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thefifth
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Member since: 24.06.2012

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      16.07.2012 18:10
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      Not Battle Royale

      I read The Hunger Games largely for research, as I'm working on a YA novel and wanted to understand what it was about this novel that made it so massively popular. I'd also previously read Battle Royale and heard about the (quite obvious) similarities and was curious about this. Plus it was on offer at £3.49 on Amazon, so worked out pretty cheaply.

      Firstly, there are obvious similarities in premise between this book and Battle Royale. The premise in both involves pitting children against each other in a battle to the death in a 'game' like scenario. Aside from this basic similarity the books are really quite different. Battle Royale is more of an exploration of human nature, whereas The Hunger Games is much more of a character piece.

      The central core of The Hunger Games is the character of Katniss - a resourceful, independent character prone to stubbornness, an untrusting nature and emotional invulnerability. In short, a flawed heroine. I think Katniss is the real strength of this book, as you get drawn into her world and her decisions, not always agreeing with her actions but understanding where they come from.

      Accompanying Katniss into the hunger games is fellow resident of District 12 Peeta. Peeta obviously has a crush on Katniss but she can't see it. And of course there is another guy that Katniss is fond of back home, her fellow hunter Gale. You see the love story / love triangle coming from a mile away? Me too.

      Where The Hunger Games is weak against Battle Royale is around the games themselves and the tributes. In Battle Royale they pit school friend against school friend; in The Hunger Games only 2 of the tributes are ever likely to know each other so fighting the others, whilst repulsive, is easier to handle. Where Katniss and Peeta come into play, Collins is careful never to directly pit them as enemies so whilst Katniss doesn't trust Peeta there's never a point where you feel they might have to really confront the possibility of killing each other. Instead Collins focuses on the difficulties of trust. I felt this was a potential weakness of the book.

      There is also some question in my mind over the viability of Katniss as a character. She is certainly the pivot point and the most successful aspect of the book and it's always good to see a strong female character taking the fore. Collins exposes Katniss's weaknesses, her character flaws and calculating nature in a way that makes her seem very human and relatable, but at the same time her skills are somewhat less realistic - she is a skilled hunter, an excellent archer, knowledgable and a great strategist. I found that in many ways this made her inaccessible as a character and perhaps an unrealistic (if interesting) role model.

      In the end I wasn't really that curious about how the story continued so I don't plan to read on any further. But as a work of young adult fiction I can see the appeal. The story is fast paced and exciting and the characterisation is really very good and it does draw the reader in. In the end, though, it wasn't enough for me.

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        16.07.2012 17:53
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        Not The Hunger Games

        Consider this synopsis: a dystopian society forces children into a game in which there can be only one winner and the winner is the one left surviving. Between the beginning of the game and the end, the children are forced to kill each other. Sound familiar?

        Well, it's not The Hunger Games but Battle Royale I'm writing about today, but you'll see that the premise is very similar. However, Battle Royale was written some years prior to The Hunger Games but outside Japan hasn't really had the same kind of following or attention. But I'm here to tell you, it's worth a read.

        In terms of similarities to The Hunger Games, the premise is pretty much where the similiarity ends. In Battle Royale an entire class of school children are sent on a 'day trip'. During the course of the trip they are drugged and wake up later on to find they've had electronic collars clipped around their neck. And that's where the game begins. The children are told that their class has been selected for their region's Battle Royale. They all know what this means. They will be given a pack each which will have supplies, a map and, if they're lucky, a decent weapon. The collars around their neck are rigged to explode and will explode if no one dies within a certain period of time or if someone remains in a 'red' zone after an allotted time. The game will only end when there's one person left living.

        Thereafter follows a bloody and gory mess of a book in which the class of 42 gets whittled down one gruesome death after another. The story follows each of the characters, about whom you learn at least a little something, but focuses mainly on 2 characters: Nanahara (boy) and Noriko (girl) who pair up in order to try and survive the game.

        Battle Royale is both an easy and a hard book to read. Easy in the sense that the prose is unchallenging, though the translation seems a little rough around the edges. Hard in the sense that it is terribly gruesome, that the deaths seem to have no meaning or purpose.

