the damage didn't look too bad to my untrained eye but the assessor assured me that he'd gone over the quote in detail and that he was satisfied that the £10k repair estimate was reasonably accurate. He told me that whilst they could in theory repair the car, they were uncertain of what other hidden damage there might be and that it would be best to not take any chances.

              He gave me a figure for the market value of the car which I thought would be a couple of grand short of what I'd paid for the car but he again surprised me and quoted me a figure of £16200 which was £800 less than I paid for the car. On asking whether he could offer me more he went away and came back with a revised figure of £16500, which I accepted. The insurance company then told me that I had to send the original invoice to them along with the registration document and spare keys, which I did the next day. A week later I had a cheque sent to me, which I promptly deposited in the bank. All in all 4 weeks after my crash I'm now in a position to replace my car thanks to the excellent service provided by First Alternative. Remember this was over the Christmas period and New Year when one would expect things to slow down a bit but First Alternative have impressed the hell out of me. This afternoon I was at a Honda Dealership and purchased another used Accord with the settlement I received from First Alternative and a bit of my own cash to cover the difference. Incidently I've take out 'Gap' insurance this time in case the worst happens again.

              Anyway fantastic service. Well-done First Alternative.

              Contact Details

              First Alternative quote hotline: 0845 607 0380
              Customer services: 0845 607 0417
              Claims: 0845 607 7280
              Website: http://www.firstalternative.com/

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              • Honda Accord i-CTDi Ex Saloon / Car / 37 Readings / 31 Ratings
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                06.12.2006 11:24
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                A fantastic car with affordable luxury

                You may have read about my useless car which I wrote about some time ago. Well a few months ago I finally got rid of my MGTF and bought myself a decent car instead. I use the word 'decent' to describe the build quality of my new car and not as a comparison in design, handling, and features etc. I realise that a direct comparison is impossible as the 2 cars are completely different both in terms of the type of person they are aimed at and the uses to which they would be put to.

                My new car is a 2005 Honda Accord 2.2 i-CTDi Executive and I bought it mostly because of how comfortable and feature rich it was during the test drive but also because of the excellent review written by RichadA who I think should receive at least a small amount of commission :). He certainly gets my thanks for nudging me in the direction of the Accord because I was initially thinking of getting a VW Passat or a Toyota Prius. I bought my 18 month old Accord with 8000 miles on the clock. In the 5 months that I've owned it I've already added another 9,000 miles because of the amount of driving my new job requires me to do.

                ---------------
                The Specs
                ---------------

                The Executive comes with an awful lot of equipment as standard and I'll try and describe each item and how useful it is to me.
                Once in the car, the first thing you'll notice is the level of comfort offered by the Leather Seats. After my MGTF, I decided whatever car I bought, it would have to have leather seats. I suffer from constant lower back pain and the seats have to be as comfortable as possible and leather seats give you this comfort. In addition to this, the front seats are electrically heated with a high and low setting. When driving long distances I often switch on the heating and the back pain just disappears after about 5 minutes and I find that for several hours afterwards I'm a lot less stiff than I would normally be.

                Both front seats are adjusted electrically and the driving position can be changed by way of a couple of buttons on the right-hand side of the seat near the bottom. These allow the seat to be moved backwards/forwards, up/down and both the back of the seat and the seat itself can be tilted backwards and forwards. The passenger seat for some reason cannot be adjusted up or down but apart from that works in the same way as the drivers' seat. The steering wheel can also be adjusted both in terms of the tilt and also can be pulled forwards or pushed towards the dashboard. This allows you to find the perfect driving position.
                Comfort is further enhanced by a centre armrest which can be extended forwards if required. Underneath the armrest is a storage area and Honda have thoughtfully included a 12v power socket which I use to charge my laptop and phone when on the move. A coin-box/sunglasses holder is also provided along with a cup holder that can hold two cups. There are another couple of cup holders provided for the rear passengers in the middle of the rear seats.

                It comes with electric windows all round and these can be controlled by the driver using the buttons on the armrest on the door. The heated door mirrors can also be controlled from here.
                On the ceiling are a couple of map lights that also function as driver 'welcome' lights which come on automatically when you unlock the door using the remote key and also when you turn the ignition off and take the key out. There's also a welcome light at the back for the rear passengers.

                In terms of instrumentation, you have the usual stuff directly in front of you including a rev counter and open door indicator that also tells you which door is actually open. Although the dashboard has a trip computer and tells you the outside temperature, Honda have neglected to include a fuel consumption monitor so you have to work it all out yourself. In fact I hesitate to use the word 'computer'; it's more of a 'Trip Abacus'.

                What makes the instrumentation so unique as far as I can tell is the inclusion of a 7 inch touch-screen on the dashboard between the driver and passenger. This touch screen is used to control the air-conditioning, radio, CD player, Sat-Nav system and a few general settings for the car. Of course some of these can also be controlled from the steering wheel but the system really comes into its own when using the Sat-Nav which I'll come to later.

                The car comes with Dual Control air-conditioning allowing driver and passenger to optionally adjust the airflow around them to their own desired temperature. The air-conditioning can be set to automatic or alternatively by using the touch screen the driver can go to manual and direct the air to wherever they want it, at the speed that they want it.

                An RDS radio player combined with a CD player capable of loading up to 6 CD's provides the in-car entertainment with some pretty good quality speakers dotted around the car though they are not the best I've heard. There is a really annoying slight vibration coming from my side of the door when the volume gets to a certain level and I hope to have this looked at during the next service. The aerial is built into the rear windscreen and is a nice touch because it means the very beautiful lines of the car are left unspoilt from the outside. Both the CD and Radio can be controlled from the steering wheel but if you want to adjust bass/treble, balance etc or use some of the more advanced controls you need to use the touch-screen which incidentally is very intuitive to use.

                The Sat-Nav system is probably one of the best I've seen in terms of the software used and the massive bright 7 inch screen enhances this even more. The map detail that can be shown on this screen is impressive and much, much better than the tiny portable third party devices that you have to buy for other cars. As it's all integrated into the entertainment system it also means that no one is likely to steal it. The largest growing area in car crime at the moment is the theft of portable Sat-Nav systems and DVD players.

                To program in a destination all you need to do is enter the first part of the post code and then locate the street. You can optionally enter the house number too. Once the address has been input you can opt for the shortest or fastest route. You also select whether or not you wish to use toll roads and also to avoid certain roads. The map data provided in my car is dated 2004 which is annoying for a car registered in the second quarter of 2005 and means that there's a few routes that it gets wrong slightly because of inaccurate information in its database which also covers the whole of Europe by the way. This is not a huge problem because whilst driving it is constantly keeping track of where you are and as soon as you go off route, it will recalculate a new route to your destination. On the map you can also decide to display petrol stations, hotels/restaurants, hospitals and even Honda dealerships. The petrol station option is extremely useful as you can always find your nearest point to fill up if you happen to be in an unfamiliar area. The system also contains a huge database of 'Points of Interest' such as shopping centres, tourist attractions, businesses and such like. On the map you can zoom in and out depending on differing needs for level of detail. At any point it can also tell you what road you are on, your lat/long co-ordinates and altitude! The map data itself is held in a DVD which is read from a drive located just above the ash tray. This disk is updatable but you have to fork out about £100. I'm just going to try and copy a DVD from a 2007 model next year. If anyone gets one of these as a result of reading this review then please lend me your DVD :)

                When using the Sat-Nav, a nice lady tells you well in advance of what new directions you will require and these messages are further enhanced by the system splitting the screen in half with one half showing you the map and the other showing a close-up of the slip road, roundabout etc that you will need to navigate to continue on your journey. The system allows you to vary the volume of the directions and optionally allows the information to come out of either the left or right speakers or both. You can also mute it if you wish.

                The system also allows you to save destinations and then retrieve them later. This is absolutely essential for me. I'm required to visit clients all around the UK and being new to the company I have no idea how to get to them all. So instead I've programmed in their addresses and simply call them up when I next need to visit them. I could go on about the functionality included in just this system but the review is about the car not the Sat-Nav so I'll carry on with the rest of the car now.

