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Drooboy

Drooboy

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since 14/02/2002

29

Google Mail (Gmail.com) 15/04/2005

Gmail is Great ... but not Glitch-Free ...

Google Mail (Gmail.com) When a friend's invitation to Gmail plopped into my inbox, I was excited. OK, I was joining the party a little late and all the cool kids had signed up months ago but it felt a bit like being invited to a secret society. I mean, you still can't actually sign up directly for this service (http://www.gmail.com) as it's still officially in a beta-testing stage, so you need to get an invitation from someone who already has an account to get one yourself. Sadly I realised such invitations are now ridiculously simple to come by (and I have 50 of them myself now ready to hand out) which suggests a full roll-out cannot be that far away. The question is, is this service innovative enough to tempt people away from other, long-established web-based email systems like MSN and Yahoo? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is contained in the rest of this review! I don't think that Gmail as it stands now is without problems and flaws, not least in reliability, but the very fact that its presence caused such a fundamental upheaval to other providers suggests that it may change the face of web-based email. There are many ways you could launch into a Gmail review, so I guess the best place to start is with the issue that almost everyone else picks up on: storage. Gmail is currently offering over 2GB (that's gigabytes …) of storage absolutely free, and the amount is ticking up (albeit slowly) all the time. Capacity was doubled from 1GB to 2GB on April 1, a year after launch. At the ...

The Portable Door - Tom Holt 24/03/2005

Open up to Tom Holt ...

The Portable Door - Tom Holt Picture the scene. You arrive at work in the morning in your central London office after a dismal commute. The gorgeous receptionist happens to be a goblin in disguise who has the hots for you. Your office has been trashed overnight and claw marks adorn the door. You spend your days scrying for mineral deposits using a sixth sense you didn’t even know you had. You sit opposite the woman you love who you rescued from a gang of marauding goblins only the night before. You nip out at lunchtime to Venice to enjoy Italian pastries through a magical door that transports you to wherever you want to go. You snack on dragon’s droppings that let you hear what people mean rather than what they say. And you better get out by 5.30 sharp or else the firm’s owners, who happen to be goblins, will come out and play and quite possibly kill you. It’s a scene familiar to us all. The beauty of Tom Holt’s work, for anyone familiar with it, is the way in which he mixes myth and legend with the mundane nature of the real world to create novels which are part-fantasy yet easily enjoyed by people who don’t normally read pure fantasy work. Having plundered Norse mythology in particular in earlier works, this book moves into the real of magic and “Dungeons and Dragons”. Paul Carpenter arrives for a job interview at J.W. Wells and Co. as a “junior clerk”. Unsure exactly what the job entails he meets fellow interviewee Sophie, and, Paul being Paul, instantly falls in love with her. Much to his own ...

Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction - Sue Townsend 10/01/2005

This Mole keeps digging ...

Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction - Sue Townsend I was part-raised by Adrian Mole. I read the first of his diaries, “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 and ¾” when I was about 10 years old. At that time, there was much in the book I didn’t understand. I had no idea what an egg-timer shaped object called a “predictor” could be in his mother’s bathroom cupboard. I had no clue how to pronounce “eunuch” as in Germaine Greer’s famous novel (I vividly remember thinking it was pronounced ‘yunch’). As I grew older and a little more worldly wise, each re-reading of the first two in what is now a quintet of Mole books would reveal something I hadn’t seen before. They became possibly two of my favourite books of all time. When the fourth in the series, “The Capuccino Years” was released a few years ago, I read it with a profound sense of disappointment. I didn’t really find it funny, just quite laughable. Some of the plotlines (Adrian becoming a celebrity chef specialising in offal, for example) were ludicrous. So it was with some trepidation I received “Weapons of Mass Destruction” for Christmas. Would it regain the triumph of the first two diaries, or just be more of the nonsense that was the fourth? The answer, I think, is somewhere in between. It’s not as bad as ‘Capuccino’ but nowhere near as good as ‘The Secret Diary’ and ‘The Growing Pains’. Adrian is now in his late 30s. His children, William and Glenn, have left – William has returned to live with his Nigerian mother, JoJo, and Glenn has joined the British ...

White Teeth - Zadie Smith 12/11/2004

Over-hyped but still worth reading ...