        The characters are not especially well drawn, though having read quite a lot of Japanese fiction that was not terribly surprising. There are a lot of classically Japanese cliches - Nanahara is the 'cool' athletic type, Noriko a quiet, studious girl, there are hi-tech whizz-kids, musical types, and popular, sexy girls. Oh, and a sociopath. As you'd expect. Given that this is a young adult book, the presence of these quite standard characters is not too surprising, but it does impact on how much you care about them.

        All in all Battle Royale is a decent book. Its premise is interesting, particularly around the way that people break down when placed under pressure and behave in ways that you would not expect. Pitting a class of school children against each other is a brave and unusual move and Takami deals with it well. It's quite different in tone to The Hunger Games, more adult and harsher and less character driven.

        There's also a movie version of Battle Royale which is well worth a watch. The movie and book aren't identical, I think perhaps because of the presence of Takeshi Kitano which forced the movie to have a central 'bad guy' type character which is not present in the book, but both are good. I watched the movie first, then read the book and I don't feel I lost anything doing it this way around.

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        16.07.2012 17:29
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        A masterful work of fiction

        There's a reason why Lolita appears in so many writers' list of the greatest novels ever written and that's because it's great. Obviously. But what's so great about it?

        Lolita is one of those books that polarises the mind. In Lolita you follow the thoughts and actions of Humbert Humbert (not his real name) as he delivers his confession, eulogy, love letter (it is variously all of these things) from his prison cell, telling you his story. This story starts with his first, breathless, teenage love, follows through his obsession, kidnap and sexual abuse of the child Lolita, and ends with him killing a man. Yes, Humbert Humbert certainly is a despicable and repulsive character.

        Or is he? He is educated, charming, a European gentlemen in America, intelligent, handsome and appealing. He is both knowing and, seemingly, helpless in the face of his obsession - the darling 'nymphets' he desires so much, none more so than Lolita.

        And this is where the story is so great and so engaging. It truly messes with your mind. You are torn between the appeal of Humbert as a character, his charm and somewhat wild desperation, and the replusiveness of how he behaves and what he does.

        Humbert Humbert is, perhaps, the best example of an unreliable narrator in literature. He draws you in and spins you a yarn and only on close reading can you see through his fake justifications, his offloading of responsibility for his actions, his deplorable behaviour, his pathetic spirit and foolish longings. And yet in the end he is vulnerable and willing, if not able, to atone for his sins.

        Add to that the fact that it a beautifully written (the prose is astonishingly lyrical), Lolita is truly a masterful, if incredibly disturbing, book.

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      • Wahl Chrome Ionic Dryer / Hair Dryer / 4 Readings / 4 Ratings
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        16.07.2012 14:12
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        A good value, basic hairdryer. Good for the price.

        When my hairdryer started making some sickly noises, I decided it was time for a replacement. Having recently invested in a set of Wahl clippers, I felt very satisfied with the brand and having found this hairdryer on Amazon for £18.50 I thought that was a reasonable price to pay. The hairdryer arrived within 3 days, which was a great turnaround time.

        The hairdryer is smaller than my previous dryer but not small enough to be considered 'travel size'. It comes with a diffuser accessory and funnel for detail drying. It's advertised as being 'ionic' which is supposed to give your hair more shine and retain moisture. The dryer has 3 blow settings and 3 heat settings, which is about average. The hot setting really is quite hot, so bear that in mind when you use it.

        In terms of drying experience, I found the hairdryer to be great. It's much more powerful than my last dryer, and as my hair is quite short it dries very quickly. I am not sure if the ionic function is to credit, but I do find my hair to be less frizzy and more shiny (I have very thick hair) than it was when I used my old dryer. The settings are easy to use and the buttons very responsive. Sometimes this means that I accidentally change settings, which is a bit annoying but easily rectified. I've also used this to dry my daughter's hair (she has curly hair) and the diffuser accessory is great.

        The hairdryer is advertised as being 'quiet' and whilst it is quieter than my last dryer it's not really that quiet.

        Overall I think this is a good value hairdryer. Nothing special, but sturdy and user friendly.