                Rain sensitive wipers are standard in the Executive model and this replaces the intermittent wiper setting that most cars have. It works quite well too, much better than the ones on a Peugeot 206 my wife owned a few years ago. When in this mode (which is 90% of the time) the wipers automatically come on when rain hits the windscreen. The more it rains the faster the wipers go. It's as simple as that. The automatic button also has a speed selector to make the wipers go faster in this mode so that in light drizzle for example you can increase or decrease the time interval between wipes. When you use the washer button, the 4 jets spread a huge amount of water onto the windscreen and if you happen to do this at night with the lights on, then a couple of jets pop out of the front bumper to clean the headlights too.
                The headlights offer a powerful wide beam and visibility is excellent at night. The Accord comes with both front and back fog lights but I've not had to use these yet.

                There's not much more to say about the interior. The look and feel of most of it is that of luxury but unfortunately this is all let down by some cheap looking plastic and fake wood effects. That is the only negative thing I can think of regarding the interior apart from that this is the first car I've been in where a regular 3 hour drive in heavy traffic has not been at all tiring.

                -------------
                The Drive
                -------------
                Having only ever driven a petrol car before, the change to a diesel takes a little getting used to. The car is very sluggish at low speeds in the wrong gear. My other cars have always managed to move forwards in 4th gear for example at speeds below say 20mph. The Honda 2.2 Diesel doesn't. So if you are used to being a lazy driver like me and don't change gears at the appropriate times at low speeds then the Honda will certainly let you know about it. However when you are driving in the correct gear for the speed that you are travelling in and you put your foot down then you will surprise other drivers near you because the car shoots forward and leaves most other cars standing. On motorways it can accelerate effortlessly from 60 or 70 mph to 90-100 within seconds. From a standing start, the turbo charged diesel engine will get you to 60mph in just over 9 seconds which is actually only a couple of seconds slower than my old MG. Not at all bad for a car that must weigh twice as much.

                Engine noise is practically non-existent even when idling and when moving you'd be forgiven for not realising that you're in a diesel from engine noise alone which turns into a weird whining noise instead of the usual rattle that you get from other diesels.

                Honda claim that you can get 52mpg which must be in an airless environment on a downhill slope or something because I don't get anywhere near that. I'm lucky if I get 43mpg and most times I seem to get about 41mpg (about 500 miles on 55 litres of diesel). Still that's 100 miles more than I used to get in my MG. I'll get this checked at the next service due in another 3500 miles.

                Most of my driving is done on motorways but I've still had to do plenty of miles on A and B roads. Here the car sticks to the road and you feel very secure going around bends. In the rain the car is assisted by the Honda VSA system (Vehicle Stability Assist) which applies gentle brakes to any wheel that it detects has lost grip. It means that it is very difficult to lose control in this car and my confidence in it growing and growing. ABS comes as standard so does EBA (Emergency Brake Assist) which increases the brake force applied to the wheels when it detects that you are trying to brake hard. Front and side driver and passenger airbags also come as standard and all of this will give you an excellent feeling of security and you know you'll be looked after in the unfortunate event of crashing your car.

                The only negative thing about the drive is probably not the fault of Honda the manufacturer but the Honda Dealer. The car was an ex-demonstrator and had 17 inch wheels put on which would normally cost extra if you were buying this car brand new. They look great but are a nightmare on uneven roads if you are not used to them. They tend to be very sensitive to the quality of the road you're on so any unevenness results in the steering wheel having a life of its own and turning suddenly to the left or right, especially when applying the brakes. I've gotten used to it now but it caught both me and my wife off-guard when we drove the car for the first time. It's quite scary but after a while you can start to enjoy it as it gives real feedback to your hands as to the type of road you're on.

                -------------------
                Nice touches
                -------------------

                Every car has a little something that makes it that much more special but the Honda Accord has a number of little features that show the designers had the driver and practicality in mind when putting the Accord together on paper.

                The boot can be opened from the remote key fob which is great when you've got lots of stuff in your hands.

                The car beeps when you leave your headlights on and open the driver door.

                It beeps again when you don't wear your seatbelt

                There's a keyhole near on the floor near the drivers seat which you can use to lock the boot. That way even if someone smashes your window and opens the car doors, the boot will remain locked and inaccessible.

                The interior lights come on when you open the door or turn the engine off and take the key out.

                The power socket in the centre armrest means that you can charge your mobile phone without cluttering up your dashboard with those unsightly in-car kits that you buy from carphonewarehouse.

                Volume controls at your fingertip on the steering wheel.

                The front seats provide support not just for your back but under your thighs too.

                Heat absorbing tinted windows

                Door mirrors have indicator lights built into them

                Every now and again even 5 months later I still come across a nice touch that brings a smile to my face when I think about someone at Honda actually thinking ahead and putting themselves in my position. For instance just the other week I decided to check the tyre pressures and I got the information out of the manual that I keep in the glove box. Then a few days ago I noticed a white sticker on the body where the front driver's door closes and this had the tyre pressures shown on it so now I know that next time I won't have to dig the manual out. It's a minor thing but it shows that the manufacturer cares about the people that drive their cars.

                The Accord has now become the best car I've ever bought and I hope to drive it for many, many more thousands of miles.

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                • Replay - Ken Grimwood / Fiction Book / 43 Readings / 40 Ratings
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                  29.10.2006 22:51
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                  A moving story about life and second chances

                  Replay by Ken Grimwood is my all time favourite novel.

                  It begins with the death of the main character in the book, a guy by the name of Jeff Winston, a 42-year-old newsreader for a local radio station. On the 18th October 1988 at 1.06pm Jeff suffers a heart attack whilst sitting at his desk on the phone to his wife.

                  This rather odd start to this novel takes a dramatic turn when Jeff wakes up again in bed. Realising that he hasn't died after all he looks around at his surroundings, which look oddly familiar. There's an old song playing on the radio and a poster on the wall that Jeff recognises as being similar to one that he'd bought when he was at college. It's at this point that it dawns on him that he is in fact in the same room that he stayed in at college. His immediate thoughts are that this must be some extremely elaborate joke being played on him, but then his roommate Martin walks in. Martin had committed suicide 7 years previously in 1981 and yet here he was standing in front of him looking the same as he did back in the old college days.

                  Jeff finally realises that he has woken up in the year 1963. He realises that not only has he been impossibly transported back in time but that he remembers everything that is going to happen for the next 25 years too. All sorts of possibilities occur to him. Can he change history? Can he use his knowledge to his own advantage? Can he make himself rich and powerful? It seems that the possibilities are endless. If indeed he is about to relive the last 25 years of his life then this is a perfect opportunity to do things right the second time around. The first thing he does is to make a number of bets on a number of major sporting events. Knowing in advance the outcome of events like the World Series means that he is quickly able to amass a small fortune. He uses this money as starting capital to invest in stocks and shares and within a few years is one of the wealthiest people in the country. He continues in this new life and in 1988 on the 18th October at precisely 1.06pm he dies again only to reawaken in 1963 again.

                  In each replay Jeff attempts to live his life in a different way and aspires to achieve more than he had in his first and previous lives, never knowing for certain whether the current replay of his life will be his last. Even though he knows in general terms what the future has in store for the world at large, Jeff finds that fundamentally the events in his life or lives are as uncertain as they were in his first. In trying to understand the inexplicable process by which he comes to relive his life again and again he comes instead to a better understanding himself. He finds that his predicament is essentially no different to any other person on the planet in that like everyone else he is looking for the reasons for his existence and trying to find meaning in his life.

                  Replay is the ultimate fantasy about what we could do if we were given a second (or third) chance to live our life. It's a novel that contains many messages. It tells us that we all have one chance at life and that we should spend it looking forwards to the future instead of dwelling on the mistakes of the past. It tells us that whilst we can control certain aspects of our destiny, not every event can be foreseen and hence our lives will always contain an element of risk, of surprise and of uncertainty. It tells us to live in the moment and to enjoy each day because each day is a new opportunity to change the path that we are on. Finally it reminds us that we all have to make choices and that the choices made are what define who and what we are. Although sold/marketed as a Sci-Fi novel, readers who do not like the Sci-Fi genre shouldn't be put off by this as the 'science fiction' part of it probably only accounts for about 5% of the novel. Instead this book is about a spiritual understanding of the human condition with philosophical undertones and a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

                  Replay was Ken Grimwood's most successful novel. Written in 1988 it quickly gained cult status and was the inspiration for the Harold Ramis comedy 'Groundhog Day' staring Bill Murray and the 2004 thriller 'The Butterfly Effect'. It was voted 'Best Science Fiction Novel' in 1988 and in 2000 Replay was voted 43rd on the list of the Internet top 100 SF books and as more and more people have become aware of the novel it has slowly moved up the list. In 2003 it had reached 19th place. The premise of the book was so original and the story at times so heart-rendering that the paperback copy of the novel is the most prized possession on my bookshelf.