White Teeth - Zadie Smith Zadie Smith’s debut novel from 2000, “White Teeth”, received the sort of critical acclaim that most established novelists could only dream of. “… a big new literary find that hasn’t been oversold”, gushed ‘The Sunday Times’. “… the dialogue is pitch-perfect, the comedy neat and underplayed” according to the ‘Telegraph’. It won numerous awards, including ‘The Guardian’ First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. The inevitable television adaptation followed. It was, in short, a whirlwind start to her literary career as a fresh Cambridge graduate aged just 24. Coming to the book for the first time four years later, even with the hype dulled down there’s a massive sense of expectation. I’m glad, though, that I didn’t read it at the time it was published as I think I would have come away massively disappointed. Now, I’m left with the sense that it’s a good read, a page-turner, well-written and populated by some fine characters, but with a confused and slightly jarring plot and a faintly ludicrous climax. Good, not great. Not that my opinion matters in the broad scheme of things, of course, but I do wonder how much of the early fervour the novel generated came about as much owing to Smith’s background as to the content of the work itself. The plot is long and winding, covering several generations and skipping about through time. It’s not too difficult to follow but I got the impression a lot of the complexity was ...

BT Broadband 02/09/2004

It's good to surf - fast

BT Broadband I’ve been on the internet now at home for almost five years, and in all that time I’ve suffered the use of a 56kbps dial-up connection. When I started my job three years ago and experienced the delights of a super-fast broadband connection, I vowed I would switch to broadband at home at the earliest opportunity. Well, three years is a pretty long time but finally I have made the switch. And though there were some teething troubles, it has been one of the best purchases of the year so far. ** CHOOSING A PROVIDER ** Having been with Freeserve (now Wanadoo) for years, the natural place for me to start looking was the Wanadoo broadband service. However, I had decided that I wanted to go for a 1Mbps connection early and at the time I looked, Wanadoo were not offering that speed though they have now started to do so (more on this later). BT Yahoo! Broadband was then the next obvious choice. BT is a large, reputably company that has made great strides to try and encourage people to convert to broadband, and as a newbie to home broadband it seemed the best place to start. As with almost all providers, you will need to sign a one-year contract for their service. However, BT attracted me for several reasons. At £29.99 per month for the 1Mbps service, it was a very good price (it is £30.99 if you choose not to pay via direct debit) compared to other providers, and connection and a broadband modem were free. Other providers had similar prices, or even faster speed at the similar ...

Famine - Graham Masterton 30/07/2004

Will leave you hungry for more ...

Famine - Graham Masterton "Famine" is the first Graham Masterton book I have read. It was loaned to me by a friend after I commented how much I had enjoyed the Stephen King novel "The Stand". My friend has always been a big Masterton fan and assured me that if I liked that I would love this. She wasn't wrong. I'll definitely be searching out more Masterton in the future. For anyone who, like me, was unfamiliar with this author a quick visit to his official site at http://homepage.virgin.net/the.sleepless/masthome.htm provides all you could want and more. Masterton is well known as a horror writer but his genres span beyond this, and "Famine" is classed as a Thriller which seems much more appropriate to me. The book was first published in 1981, and it is a powerful - if not too subtle - antidote to the "greed is good" culture that defined 80s America. The novel concerns itself with a Kansas farmer named Ed Hardesty. Ed took over the farm after his father and elder brother died, reluctantly giving up a life in the city and bringing his wife, Season, and daughter to the farm and the rural lifestyle. Early on we learn that Ed's marriage is in trouble, and whilst Ed himself has adapted back to the country ways of his childhood, Season cannot cope and longs to escape Kansas and return to LA. It is not just his marriage which is failing - a mysterious blight has afflicted his wheat crop and it is spreading at a furious pace and leaving his farm hands, and the local authorities, baffled. Rapidly each ...

Primary Colors 26/07/2004

Primarily Great!

Primary Colors ‘Primary Colors’ is one of those books I’d had on my “to read” list for years. I’ve always been interested in all things politics, whether British or American, and the intrigue that surrounded this novel on its publication (about which more below) drew me to it. But it was only when I saw it in a charity shop that I finally got my hands on a copy. And whilst it’s not unputdownable, it’s certainly a gripping political thriller which, at this time in the American electoral cycle, is worth reading. Most people will be aware of the film starring John Travolta, but having not seen it I was able to read the book without picturing the presidential candidate at its centre – Democratic Governor Jack Stanton – in a white suit dancing to Saturday Night Fever. The book follows the campaign of “obscure Southern Governor” Stanton to become the Democratic nominee for president in 1992. We follow the action through the eyes of Henry Burton, a key part of the Governor’s campaign team, who wrestles with his emotions about campaign methods and his opinions of the man he holds in such regard as the plot unfurls. Stanton starts the campaign as the clear favourite, shining amidst an otherwise drab field of candidates as his rivals struggle to decide whether to run or not. He has a way with people, is charming and witty, engaging the public and turning them to his cause. But his natural charm covers inner demons, a past littered with sleazy relationships, paternity suits and sexual proclivities ...