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      • Nokia Lumia 710 / Smartphone / 5 Readings / 4 Ratings
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        16.07.2012 13:55
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        Nokia are back in the business

        I was lucky to inherit my husband's Nokia Lumia 710 after he was sent a developer phone by Microsoft. I previously owned a Samsung Galaxy Ace on the Android platform, and the first thing I noticed was simply how much easier this phone is to use that the old Android phone. I had found my Android phone quite annoying in general. The internet interface was slow and disappointing but I had credited this to the network. However, my new phone has opened my eyes to what a smartphone can actually be. An overview of features follows:

        Appearance
        The phone itself is sleek and black with a shiny, black screen. The screen seems large compared to my last phone, and the phone itself is quite curved but kind of angled at the sides which makes it easy to hold. The phone comes with two back covers - one black one and one blue so you can mix and match personalisation.

        On screen you have a main page which includes all the apps that are 'pinned' - this makes the app or function very easily accessible. The apps appear as big square blue buttons on a black background and you scroll down to view all the apps that are pinned. The colour of the buttons can be changed to suit your preferences, and the background can be set to dark or light. The dark setting obviously conserves the battery more.

        At the bottom of the screen is a small tool bar. The left button is the 'back' function and takes you back to the previous page you were using. The middle button is the 'windows' button and this takes you back to the main menu. The right button is the search button. You also have a power button on the top right, a camera button on the bottom right and volume buttons on the top left.

        Functions
        Oh, where to start. There are the obvious bits: phone, text, e-mail, 5 MP camera, Wifi and GPS. You also have a music player (Nokia music), and internet explorer for your internet access.

        The great thing about this phone is its ability to integrate with your social networking sites. The 'People' app will use your contacts and if you link it to your Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or other social networking site, it keeps a constant running thread of updates from your friends and contacts on their activity on whichever social networking site they use. This means that you don't need to use a separate app to see what's going on. You also receive notifications of comments on any of your statuses and can view them on the phone. This obviously cuts down on your data usage, as you don't need to go to the site itself to access recent updates. You can also post to all your networking sites using the interface.

        The phone also includes mobile versions of Microsoft Office applications including Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote. Using the skydrive facility you can then access any documents you create on your phone with your desktop or laptop at home or at work. This is a fantastic feature as it means that wherever you are, providing you've uploaded to skydrive, you can access and transfer your work.

        The phone also integrates with any Windows Live accounts including Live Messenger and XBox Live.

        I've also downloaded the Nokia Drive app which gives you driving directions, and the great thing about this is that the maps are free including overseas maps.

        I feel like I've only scratched the surface with this phone's capability. It really is very smooth and easy to use; it feels like a quality product and compared to my Android based phone it's an absolute dream to use. The most recent update allows tethering of devices so that you can share your data connection, and I've used this extensively to communicate via my messenger service on my iPod Touch with friends using Apple iPhones over the past weekend. My Android phone just didn't allow me to do that.

        Be aware that the Nokia phone uses a micro sim. I had to replace mine, which was standard sized, but this was very easily done via the O2 online transfer facility.

        Battery life is pretty good with this phone. It has a function to conserve battery power when you're getting low. I've just come back from a weekend away and apart from a couple of times where I switched the phone off, it's lasted really well. For average use, it should last at least 2 days.

        Cost
        I was lucky that mine was free! However, if you want to buy you can expect to pay between £170 - £200. The Lumia is available on all major networks.

        Overview
        As a user experience I think the Windows phone is second to none. I know it's not yet very popular, but I think if people try it out they'd be keen to switch. I know one person who has been an avid iPhone user who, on one demonstration of this Nokia phone, has switched over. And like me, they've not been disappointed.

        My only criticism of the phone so far is around the situation of the camera button. As I'm left handed, its position on the right bottom side of the phone makes it quite difficult for me to use. Otherwise, the camera is great. Apps are also more limited, due to the Windows phone being quite new to the market.

        If you're thinking of replacing your phone, I'd seriously consider moving to a Windows phone. I don't think you'd be disappointed.

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        • Melancholia (Blu-ray) / Blu-Ray Movie / 8 Readings / 8 Ratings
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          04.07.2012 23:15
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          Odd

          Melancholia is an odd movie. I think that's a good place to start. As it happens, I like odd movies but I'm still trying to work out what I think about this one.

          The movie starts with a 5 minute very arthouse piece in which the characters are seemingly 'caught' in slow motion, as though time has stopped moving as it should. It's very odd. I did wonder for a moment whether it was ever going to end, but it did and we started in to what seemed like a more normal movie.