                  Rumours of a film version of this have been going around for years with Brad Pitt in the lead role, but so far nothing definite has ever been announced.

                  Sadly, Ken Grimwood died in 2003 aged 59 and was working on a sequel to Replay at the time.

                  The book is unlikely to be in your local bookshop but can be ordered online from Amazon at a cost of around $10

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                  • Dell Latitude D820 Burner / Laptop / 44 Readings / 41 Ratings
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                    14.09.2006 08:57
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                    A fantastic machine for the business user. Excellent backup from Dell support if you need it

                    I left my old company a couple of months ago and took up my new position with my current company who very kindly issued me with a brand new Dell Latitude D820 laptop. I've had an opportunity to put it through its paces for the last 8 weeks and this review will cover my experiences to date.

                    In terms of specification this laptop is much more powerful than my old one.
                    For starters it has a dual core processor. For those of you not familiar with dual core, this means that the main processor actually consists of 2 processors within a single chip. Each processor or 'core' can be used to perform a different task. E.g. one may be running Microsoft Office applications whilst the other could be running an application that plays your music files.
                    This is slightly different to having a computer that has 2 discrete CPUs and there are logistical advantages to having 2 processors contained within the one chip. For instance the power requirements are reduced and it's also cheaper to produce a single chip containing 2 processors than having a 2 chips each with a single processor. However unlike a machine with 2 CPU's, a dual core system is at most likely to provide about a 70% performance improvement over a single core so its still possible to have a single core system operating at a higher clock speed that is quicker than a dual core system running at a lower clock speed.

                    It has a whopping 2Gb of memory (default is 1Gb) along with an NVIDIA Quadro NVS 110 graphics card, which has a 512Mb cache (my old laptop had 128mb which was taken from the 512mb RAM)

                    Dell offer highly configurable machines and it's unlikely that any two D820's will have the same specification as each other. For the record my machine has the following specification:
                    - Core Duo T2500 CPU @ 2.0 GHz, a front side (memory) bus operating at 997MHz and a 2MB L2 cache. (A level 2 cache is one that is separate to any built within the processor chip)
                    - 15.4" WSXGA+ (1680x1050) display
                    - 2048Mb DDR2-667 RAM (2x1024MB DIMMS)
                    - NVIDIA Quadro NVS 110 graphics solution with 512MB TurboCache
                    - 100GB hard disk @ 7200RPM
                    - 8x CD-RW/DVD RW dual layer drive
                    - Dell Wireless 1490 (802.11a/b/g 54Mbps)
                    - Wired: 56K V92 internal modem 10/100/1000
                    - Gigabit Ethernet network interface adaptor
                    - Bluetooth radio
                    - Integrated Smart Card reader
                    - Fingerprint scanner
                    - 4* USB 2.0 ports
                    - 2 * PC Card slots
                    - Stereo Speakers
                    - 9-Cell/56 WHr Primary Battery (standard is a 6 cell battery)
                    - Microsoft Windows XP Professional
                    - Separate 12V power adaptor (can be charged using your car battery)
                    - 3-year Warranty
                    - Weight: approx 3kg (depends on configuration)
                    - Dimensions 1.39 in (H) x 14.21 in (W) 10.34 in (D)

                    The laptop was deliberately over specified due to the nature of my job though it is not the top of the range. My job requires me to hold remote workshops and demonstrate CPU and memory intensive software to potential clients around the globe. I'm also required to produce solutions for problems that companies have and work as a kind of technical presales person demonstrating our software. All this requires a fast machine capable of running our software along with video conferencing software to allow me to demo solutions over the Internet. My colleague has the predecessor to this machine; a single core laptop called the D810. My laptop is not only more powerful but lighter and slightly thinner at the same time.

                    It has the standard touch pad which I very rarely use as I've now got my Logitech wireless mouse and numeric keypad and there's also a pointing 'nub' in the centre of the keyboard, which works optionally either as a pointing device, or if you wish you can set it to just scroll up/down and left/right. It can also be completely disabled too if you wish as can the touch pad.

                    Out and about the machine works well. It has a handy feature whereby a small light comes on when the machine is within range of any unsecured WiFi hotspot. This uses the built-in Dell WiFi catcher and saves you from having to keep booting up the machine to see if there are any wireless networks nearby. When the light does come on, you simply power up the machine and by the time you've logged onto Windows, it has already established a connection to the unsecured wireless network. (You'd be surprised at how many there are out there :) ).

                    Integrated Bluetooth allows it to sync with my Nokia 6320i mobile and you can if you wish, operate Bluetooth separately to WiFi. I've had no problems with range or speed.

                    Another nice touch is that in addition to the standard mains power lead, they also supply you with a 'travelling' power supply. This allows you to leave one at home permanently plugged into your wall and allows you to travel about with the second one. It's a minor thing but it's very handy to be able to just unplug your laptop from your home power supply, stick it into your laptop case without having to also unplug the mains adaptor from the wall. This second power supply also allows you to use the laptop abroad but more importantly for me it allows you to plug it into the 12V power adaptors that you find in cars these days and use your car battery to charge it up. This is very handy when you're sitting in your car in a car park, connected to an unsecured wireless network. You can practically work out of your car all day. How convenient is that? Who needs an office! Mind you how SAD is that too! :)

                    Having said that, its not often that you'd need to charge up the battery. Depending on what you are doing (e.g. running Microsoft Office applications) the 9-cell battery can last up to a staggering 5 hours. This goes down when WiFi is being used or when watching a DVD but still even then you get a good 3 to 4 hours of use before needing a recharge. The 6-cell battery will obviously run down quicker but as I don't have one it's difficult to say how quickly. Logic suggests it will last about 2/3 of the time the 9-cell battery will.

                    A fingerprint reader along with the supplied software will allow you to configure the machine to allow access by swiping one of your fingers across the sensor. This avoids having to enter passwords when logging on.

                    The 15-inch wide screen TFT screen is bright and clear and the laptop comes with an ambient light sensor, which supposedly adjusts the brightness/contrast of your screen to suit the light levels in the room that you are working. Personally I find that in this mode the screen is just not bright enough despite me playing around with the setting so I've disabled this option. The screen resolution goes up to a ridiculous 1,900x1,200 which is great for watching DVD's but just not practical for everyday use as the text size is microscopic. I have it set to a much more reasonable resolution.

                    Watching DVD's on this would be great but unfortunately Dell supplies some pretty poor stereo speakers with practically no bass coming out of them at all. It's okay for situations like when you are in a hotel room and there's nothing worth watching on the TV but you wouldn't want to use this to watch DVD's on a frequent basis.

                    So far I've had two problems with it.

                    Firstly the supplied Intel Pro Wireless software doesn't seem to work well with my wireless router at home. It keeps crashing the router. However when I use Windows to manage the WiFi connection everything works fine. So not a big deal as I have a workaround.

                    Secondly I noticed an intermittent fault with the right arrow key. At times instead of moving the cursor to the right it would randomly enter the letters 'b', 'n' and '/'. I logged onto the Dell website, registered with them using a code on a sticker underneath the case and in 24 hours was talking to a lovely lady from Bangalore in India. She talked me though checking the drivers on the machine and of course it being a new laptop she confirmed that my drivers were up to date. She then talked me through removing the keyboard and checking that the ribbon cable connecting the keyboard to the motherboard was seated firmly. I was a bit reluctant to do this first as I thought it might invalidate the warranty but she assured me that if I damaged the machine in anyway Dell would provide me with a replacement free of charge. It turned out that her second hunch was correct and I've not had any problems with the laptop since. So top marks for Dell support especially with the bad press Indian call centres receive all the time. The nice lady has also called me back to check that everything is still okay with the machine because she was aware that it was an intermittent fault. In fact Dell Support officially closed my call only this morning after a final check to ensure all was well.

                    In terms of warranty, it comes with a 3-year warranty and Dell throw in on-site repairs within 24 hours (assuming you can't fix the problem yourself under the guidance of the Dell support team). Dell also provide access to their support website where you can download the latest drivers or diagnostic software or chat in forums with other users and you can on a good day even engage in an online chat with Dells support team.

                    Price:
                    This is entirely dependant on the configuration of the machine. The entry level is around the £800 mark but you can pay up to around £1400 if you go for the top of the line model with all the extras. On top of that business users get their discounts so its very difficult to put an exact price on it.

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                    • Immigration and asylum / Discussion / 42 Readings / 34 Ratings
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                      27.08.2006 02:06
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                      Employers should be held accountable for the current fiasco

                      If you write about a controversial issue like this on dooyoo people are likely to read into your thoughts something that’s not really there unless you take the time to explain and express yourself clearly. It has nothing to do with appeasing their own feelings of guilt and frustration over the topic. It also has nothing to do with having reassure themselves that they are not the bad guys. Dooyoo is an opinion site and it behoves all of us to express our opinions in the most clearest and unabiguous way possible. Immigration and asylum has been the the hot topic for many decades. My dad was the subject when he came to this country in the 60's and this topic is as fresh now as it was in his day.

                      Its a topic that will get you labelled a bigot if you are careless with how you express yourself. Please respect dooyoo for giving us the right to have our say. If you are black or Asian and reading this then this is as much about you as it is about the other ethnic groups mentioned during the discussion.

                      After reading a recent review on this subject I was going to enter the following comments but I thought I may as well present it as a 'review' that gives my own opinion on certain points made.

                      >> So, if Saudi terrorist (apparently funded by the bad guys in Afghanistan)

                      Odd that you fail to mention that those ‘bad’ Afghanistans at the center of the hijacking were themselves fleeing from the Taliban regime of the time. Odd that you also fail to mention that the Taliban regime was artificial in that it was placed in power by the US during the Afghan/Soviet war of the 80's.

                      >> It seems immigration is big business to a lot of people right now and that’s why it’s out of control.

                      Tell that to the companies and people that employ the immigrants.
                      Its only big business because we put the business their way.
                      If an immigrant is willing to clean out the crap in my local pub toilet for less than a native Brit then more power to him. At the end of the day I want to be able to go for a drink and use the facilities without having to walk through a load of …..
                      If you need some plumbing done in your home who you gonna call? A native Brit who will charge a bundle and not do the job right or a Polish immigrant who will charge less and still not do the job right?

                      >> How many times have we seen coloured and foreign faces on the tabloids involved in yet another controversial murder, fraud or vice case...?

                      Err I don't know. I haven't been keeping a count.
                      Most of the real fraud is committed by the rich people in this country. Look at all those off-shore tax havens used by rich people who avoid paying tax by using increasingly imaginative ways to get around the tax rules. At the end of the day its all revenue being denied to the government. And of course only coloured and foreign faces commit murders in this country.

                      >> also feel we should take more immigrants from the places where we have caused war, say like Iraq, Beirut and Afghanistan,
                      Absolutely agree with you.

                      >> I think its now time to stem the flow as Brits are now losing their jobs because of this rampant east to west river of workers.
                      If a brit loses his job to a migrant then that migrant must be paying taxes assuming that everything is above board. That’s good. I need people (brits or otherwise) paying taxes so that I can have a decent pension when I retire.
                      If a brit loses his job to a migrant and that migrant is NOT paying taxes then the employer is at fault not the migrant.
                      Take that up with employers and stop blaming people who just want a job.

                      >> so much so that the Hindus no longer want to be considered as Asians
                      I’m a Hindu. I consider myself a British Asian. Both parts are equally important to me as legitimate parts of my identity and heritage.

                      >> There’s not enough properties to go around these days (deliberate or not) and so prices are always rising, … The reason is buy-to-let,

                      Buy to let is a recent phenomenon. House prices have been rising forever. My dad bought his house in the 70's for 5k. Its worth 40 times that now.

                      >> Immigrants on the whole suck revenue from Britain. They are the gross national negative.
                      Again it’s the employers to blame here. They can only suck out what is offered. And what is offered are jobs that don’t go on the books and pay low wages. Again why blame the immigrant? The people that employ illegal workers are the cause of the problem. The immigrants just fill the ‘supply’ part of the supply and demand equation.

                      >> Multiculturism
                      It’s not in my spell checker either. It was a simple matter to right click on the word and select ‘Add to dictionary’.

                      My computer has stopped complaining about the word. I suggest you do the same. Just add it to your vocabulary

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                      • More +
                        11.08.2006 23:29
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                        great wireless mouse and keypad for the business user

                        As an IT Business Consultant I get to do a fair amount of travel to different client sites. To allow me to function effectively my company has issued me with a top of the line laptop. Not the one I've reviewed in the past but a new one. I'll review that in a week or two once I've had a good chance to put it through its paces.

                        Unfortunately no matter how great the laptop, there are a couple of things I hate about laptops in general:- having to use the touch pad and having to enter numbers into a software application such as a spreadsheet.

                        All the laptops I've ever used have this touch pad below the set of keys on the keyboard where you trace your finger on the pad and this moves the mouse pointer about on the screen. To select an item on the screen you have to press a button usually located below the touch pad and this I find very tedious. You either have to lift your finger from the pad to press the button or you have to use your other hand. I find this tedious and it means that I can't be eating a sandwich or drinking a coffee whilst using the touch pad.

                        I also hate the fact that laptops don't have a separate set of key for the numeric keypad. Instead laptops generally use the existing character keys to give you a crude representation of a numeric keypad. Usually you have to press a special key near the shift/ctrl button and then press one of the existing keys to get a number up on the key. Alternatively you can use the row of numbered keys below the Function Keys. Again I find this tedious especially when I know that I can enter numbers rapidly on a standard keyboard.

                        The Logitech V250 addresses both these issues.
                        I bought one recently from Office World for £36. It was £6 more than a regular Logitech/Microsoft wireless mouse and I thought the extra £6 was worth it for this gadget because you get a numeric keypad as well.

                        Both the mouse and key pad work wirelessly. They don't use Bluetooth but they do use the same wireless frequency (2.4Ghz) as WiFi.

                        # Box Contents #

                        The box consists of the following:
                        A battery operated wireless mouse
                        A battery operated wireless numeric keypad
                        A USB Wireless mini-receiver
                        A cloth case for the mouse
                        A plastic case for the keypad
                        A CD with software drivers
                        4 Duracell AA batteries (2 for the mouse and 2 for the keypad)

                        # The Mouse #

                        The mouse is a small one that fits easily into your hand. For some it may be too small but I find that its adequate for the uses that I would put it to. I would not recommend it for gaming but it is ideal for 'proper' use. Its an optical mouse so it works on most surfaces except highly reflective ones and glass and it means that there’s no cleaning required because there are no moving parts like a ball where dust/fluff can get behind. It's not as responsive as the Logitech Laser mouse but it does perform just like the other optical mouses* that Logitech produce. It has the standard 2 buttons and a scroll wheel. The scroll wheel also functions as a 'middle button'.
                        At the bottom of the mouse is an off-button and this is useful for when the mouse is tucked away not being used during car/train/plan journeys. Logitech also supply a little cloth bag type thing for storing the mouse in but I can't see any point in that personally.

                        It communicates with your computer via a USB mini-receiver, which is plugged into a spare USB port on your laptop. I’m not sure what the range is but it's plenty. I can’t see the point in having a range so great that you can’t actually see the screen that you are supposed to be controlling with the mouse!

                        There’s not much more to say about it really. As a mouse it performs just as it should and the Logitech name means that quality is assured and it comes with a 5-year warranty.
                        For me personally it means that I can now get around software applications and browse the Internet as fast as I can on my desktop.

                        *Before anyone tries to correct me, I'm reliably informed that the plural of a computer mouse is 'mouses' and that the word 'mice' only applies to the furry kind.