          The movie is then split into two parts. The first part is a wedding reception in which Kursten Dunst's character plays the bride. When she arrives at the reception she's all happy and smiles but it soon becomes apparent that this is just a front. During the course of the reception her behaviour becomes increasingly odd - she wanders off and pees on the golf course, goes for a long bath, falls out with her husband and makes up and falls out, goes for a sleep, has sex with a guest, gets sacked. Your typical wedding reception. It's interesting, and then at the same time pointless. Like I say, I'm still working this out.

          The second part of the movie follows the concerns of Kursten Dunst's character's sister Claire and a planet called Melancholia which is set to pass by close to the Earth. Although she has been reassured, particularly by her husband, that the planet will not hit the Earth, Claire doubts this. We follow her concerns for her son, her investigations and uncertainties about what is happening, her relationship with her sister. I won't tell you how it ends.

          The second half of the movie is much more promising, with the character of Claire being very well drawn and sympathetic. Even so, it was strangely odd and pointless and in the end I wasn't really sure what the movie was trying to get at.

          It is a beautifully filmed movie, and the acting was excellent. But in the end I just didn't get it.

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        • Casillero Del Diablo / Wine / 7 Readings / 6 Ratings
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          04.07.2012 23:01

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          A reasonably priced good quality wine

          I bought a case of Casillero del Diablo wine from Tesco via their online wine shop - they were selling at a price of £36 (reduced from £50) for 6 bottles, all red. So far we've had a couple of bottles - the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot but there's also a Shiraz, Shiraz Reserva, Carmenere Reserva and Malbec. The wines are all from Chile and come in classic green bottles with screwcaps (not that they get screwed back on once open!) with a devil's face logo on the front.

          Both the bottles of wine we've had so far have been lovely, the Sauvignon is really full and fruity and very, very smooth and the Merlot a little drier, not quite as smooth but still very fruity and nice. I'm sure the Shiraz will be lovely too. At £6 per bottle I found it to be a good quality wine for a reasonable price - I'm not sure I'd have paid £50 for the case, but at £36 for the 6 it's well worth the price.

          A consistently good wine - worth looking out for when on offer.

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        • Teapigs Peppermint Infusion / Tea / 6 Readings / 5 Ratings
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          30.06.2012 18:03
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          Extra fresh minty tea. Worth the price.

          I'm a big fan of teapigs tea. It's pricey - an average 15 tea 'temples' weighs in at around £3.99, but for a luxury tea item they make a really sterling product. I'm not a great fan of peppermint tea, but it is good if you have any sort of digestive problems so I decided to give the teapigs version a whirl.

          The tea 'temples' come in a easy to open cardboard box with a cute picture of a sweet on the pack. The tea bags themselves come in a fabric pyramid which is clearly high quality and you can see that they've used whole leaves inside it. To brew the tea, it's recommended that you leave the tea to infuse for 3 minutes to get the full flavour. Don't add milk. The tea itself doesn't give off much of a smell, though you can tell it is minty but, goodness me, when you drink it it's like an infusion of Kendal mint cake it's that minty. Really fresh and spicy and not too sweet. Although I am not a fan of peppermint tea, this one is really, really nice. It goes down easily and the pepperminty taste lingers for quite a while afterwards. If you remember those adverts for extra strong mints where a person blows out chilled air after eating one, that's kind of how a teapigs peppermint tea makes you feel. Extra fresh, on the inside.

          I haven't tried it yet, as we haven't had a summer to speak of, but I'm guessing that this would also make an excellent iced tea, perhaps with some fresh mint leaves and a bit of lemon on the side.

          Call me a convert.

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          30.06.2012 17:55
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          Nice product if used carefully

          I have very thick hair which is prone to frizzing up, and my daughter has very curly hair so I tried this product as a way of keeping it under control. When I bought it, it was on offer at half price so it didn't seem too expensive although it does come in a tiny little bottle and you might think that you're not getting much for your money. That being said, I've bought it once in the last 12 months so a little does go a long way.

          To use the product you first need to wash your hair. Don't apply it to dry hair. After washing and before styling apply a tiny, tiny amount to your hair. I have shoulder length hair and I would use no more than 2 pumps. Distribute it through your towel dried hair and then dry as normal. For my daughter, I would use one pump and distribute it through her hair, then leave it to dry naturally.