                        # The Numeric Keypad #

                        The next bit of this package is the numeric keypad. This works in the same principle as the mouse in that the device sends a signal to the USB wireless receiver plugged into your USB port. Here the numbers pressed on the keypad appear in whatever application your PC happens to be running. Like the mouse, the keypad has an off switch for conserving your battery power. It has a button for putting the keypad into keypad mode but a second button turns it into a basic calculator. This function is really handy as it allows you to perform calculations without having to start up the Microsoft Calculator. The results of your calculations can also be sent to the application that is current on your screen. Some additional buttons allow you to adjust the sound levels on your PC speakers and also allow you to start Windows Media Player and then control the basic functions like start, stop, pause, fast forward, rewind. Again this is very handy and in this mode the keypad behaves like a remote control so you can control for example the DVD in your PC’s DVD drive from the comfort of your chair.

                        The keypad can be stored in a plastic holder by inserting it into the holder so that the keys are facing away from you. This prevents them from being accidentally pressed whilst in your laptop bag or briefcase.

                        # Installation #

                        Installation was a doddle. I have Windows XP and when I plugged in the USB mini receiver, Windows immediately recognised that I’d plugged in a wireless mouse and receiver and I was off using the two gadgets within seconds. However I decided to install the supplied software anyway just in case it offered additional functionality. Installing the software was again a doddle. You essentially just click on the ‘Next’ button at each prompt. Once installed, the Logitech software didn’t really allow me to do anything that I couldn’t already do with the mouse and keypad. I think its only there for those machines that have earlier versions of Windows installed.

                        I think the problems with the lack of a mouse and keypad are ones that many business users of laptops have. Especially when they come from a background of having used desktop PC’s. This product allows you to get your productivity back up to the level it would be if you used a standard keyboard and mouse such as you find on any desktop PC and I would recommend it to any business user.

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                        • Top Five Jokes / Discussion / 57 Readings / 50 Ratings
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                          18.07.2006 18:01
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                          A seal walks into a club...

                          okay seen a few of these 'top xxx' topics.
                          Heres my contribution to relieve the monotony of reading serious reviews.

                          A sandwich walks into a bar.
                          The barman says "Sorry we don't serve food in here"

                          ----------------------------------------------------------------
                          A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption.
                          One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Amal."
                          The other goes to a family in Spain, they name him "Juan".

                          Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his mum.
                          Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wished she also had a picture of Amal.

                          Her husband responds, "But they are twins. If you've seen Juan, you've seen Amal."

                          ----------------------------------------------------------------
                          A jump-lead walks into a bar.
                          The barman says "I'll serve you, but don't start anything"

                          ----------------------------------------------------------------

                          A motorway walked into a pub, ordered a drink and sat down in a corner.
                          A few minutes later a strip of tarmac walked in, and the motorway dived behind the bar and hid, shaking in fear.

                          The barman asked, "What's up with you?"

                          "Th..th.. That strip of tarmac!"

                          "Why is a big thing like you so afraid of that little strip? Look at you, you've got six lanes and two hard shoulders."

                          "Y..y..You don't know him like I do," said the motorway. "He's a a cycle path"

                          --------------------------------------------------------------
                          A rabbi, a priest and a vicar walk into a bar.
                          The barman says 'Is this some kind of joke ?'

                          You've been a wonderful audience.
                          Thank you and goodnight.

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                          • MG TF / Car / 49 Readings / 42 Ratings
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                            19.06.2006 16:27
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                            Buy British? Never again. No way.

                            The problem with British manufacturing is that we haven't got a clue how to manufacture quality products. No one it seems takes pride in their work anymore.
                            Our guys go to work in the morning and the impression given is that after about 5 tea breaks the average bloke will then start thinking about what to do. In that time a worker in Germany would probably have already done the equivalent of one hour of a British workman's day.

                            Four years ago I decided to get rid of my Renault Laguna and buy a new car. Up to that point it was probably one of the best cars I'd owned. Before that I'd had a Ford Granada, a Vauxhall Cavalier, a Renault Megane and a BMW 318. The BMW came a close second to the Laguna.

                            When I sold my Laguna, for some reason I became all patriotic. I went around all sorts of garages. I looked at Toyotas, Hondas, Fords … You name it, I test drove it but in the end I decided to buy an MG TF after a 40 minute road test. This was going to be my first sports car and I wanted it to be British and I also decided to get one that was green - British Racing Green.

                            I bought it from a dealership called Quicks in Coventry and right from the negotiating stage I found I couldn't get what I wanted. They wouldn't increase the part exchange allowance. They wouldn't decrease the price of the car. They wouldn't upgrade the cassette player to a CD player without charging extra, they wouldn't even throw in a set of mats. I was actually rather impressed by this attitude; this 'we are above haggling' attitude. At the time I felt like I was buying a car from a prestige garage who only wanted to sell the car to the 'right person'. The right person being one with loads of cash, a little up market and wouldn't haggle.

                            We closed the deal eventually. Went 'halves' on the cost of the CD player and I drove my MG home £15k poorer but with the top down I felt special.

                            That day and in fact that week I felt extremely pleased with myself. I had a convertible. I had sunglasses. It was summer. I had the top down. I was systematically driving my car from one acquaintance to another basking in the literal and figurative sun that was shining on me.

                            And that was really it for me. That one, single week was probably the nicest week I had driving around in my new MGTF.

                            In the second week things started to go wrong and I've never looked forwards since.

                            The first thing was a noise in the car. Now any convertible is noisy. An MG convertible doubly so because the engine is located about 30 inches behind your head. But this noise was a weird rattle kind of noise. It seemed to come from different areas of the car depending on whether I was going over a bump or turning a corner or sitting idle at a set of traffic lights. I just could not figure it out. I took it back to Quicks who had a half hearted attempt to locate the source but they couldn't figure it out. Mind you the fact that they never took the car out for a spin and didn't take it over a bump or turn corners or sit at traffic lights probably didn't help. I took the car back home and lived with the noise. In fact I still have the noise after 4 years.

                            The next problem occurred about 8 weeks after I bought the car. A light came on in the dashboard and seemed to indicate that something was wrong with the engine. I took it back and a day later they fixed a loose connection to the light.

                            I also noticed that there was a gap in between the window and the rubber seal. This seemed to me to be producing excessive wind noise and so I took it back to Quicks to have the window adjusted. They fixed it within a few hours and I drove my car home feeling a bit better because the car was noticeably quieter.

                            About a month after this I found the light telling me that my hand break was on refused to go out. I took it back to Quicks and a day later they adjusted the hand break to resolve this. In subsequent services, the guys at Quicks had to adjust the hand break again and again to get the light to go out. In fact the light is still on right now again 4 years later. The guys as Nationwide Autocentre mentioned in the service report that the handbrake needed adjusting but failed to adjust it.

                            Anyway, another month later I returned the car again. This time it was because the carpet underneath my feet had worn away where my heals would go whilst accelerating or breaking or pressing the clutch.
                            This couldn't be replaced immediately but a month later they'd ordered a new carpet and fitted it into my car.

                            By this time we were in the middle of autumn. I bought my car in April and 6 months later in October I happened to take the car out in pouring rain.

                            Big mistake

                            Water leaked in through both windows and it felt like I was driving the car with my windows down. Back to the garage and again a day later I was given the car back with the windows 'fixed'. As I drove it home I found that the wind noise had returned so the next day I took it back and was told that I had a choice. I could either live with the wind noise OR accept that the windows would leak water!! I chose to live with the wind noise. Apparently Rover MG had not figured out how to design a convertible that could keep both wind and water out.

                            By November the leaves had started falling off the trees and I noticed an odd noise when I put the heating fan on. It sounded like something had come loose in the heater. Once again another trip back to Quicks and this time I was told that leaves had gotten sucked into the air vents from outside and that it was these that were making the noise. They removed the leaves and then TOLD ME OFF for parking my car under trees. Apparently you're not supposed to do that with an MG TF. Rover MG had not figured out how to design heating systems that only let in air and not leaves.

                            And that was the last problem I had in my first year of owning a British built MGTF.
                            All in all the car was taken back for various problems on average once or twice a month with some problems still not having been resolved even now 4 years later.

                            The second year saw me taking the car back because the head gasket had blown, that hand break light again (this happens twice a year), water leaking into my boot (never fixed), leaking door mirrors (never fixed), CD player skipping tracks (never fixed) and a few other items such as the MG Badge falling apart (never replaced).

                            There are also a number of silly design flaws in the car.
                            I've already mentioned the water leaking windows but theres also the windscreen wipers which work separately from the windscreen washer. i.e. you have to squirt the water onto the windscreen and then turn on the windscreen wipers. How much extra would it have cost Rover to connect the two functions together like they are done in EVERY OTHER CAR OUT THERE?

                            Because the engine is at the back theres no heat to defrost the water in the windscreen washer bottle which is located at the front of the car. Who's great idea was that ?

                            Theres also the chrome gear knob. Looks great but completely impractical in the winter when your hand literally sticks to your knob (ooo errr) because of the freezing cold.

                            The cigarette lighter is located near the gear knob. These days most people use that to charge their mobile phone but I can't because theres no place for me to attach the in-car kits that you can buy. My phone has to sit on the floor whilst its being charged.

                            Bonnet release cable is in the boot. So you have to open your boot in order to open your bonnet. Its so annoying. How hard would it have been to put the bonnet release in the same place it is in every other make of car ?

                            The heating system in the car seems to adjust the temperature depending on how fast you are driving. So you can set the temperature using the control but then find that the temperature drops whist you are on the motorway. You then adjust the temperature upwards and find its too hot when you come off the motorway. My long distance trips are spent constantly adjusting the heating.

                            The third year was spent with me trying to enjoy the car which worked when I ignored the problems I had with it and just concentrated on the driving experience. If you ignore the wind noise, and the hand brake light and the rattle and the fact that when you use the windscreen washer the wipers do not automatically come on. If you ignore those things the car is actually good fun to drive around in. Right from the moment you switch on the engine and hear the unique MG engine growl you know you're going to have fun. Going around corners on country roads the car handles exceptionally well. Braking in the wet is a little scary at times as the back of the car seems to want to go in a different direction to the front but if you anticipate the cars behaviour and adjust your driving appropriately you can have genuine fun in it. It's rather sensitive to the brand of tyre you put on it. It comes with Continentals but Kwik Fit once said it would be fine with a pair of Michelins at the back. This is completely the wrong advice because the car slides about all over the place for the first few thousand miles. Driving it around with the top down is very windy but installing a wind break just behind the seats resolves that problem and in the summer its fantastic driving around at speed up to about 60-70 mph. Above that and the noise gets too loud for my liking. Fuel economy is very good too. I get about 30 mpg (about 420 miles on a full tank) but this drops dramatically with the top down.

                            All in all the driving experience is great but at the back of your mind you can't help thinking that all things being equal, a foreign convertible would be that much better purely from a build quality point of view.

                            Its pointless talking about the service in Quicks. They have gone bust now so it's not as if anyone will visit them now but for the record up to the point where you left your car with them, the service was exceptional. The quality of service however fell dramatically when they took the car to the back of the garage to 'work on it' because the problems that I reported simply would not be fixed properly or indeed fixed at all.

                            During my fourth year of owning the car I decided to sell it. I was in a Toyota garage about to buy a Celica and decided to leave it for just one more month. In hindsight it was the worst decision I made with regards to my MG. It happened that it was in that month (literally a week after) that MG went bust. The price offered to me by the sales chap in the Toyota dealership went down from 10k to 7k and so now I'm stuck with the car, unable to afford to sell it.

                            Why did MG Rover go bust? There are loads of rumours about the directors siphoning off all the cash etc but fundamentally in my opinion it's because people weren't buying their cars. They weren't buying them because we haven't got a clue how to manufacture quality goods. A friend of mine used to work for them and she told me that the worst thing you could do was to buy a Rover or MG Rover that had been built over the Christmas period. Why? I asked. Because the workers are all p?ssed over Christmas and quality control is too relaxed to pick up the problems. I went back to see when my car had been built. I bought it in April; it was registered in February and built in December....

                            Buy British? Never again. No way.

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                            • Nationwide Autocenters / Transport / 33 Readings / 33 Ratings
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                              09.06.2006 11:17
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                              No longer run by people who care about the motorist

                              As a car owner it's inevitable that at some point you will need to service your car. As a new car owner you are restricted to the servicing being done by your dealer to retain cover under your warranty but once the 3 years are up you are free to go anywhere you like.

                              But where do you go?
                              Who do you trust to do the job well and without ripping you off?

                              Well many years ago I couldn't afford brand new cars and got my car serviced and MOT'd by a mate but when he moved I was fortunate enough to come across a chain of garages called Lucas Autocentre. In those days Lucas was a manufacturer of automotive parts and when they went into the car servicing business it was a godsend for us poor blokes at the mercy of every dodgy garage out there. I went through the late 80's and early nineties getting my car serviced and MOT'd by these guys because they were competent, competitive and they guaranteed your money back if you went away and later found that they forgot to do something on the car. They sold the business eventually to a company called LEX and through most of the 90's I continued using them but I noticed a slight difference in the level of service. As LEX I noticed that they weren't just satisfied in servicing or MOTing your car. They also went on to 'advise' you of additional things that needed doing on your car. For instance after 40k miles they'd tell me I needed to change some obscure widget otherwise risk having my car fall apart around me. At 60k miles they'd tell me I need new disks because the old ones had been worn down by the brakes. This despite the fact that the disks would have been within the MOT guidelines. In short they would exaggerate problems with a car in order to scare their customers into getting additional work done. Luckily I knew a little about cars and knew when they were trying it on just to make an extra sale and just ignored their advice or sometimes double checked their advice with friends and relatives, some of whom worked in the motor trade. This worked well for me. Apart from the scare tactics they were competent mechanics and knew their way around cars and they were still competitive.

                              A few years ago LEX sold the business to Nationwide. Now called Nationwide Autocentres they have similar branding to LEX and Lucas and offer the same services often at the same premises.

                              I happened to buy a brand new MGTF at about the time Nationwide Autocentres came into being and so I've been getting my car serviced by MG Rover and haven't needed to visit Nationwide for about 4 years. But MG have gone bust now so ….

                              Where do you go?
                              Who do you trust to do the job well and without ripping you off?

                              Well the answer was obvious. Good 'ol Nationwide/Lex/Lucas Autocentres. In my case the one in Coventry on Foleshill Road.

                              I took my car there last Saturday. My car needed servicing and an MOT and I can't renew my road tax until I get this done. So Saturday morning I left my car in their capable hands but just before I left the garage I got called back and the guy behind the counter said

                              'I see the car has done 45k miles. It will need new spark plugs then'.
                              'Hmm I said. Isn't that part of the service?'
                              'Oh no', he said. 'These are special platinum plugs. Don't need changing for many miles but its best that you have 'em changed now before your car starts misfiring'

                              Well it seems that nothings changed there then. Back to their old tricks and scare tactics. I agreed to have these changed anyway as it only cost an additional £30 and so I left the garage to return 6 hours later to pick it up. On my return I was told that it had failed the MOT.
                              Now this was odd. My car sailed through its first MOT last year so I couldn't imagine anything seriously wrong with it so I thought that perhaps it failed on simple easily fixed problems.

                              The list of problems that caused the MOT to fail were:
                              Front Brake Discs need replacing (£124 + vat)
                              Front Brake Pads need replacing (£70 + vat)
                              Front headlight incorrectly adjusted. (can't remember + vat)
                              Rear drivers side indicator WRONG COLOUR!! (£5 + vat)

                              The problems that were listed as advisory were:
                              Rear passenger side indicator light NOT WORKING (£5 + vat)

                              This last point struck me as odd. So a light that just doesn't work is not an MOT failure but a light that does work but where the orange colour has faded IS an MOT failure? Surely that's the wrong way round. A white flashing light is surely better than no flashing light at all?

                              Also the headlights would presumably have been checked during the service. Well doesn't the service include adjusting the headlight so that it conforms to the requirements?

                              When I put this to the chap behind the counter his answer was that the service consists of a number of items which are only checked but not fixed and that headlights were one such item.

                              It seems to me that checking the aim of a headlight beam requires using specialist apparatus. So why not adjust it if it's out of alignment at the same time. Surely it would take an additional couple of minutes to adjust it so why not just do it as part of the service. They checked my washer fluid and the bottle was near empty and they filled it up. Why not do the same for the other items? Bizarre.