          The product does definitely help to control frizz. My hair is much smoother when I use it, and my daughter's curly hair is gorgeous when we use this - neat, defined curls without the usual frizz. However, I can't emphasise enough that you need to use this product sparingly. If you put too much on it can make your hair lank and greasy and my daughter's lovely curls look like bedraggled tangles of hay. Not nice.

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          30.06.2012 17:28
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          A great, reasonably priced brush

          I bought the Oral B Vitality Sonic on the recommendation of my dental hygienist. Actually she recommended that I buy the expensive £100 model they were selling in their shop, but instead I did a little shopping around and tracked down this one. At less than £20, and with a good track record with other Oral B products I thought I'd give it a whirl.

          In terms of toothbrushing, it's a great little machine. The toothbrush comes on a recharging stand and is used wirelessly. It takes a long time to complete its first charge, about 16 hours, so make sure you charge it early before you want to use it. For recharges, you need to allow about 12 hours so I'd usually start the charge after my morning brush and turn it off before my evening brush. The charge lasts around a week.

          The brush uses 'sonic' technology to aid the clean. I'm no scientist, so I don't know exactly how this works, but it adds a little vibration to the brushing to help remove stains. I'm a tea and red wine drinker, and after I've been to the hygienist I usually get gradual staining on my teeth due to this. I have found, however, that using the sonic toothbrush helps to reduce the staining between visits. The toothbrush also comes with a timer facility so that you brush your teeth for the right amout of time. After two minutes the toothbrush buzzes differently, so you know you've brushed long enough. I found this feature really useful as I no longer have to guess how long to brush for.

          The toothbrush heads are nice and long, more the size of a standard toothbrush head which is unusual for an electric brush. Replacement heads aren't cheap, but they never are for electric brushes, a 2 pack replacement can be around £8, but if you shop around on the internet you can get them cheaper.

          I've been very satisfied with this brush.

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        • Samsung Galaxy Ace / Smartphone / 12 Readings / 10 Ratings
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          30.06.2012 13:45
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          A nice smartphone, but not brilliant

          The Samsung Galaxy Ace is a decent smartphone. With an Android operating system it gives you access to the Android marketplace and there's a good selection of Apps there. It has a nice camera, the facility to link your e-mail account, google maps pre-loaded, interface with social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook which all make it quite user friendly. The phone has WiFi connectivity and GPS. There's also a notification centre which will alert you if someone has posted to your Facebook page or retweeted you or if one of your apps has picked up on something.

          I'll confess at this point, I'm not a fan of smartphones. My phone is on the O2 network and I totally wish I had never bothered with the data facility. Trying to view anything on the internet is slow, slow, slow and incredibly frustrating. Of course this is not really a problem with the phone but with the network, but as we're all being pushed down the route of smartphones you'd think they might make the interface a little slicker.

          That being said, the phone itself is quite user friendly. It's intuitive to use, and very easy to navigate around the various apps. You can press and hold down to move or delete apps, and for more functionality there's a menu option on the bottom left. The phone looks smart and the slightly ridged cover on the back makes it easy to hold.

          Problems with this phone: battery life. My goodness, left on standard settings it eats power like a starving man in a sausage factory. I found that some days it wasn't even lasting until I got home from work, and that was without making any calls or using games or, in fact, using the phone at all. It sat in my bag sucking down power and when I did need to use it, it was all worn out already. If you do get this phone I recommend switching off WiFi and GPS unless you need them, and there are a couple of good apps (Juice defender, Mobile Booster) which help you to get the best out of your battery.

          I haven't used a lot of the functionality available in this phone. It has a music player, You Tube as standard, note book, FM radio, news and weather and voice recorder. As I have an iPod Touch, I tend to use that for those kind of functions so I can't really comment on whether it's any good for those or not. My concern would be that you'd drain your battery and be left without a phone, which is its primary function. I'm not convinced that most people need or want those extra facilities, but it does make the phone versitile.

          There is a nagivator app in the phone, but I only used it once and nearly ended up stuck in a pile of mud outside a farmer's field, so don't entirely recommend that either. It also runs quite slowly. A separate GPS is probably prefereable.

          This phone came free with my contract with O2. £13.50 per month including data. In that respect, I would say it is reasonably good value especially as we get £5 off the cost of Broadband because I have a contract. That being said, I am very likely to replace this and I don't think I'd really recommend the phone to a friend.

          Just a couple of extra bits of info:
          Swype - the keyboard uses swype which means that you wipe your finger across the board and it 'guesses' the word you're typing. It sounds great and is a lot of fun to begin with but soon becomes annoying and it will often have as its first guess a word that isn't actually a real word. I have found this function very frustrating and more hassle that it's worth. Outside of the swype function, the keyboard is quite tricky to use.
          Restore - they really hide the reset function. I ended up having to search on the web to figure out how to do this. Not in the phone help, or the Kies software that comes with it.

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        • More +
          30.06.2012 13:24
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          Better than an iPhone

          I've had an iPod Touch for a while now, but after some trouble with my 2nd Gen after upgrade to IOS5 I decided to get a newer version. So I popped down to Currys and £239.00 lighter in the pocket I brought home my new iPod Touch.

          First thing to say is that it is very easy to set up, and if you've had an iPod before by linking it to your existing Apple ID, everything you've bought or installed before via iTunes or the App Store will be available to you. So it's pretty easy to transfer everything over. The iPod Touch has a lot of excellent functions including linking your e-mail account, iMessenger, Safari and Facetime as well as the music playing facility. I quite often have to spend time away from home with my job and providing there is WiFi access in my hotel I've been able to Facetime my family which makes those times away from home a little less lonely. I've been able to play I Spy with my daughter whilst I was on a train and she was at home (which is interesting and fun) and had some lovely chats via iMessenger. Of course Facetime and the messenger service only function with other Apple products like the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad.

          One of the best things about the iPod Touch is the availability of Apps. There is pretty much an App for everything (except dooyoo!) so if you like to play games or you need a tool to organise your time or you like to connect to social networks then there'll be sometime in the App Store for you. There is a lot of free content, and 'lite' versions of games which mean that you don't need to spend a lot of money to populate your iPod with content. And it can keep you busy for hours. You also have easy access to the iTunes store and there's plenty of free content there with podcasts and iTunes U (their education site) so it's not just about entertainment but self improvement too.

          The great thing about the iPod Touch is that it does pretty much everything an iPhone does but without the call facility or an expensive monthly contract. It retails for almost £200 less than then iPhone so in terms of value for money I think the iPod Touch is a much better option.

          There are some issues with this version of the iPod. For a start, the touchscreen is very hit and miss - my 2nd Gen was much more responsive. Also, it does get very, very warm - again I didn't have this issue with the 2nd Gen version. Sometimes I wonder what the processor is doing in there. Battery life isn't bad, but if you play a lot of games or videos then it eats up battery power.

          As an interface to your computer, iTunes basically sucks. It's finicky and clearly designed to work in favour of Apple and not the user. Fortunately with this version of the iPod you don't ever really need to connect it to a computer at all, so this is a clear improvement.

          All in all the iPod Touch is an excellent little device. It is versitile, fun and user friendly (in the main). And at £200 cheaper than an iPhone it's good value for money.

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        • Grave Of The Fireflies (DVD) / DVD / 11 Readings / 11 Ratings
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          27.06.2012 20:13
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          Why did they have to die?

          I feel someone ought to warn people about Grave of the Fireflies. Perhaps that someone is me. I'm an avid fan of Studio Ghibli movies, I love their quirkiness, the strong female characters, obsession with magical realism (and sometimes just plain magic) and excellent animation. So in eager anticipation my son and I sat down to watch Grave of the Fireflies oh poor unsuspecting fools as we were.

          Grave of the Fireflies follows a brother and sister, Seita and Setsuko, during World War II. Their father is in the navy and hasn't been heard from in some time, though they seem sure he's coming home, and at the beginning of the movie their mother is killed in a bombing of their town. Seita and Setsuko are sent to live with their Aunt, but it becomes increasingly obvious that their Aunt does not want them, is only using them (taking their rice ration and selling their mother's things) and she treats them badly. Eventually Seita, the older of the two, decides that they would be better off on their own. He finds an old abandoned shelter near a pond, takes his sister and moves in. On the first night they release fireflies into the shelter for light, but in the morning all the fireflies have died. Little Sestuko finds it hard to understand why the fireflies had to die (cry cry cry).

          The movie then follows their struggle to survive, and the bond that is between the brother and sister strengthens as the children weaken. Seita resorts to stealing to keep them in food, but it soon becomes apparent that his little sister's health is failing. He takes her to a doctor who diagnoses malnutrition. In order to try and save Setsuko, Seita withdraws all their money from the bank and in the process discovers that Japan has surrendered. The war is over.