                              This didn't sound like the LEX/Lucas Autocentre that I knew. The location of the garage was the same the colours of the building were the same but the people in there seemed to be driven by doing the minimum possible and then charging for everything that they could get away with.

                              I ended up with a quote for over £200 to have the problems rectified so I told them not to bother and took my car away. I purchased a couple of bulbs from Halfords next door and stuck them in. There by immediately saving myself £5. They were quoting £10 just to change two indicator bulbs which took me about 30 seconds to replace.

                              I can purchase the front brake pads from Halfords for £20 and stick them in myself and potentially save myself another £50. They are the same as the Rover Metro but Nationwide Autocentre seem to think they can charge extra just because it's an MG TF.

                              As for the front disks well let me tell you what happened today.

                              This morning I took the car into my local garage for a second opinion. Another MOT.
                              It failed which wasn't a surprise but to my astonishment it failed on completely different items.

                              I asked the bloke behind the counter about the front disks and his response was that there was nothing wrong with them. Well what about the front disc pads. Well it seems there was nothing wrong with them either. What about the headlights? Nope they're fine.

                              So what the blinking hell did it fail on?

                              Well the front coil spring was BROKEN. It was broken to the extent that at anytime the spring could collapse onto my wheel and if it happened at speed it could cause a rather nasty accident.

                              My car is now booked to have the coil spring replaced but its amazing to me how the standard of service at the Autocentre has declined in the 4 years that its been since I last used them. It is now in my opinion part of that unique network of garages dotted around the UK that are complete cowboys.

                              For them to miss a potentially lethal defect on my car and instead to make up other defects simply to make money is nothing short of criminal.

                              I have a letter ready to send to the trading standards people and I'll update this review when I get a response from them.

                              In the meantime avoid Nationwide Autocentres. They are no longer run by people who care about the motorist. They are run by people who are motivated purely by profits.

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                              • More +
                                02.06.2006 12:08
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                                a great tool for people who love chopping bits of wood up

                                Oh I love this gadget........

                                Those Black and Decker boffins have done it again.
                                First they came up with the Scorpion which despite its design flaws was a pretty cool, time saving gadget and now they've come up with this animal - The Alligator and this is no toy. This literally has teeth.

                                I have a garden that is above average in size. It has a few trees in it with branches beginning to reach the ground and it also has some weird not-quite-tree things that look more like branches growing out of the ground with leaves on them. For the last 7 years I've been watching these guys grow and grow and slowly take over my garden. Each year I've made a half-hearted attempt to cut them back but without the right tools it's practically impossible. You need more than a pair of pruning scissors and it was with great delight I saw the Alligator in a recent visit to my local B&Q. As soon as I saw it I knew I'd end up buying it and that's precisely what I did last weekend.

                                It would normally cost £99.99 but B&Q usually have a deal going on during bank holidays so I waited until last weekend and as expected I managed to buy it with a 20% discount.

                                So what exactly is the Alligator?

                                Well think of a pair of garden shears but with a 600W electric motor attached to it. Think also of a chainsaw. Combine the two and you have the Alligator.

                                It is basically a chainsaw with a couple of guards around the chain to make it safer to use than a standard chainsaw. With two handles to hold, the action you would use is not dissimilar to a pair of shears but obviously with a chainsaw going round it makes short work of most branches.

                                Top operate it you hold the machine with both hands with one hand on each handle. Each handle also has a power button and the Alligator will only come alive when both are pressed. During operation if any one of the power buttons are let go then the machine will come to an instant stop. With this safety feature and the guards around the chainsaw it will be very difficult to lose a limb using this machine. It also means that anyone can operate it. I've tried hiring a proper chainsaw from a tool hire shop and the guys behind the counter aren't satisfied with a drivers licence as proof of age. They also want a written statement from a psychiatrist confirming that you are of sound mind before they let you out of the shop. Even then they look at you oddly. The Alligator however gives you chainsaw power and functionality in the comfort of your garden and you don't need any training to use it.

                                There's no indication on any specs as to the weight of this machine but it seems to me to be about the same weight as my Flymo Strimmer: - about 3kg. Using it is a doodle. You simply pick a likely branch, make sure you're holding the Alligator the right way (i.e. the chain above the branch) and slowly pull the handles together like you would with a pair of shears. The cutting action of the chainsaw combined with the gentle pressure applied by the jaws mean that within ½ a second the branch has been cut neatly through. The alligator can cut through branches up to 10 cm (4 inches) thick. Using it also very good fun. It's very easy to start cutting branches that don't need cutting :)

                                Once on the ground, you can easily cut the branches into smaller manageable sections which you can then chuck on the BBQ or your real wood fire or throw them away in your green bin. You can also use the Alligator for lopping branches.

                                For the first few hours of use you have to keep the machine well oiled and Black and Decker thoughtfully provide you with a bottle of oil and also an 'oiling point' into which you squirt the oil. Apart from that the only other maintenance you need to perform is to check whether the tension on the chain is okay. If it isn't there are a couple of nuts that you can loosen with the supplied spanner and once loosened, the section holding the chain can be moved forwards or backwards as required.

                                My only gripe with it is the ridiculously small power cable. The Alligator is designed to replace petrol powered chainsaws. It is designed to cut branches of trees and the trees are hardly likely to be within 15 feet of your house let alone the nearest power socket yet this is how long the cable is. I've got a funny feeling that somewhere on the Black and Decker drawing board for this gadget is a specification that states the cable required is 15 meters and I reckon someone mistook that and read it as 15 feet.
                                I've got a 150ft long garden and for that this gadget is useless without an extension lead. Luckily I made one years ago so I'm okay.

                                The machine comes with a 2 year guarantee which is very useful. After my experience with the Scorpion that's the least I would want.

                                All in all this is a great tool for people who love chopping bits of wood up.

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                                  26.05.2006 16:31
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                                  Watch your back

                                  With all the stuff that’s been said over the last few weeks about the reviewwritersforum I thought it might be useful to reveal a darker side of the website. I’ve been trying to do this by way of comments on the reviews that people are writing but Dooyoo has removed these comments at the request of certain individuals. Seems they don’t want the truth to be told. I’d like to add that for everything I talk about below I have evidence to back myself up in the form of MSN Messenger history files. Of course these could be faked but the people that have been around during my membership of the website may finally be able to put two and two together and see why at times I was behaving erratically and so out of character.

                                  I joined the reviewwritersforum back at the tail end of 2005 at the request of the owner of the website, a well-known reviewer on both the Dooyoo and ciao sites. At that time I had only written a few reviews and didn’t even know there were forums out there for review writers let alone think about joining one. As a result I was rather flattered by this approach.
                                  I was told that people are asked to join on an invitation only basis and that made me feel even more special. At that time, the website was hosted by a different company than today however this review is relevant to both ‘versions’ of the forum as I was a member on the first and remained so during the transition to the second and for a few weeks thereafter.

                                  When I joined, the site was split into various discussion topics, e.g. ciao, Dooyoo, Epinions, Current Affairs, Fun and Banter and a few other topics. Under each topic were what are called ‘discussion threads’. These threads can be started by any member and once started, can be added to by any other member. Obviously each thread needs to talk about the topic that it was under but for those people, or one person :) that was unable to remain on topic, a further ‘Off-Topic’ heading was created specifically for him :). The site itself is overseen by a team of moderators and the administrators one of whom is the owner herself. When I first joined I didn’t know many of the people there but this changed over time. Within a few weeks I was posting and replying and generally joining in as I became more and more comfortable with the very friendly people there. During this time, I learnt a lot about ciao and Dooyoo and I would like to think I made quite a few friends too and for that period of time I shall be forever grateful to the members of the forum because some of those people I still consider to be friends even now.

                                  At some point during my membership someone started a thread that listed their MSN or Yahoo email addresses and everyone promptly gave their details. Very soon the people who had been communicating with each other via message threads and guest books on ciao and non-review related comments on Dooyoo were now also communicating directly with each other in real-time conversations using MSN Messenger or Yahoo Chat. Very soon I was having regular conversations with the owner of the forum and we discussed all sorts of stuff and generally became what I naively thought were good friends. I say naively because things didn’t turn out that great in the end and looking back over what subsequently happened I see now how I was manipulated almost right from the start.