          He returns to the shelter, thoroughly disillusioned but with arm fulls of food, to find his sister delirious and dying. Unable to eat the food Seita has brought for her, Setsuko passes away (cry cry cry). Seita manages to cremate Setsuko's body, and later we find that Seita himself also dies from malnutrition, alone and missing his sister, in a Tokyo railway station (cry cry cry).

          I am not a person who is easily upset by movies. It's a rare event that something touches me to the point that it actually moves me to tears. This movie moved me to an abundance of tears. The bond, the care and love between Seita and Setsuko is so pure and so moving, and their attempts to care for each other so heartfelt and fruitless. I think both my son and I cried for a good 10 minutes after the movie had finished and we're both so emotionally scarred we haven't watched it since.

          In all seriousness, this is an excellent movie. The animation, as always, is beautiful and the lovely way that Seita and Setsuko are presented is so moving and emotional. It is a worthwhile watch, but not for the faint hearted and I woudn't recommend watching it wthout a box of tissues on hand and a bottle of vodka to get you through the subsequent emotional trauma. Not all all the usual Ghibli fayre, but amazing all the same.

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            27.06.2012 19:52

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            An excellent, very portable little machine

            I bought the HP Pavilion DM1 last year after my last Hewlett Packard laptop packed up with no warning. I was looking for something a little more lightweight and portable, as I do quite a lot of writing and wanted to be able to easily transport my laptop around with me. Most laptops have a 15.6 inch screen, which is still quite large and the netbooks, whilst small, aren't very versatile. This laptop sits in between the two with an 11.6 inch screen but unlike the netbook it has all the standard features of a laptop just in a more compact body.

            Although the screen size is smaller than the average laptop, it doesn't feel like a small screen. The keyboard is a good size. The laptop is quite lightweight and very transportable. I can pack it in my suitcase when I go away on business and it takes up very little space and adds little weight to my bag.

            The laptop comes with a full operating system (we have Windows 7), in-built webcam, HDMI input, 3 USB inputs, SD card slot, video input, bluetooth and wireless LAN capability. One thing it is lacking is a CD/DVD drive but we picked up a separate drive which fits neatly in the bag and is easy to use, so that problem was easily solved.

            One of the great features of this laptop is its battery life which is around 6 hours. Great for if you're on the go with nowhere to connect up.

            One thing I have noticed is that it does tend to get quite hot, particularly when used on lap for a long period of time. Sometimes the fan sounds like it's working extra overtime which can be noisy and a bit annoying (as well as worrying). Also, the touchpad can be a bit hypersensitive - I've managed to accidentally switch it off a couple of time which has caused me some frustration.

            It also took me a little while to figure out how to use the home and end buttons, as the keyboard is laid out slightly differently to how I'm used to.

            I bought the laptop at Currys for around £350. It cost about another £20 for the separate DVD drive.

            In summary
            Pros: it's very lightweight and transportable. The small screen size isn't a barrier and it has good features. Battery life is excellent.

            Cons: it gets hot!

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            25.06.2012 21:25
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            Look out for it when it's on offer

            My daughter suffers from eczema so I have to be very careful about what comes into contact with her skin. I've tried baby bath products, but they don't bubble up too well, and the shop's own and Mr Matey type bubble baths tend to irritate her skin. Most of the time I try to bath her in plain water, but she's a girl who loves to pamper herself in a nice bubbly bath and this product is one that I know I can use quite safely without it causing her skin any problems. I must point out that my daughter's eczema is quite mild, so if you were thinking of using this for a child with any skin conditions it's worth getting the advice of a doctor first.

            The bubble bath smells very nice, it has a kind of melon-like fruit smell, and it bubbles up really nicely. You do get quite a lot in the bottle and you don't have to use that much to get a decent amount of bubbles. However, like all Sanex products it's not especially cheap. A 500ml bottle is between £2.80 - £3.00 (depending on the shop) which is about £1 more expensive than a Radox product and even more against a shop's own brand. We use it quite sparingly, but would tend to only buy it when it's on offer (BOGOF offers are not uncommon). It's also not that easy to track down. I can usually get hold of it in the massive Boots in Manchester city centre, but not always at the smaller stores or supermarkets.

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