                                  You see the problem I have is not with the forum. Its members are generally good people, even the chap who sells soap might be a good bloke but I’ll never know now because of the things I was told during one of my many online conversations with the owner. We now have too much history between us for us to ever figure out the truth about each other. The problem is with the owner of the forum. Her behind the scenes manipulation of facts mean that you can never be certain of the truth; you can never be certain whether the ‘truth’ that you’ve been told is the same ‘truth’ that is being told to other people that she no doubt is also having private conversations with.

                                  I’m sure those of you that love reality TV are itching for some specifics and this review will probably end up being a ‘reality review’ with the forum being the online equivalent of Big Brother. Indeed one of the threads on the original forum ended up being an online ‘Big Brother event where people were put into an online ‘house’ and systematically evicted. That was in the ‘good old days’ before it all went pear-shaped – pear-shaped for me that is. I hope the remaining members are still having a great time. Mind you this review may also end up been seen as me washing my dirty laundry in public. What the hell lets go for it because people need to know what they are letting themselves in for if they get too close to the owner of the forum. So here are some specifics:

                                  Chap who sells soap vs forum owner Part 1
                                  ---------------------------------------------------
                                  One of the first things the owner told me was that the chap who sells soap (though he didn’t sell soap at the time) hounded her on ciao. He didn’t believe any of the stuff that she wrote in reviews on ciao and he constantly harassed her and essentially bullied her online. She wasn’t the first person he picked on. Apparently he once managed to find the work place details of another reviewer and called up to see if that person actually worked there! Apparently he eventually got booted off ciao but was now on Dooyoo getting up to his old tricks again.

                                  Now why would I be told about this? Well I happened to be told about this a short time after I mentioned in one of our online conversations how I hated bullies. Whether its bullies at school or in the workplace, I just can’t stand them and I will always try to stand up for anyone who is not able to stand up for him or herself. Whilst telling me all about the chap who sells soap, the owner of the website put herself across as a tormented person who was despised by a group of review writers and this chap happened to be part of that group. I was told that all she wanted to do was to write reviews and that other people were out to ‘get her’. Well this was like a red flag to a bull. So from that day, the man who sold soap was marked. I’m ashamed to say that I promptly went on to ‘stand up’ for the owner of the forum purely on uncorroborated evidence. By standing up I mean I used every opportunity to make a disparaging remark about him or his reviews in the same way that I was told he made remarks about the owner of the website; an eye for an eye as it were.

                                  The other forum vs forum owner
                                  --------------------------------------
                                  Later I was told that there was another forum out there. A rival to hers called opinionators. However this other forum consisted of the rest of the group that the man who sells soap belongs to. I was told that every now and again this group would get one of their members to join her forum purely to cause trouble. I asked her why she let them join in the first place and she said that the forum was ‘open to all’ and that in order to appear impartial she had to let anyone who wanted to join her site access to that site. Now in hindsight this seems odd.
                                  When I first joined I was told it was via invitation only but now I’m being told that anyone could join. So why was I approached in the first place. Why was I made to feel special or part of a select few - hand picked to join the forum? I believe it was to make me susceptible to the owner’s charms. I would be less likely to question her stories or her motives later on. Anyway, I was given names of about 5 or 6 forum members who were there as she put it to ‘cause trouble’ and indeed reading the posts and replies on the forum it did seem as if these people had some kind of agenda to undermine at every opportunity the efforts of the owner of the forum. The implication was clear in one of our conversations. Lay into those people in the same way that they lay into the owner of the website. Of course me being the gullible idiot that I am, I did precisely that. It worked too; the number of posts that subtlety attacked the owner of the forum decreased markedly.

                                  Dooyoo vs forum owner
                                  -----------------------------
                                  Dooyoo keep rejecting her requests to be a guide. Why?
                                  Because Dooyoo guides are selected by existing guides and the existing guides all hate her.

                                  Established member of CIAO vs forum owner
                                  ----------------------------------------------------
                                  There is an unofficial competition to see who gets a gold coloured spot on ciao first. The forum owner is winning but the other people who don’t like her are deliberately downrating her old reviews so that another member can over take her in terms of community points and get the gold coloured dot first.

                                  Chap who sells soap vs forum owner Part 2
                                  ---------------------------------------------------
                                  The chap who sells soap eventually joined the second incarnation of the review writer’s forum. The forum owner was really worried about this given her past experience of him. At this point I got into a bit of a spat with the admins and moderators of the forum regarding rules about naming.
                                  Naming is a term used on the forum to describe a post that is too specific. Specific in terms of identifying an individual or in terms of identifying a specific review. I happened to post a thread that the admins decided was too specific in terms of indirectly identifying a review that I’d recently written. I was told that it was too easy to figure out which review I was talking about. The chap that sells soap made a ‘complaint’ about this and it was upheld by the admins. This seemed odd to me. On the one hand the forum had all sorts of threads that indirectly referred to reviews just as my thread had done yet no one had complained about those yet as soon as my thread went up it was removed because the chap who sells soap had complained about it. To be fair he may have been right, but then why was no one complaining about the other threads? I went around the forum and made a note of the URL’s of all posts where it was obvious which review a person was talking about. In an MSN conversation with the forum owner I pasted links to about 6 thread on her forum that indirectly referred to reviews on Dooyoo in exactly the same way that mine had. I still have those links in my MSN Message history. The forum owner said she had no choice but to remove my post. When I asked whether the other posts would be removed she said she’d look into it but weeks later they were still there (I’d left by then). It seemed to me that over the weeks and months that I’d been on the forum, the forum owner had accepted that I would stand up for her against the group of trouble makers but when it came to a point where I needed her support in return, she decided not to. That was when I realised how I’d been a complete mug and that was when I decided to leave the forum.

                                  You’ve probably spotted a common theme here. The owner of the forum is convinced that everyone is out to get her. Is always her verses someone else. Its always her the weak vulnerable person being attacked by big bullies or groups of bullies.

                                  As a forum the website is pretty good. The individual members are what make it a success. Even the moderators when they do their job right are good people. The problems start when you get too close to the owner of the forum. When you start exchanging private messages and engaging in real time chats over the Internet, that’s when you realise that within the forum there is also an undercurrent of tension between members. These are the members who are pitted against each other so that eventually one of them leaves. Hopefully the one that leaves is the one the owner of the forum wanted to leave.

                                  At one point I decided to leave the forum. Forum members can delete themselves if they wish and a request goes to the admins who will then arrange for your account to be deleted. I did this a few months before I finally did leave and one of the admins immediately got back to me and instead of asking me ‘why?’ she asked ‘is it because of xxxx. If so we can remove him’. Before I managed to send off a reply saying that I wanted to leave for my own reasons I discovered that ‘xxxx’ had been deleted from the forum. In that example you can see how the owner of the forum already had her sights set on a particular person to be removed but lacked the excuse to do so. She used me in order to get ‘xxxx’ removed. Why did they want him removed? Simply because one of their rules was that forum members have to join with a username that is identical to that used on Dooyoo or ciao and this person used his real name. He was a bit of a rebel in that sense but as far as I could see, that was the only thing that he’d done to annoy the owner of the forum, and they used my message requesting that I be deleted as an excuse to delete him instead. No doubt they told him that he’d been removed for causing me some kind of offence.

                                  So there you go if you’ve managed to stay awake this far.
                                  All (well almost all) my dirty laundry out in the public.

                                  Having written this I actually feel a lot better now. Better out than in as they say :)
                                  Of course the owner of the forum and/or the chap that sells soap previously the worst of enemies and now the best of mates may manage to find something in my review that breaks Dooyoo rules and ask for it to be removed in the same way they’ve done with my recent comments. If so then the truth will remain unknown and people will continue to join unaware of what they may be letting themselves in for and people will continue to think of me as a mean sod who likes to have a verbal argument with complete strangers for no reason whatsoever.

                                  Update.
                                  I've already read a few comments kind of apologising for a U or SU rate. For the record, I didn't write this for the rates. I wrote it because its a story that needs to be told.
                                  I would urge everyone regardless of whether or not they think of me as a friend to rate this review according to the dooyoo guidelines. Heck I get the 3p anyway :)

                                  Best Regards
                                  Soundsexciting

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