The Stand - Stephen King 16/06/2004

A Long Stand ... but well worth it

The Stand - Stephen King The “complete and uncut” version of Stephen King’s “The Stand” is quite possibly the single longest book I have ever read. My paperback version amounted to very nearly 1,500 pages (punctuated by the occasional illustration which didn’t serve to add very much to the story for me!) which, even at my relatively fast reading pace and frequency, takes a fair while to plow through. Luckily I was in the midst of exams whilst reading it so I was often in need of the distraction! I’m relatively late to King’s books, but remembered vaguely reading “The Stand” as a teenager and had always been curious to read it again. It’s hard to give a brief summary of the plot of a book this long, but thankfully the tale is fairly linear in structure. Somewhere in the American desert in 1990, in a secret Government research installation, a deadly virus which comes to be known as “superflu” or “Captain Trips” escapes into the population. The effects are devastating, with almost the entire population of the States (and by implication the world) killed. But some people, for unknown reasons, appear to be immune. These lucky – or perhaps unlucky – people find themselves having strange dreams, some of an old woman in Nebraska who calls herself Mother Abigail, and others of a strange and evil person known as the Dark Man or the Walkin’ Dude. Some of the survivors find themselves drawn to the sanctity of Mother Abigail, others to Las Vegas where the Dark Man resides. The novel follows several of the ...

George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine 03/03/2004

A knockout of a grill

George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine As I suspect is the case for many people, it was Christmas that finally inspired me to buy one of these machines. I’d seen (and laughed at) the TV adverts several times. They had all the production value of a bad shopping channel, but had been obviously successful with millions of units sold around the world. When I moved house last year, the place I went to didn’t have a good grill in the oven and as someone pretty averse to fried foods in general I was on the look out for a stand alone grill replacement. So I’d been tempted by the George Foreman Lean Mean, Fat Reducing Grilling Machine (hereafter just the GF!) before. Going home for Christmas tipped the balance. My mum had had one for a few months and couldn’t stop raving about it. Then I stepped on the scales for the New Year. Ouch. I was persuaded, and purchased one from Argos. It cost around £35, but these “older style” ones are now being replaced by more modern looking chrome affairs with fancier cooking options which tend to cost more. You can still get ones like mine, though, and often for under £30. ** Appearance / Features ** The GF looks nice enough, if not pretty basic. No switches or dials, just a plastic blue lid (other colours available to ensure perfect complementarity with your kitchen units), metallic body, grey plastic “bun warmer tray” under the lid, and standard looking grooved griddle-style plates inside which clamp together to cook the food inside on both sides at once. The lid has George ...

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! 18/02/2004

I was a celebrity - make me famous again!

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! A couple of my early reviews focused on reality telly shows, so it feels a bit like going back in time to be reviewing another. But “I’m a Celebrity …” (from now IAC) has become perhaps the granddaddy of all reality shows now. Almost 16 million people tuned in to the final this year, more than for any other reality show ever. Whether you like it or not, this show merits attention. IAC first aired in 2002. Series one featured just eight competitors, won by nice-but-dull ex-DJ Tony Blackburn. It boosted the careers of the winner, the runner-up Tara Palmer-Tomkinson (now presenting the “extra” coverage on ITV2) and several others, such as “comedienne” Rhona Cameron. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the second series attracted ten contestants and more interest from people who wanted a career boost. Won by lad-about-town Phil Tufnell, the show propelled him to prime-time as new captain on “They Think It’s All Over” and made Linda Barker queen of irritating ads. Series three aired for two weeks from late January 2004, coming less than a year after the last series concluded (and with rumours of a new series coming in November this year, IAC could become one of the fastest repeating reality shows ever). Ten more semi-famous people entered. This year, however, some of the real big guns of the media world were lured into it, notably glamour model Jordan (“call me Katie”). Much pre-show buzz also focused on former Sex Pistol Johnny “Rotten” Lydon and whether he’d put in an appearance at ...

Poltergeist (NEVER RELEASED) (DVD) (DVD) 06/02/2004

Things that go bump in the night ...

Poltergeist (NEVER RELEASED) (DVD) (DVD) "They're heeeeeeeere ......" Few films contain lines that become movie classics, the lines that a quarter of a century on everyone still knows the movie from which they come. Little Carol-Ann's beautifully delivered line marks Poltergeist out as one of them. Made in 1982, the film includes some quite remarkable special effects for its day and has enough shock value the first time to guarantee you won't leave your TV on overnight. Whether it's strong enough to shock a new generation of thrill-seekers is another matter. "Poltergeist" is a very unusual film. The fact that it's co-directed and written by Steven Spielberg ought to give away the fact that this film contains a lot of more "cosy" elements than your traditional horror flick. It's a wholly domestic horror, focusing on a nuclear family - the Freelings - in suburban America. Everything at first looks so normal. But this is what adds to the psychological horror of the film - the sense that it is so rooted on normality and the possibility that it really could happen. Well, maybe in the mind of a nine-year-old boy as I was the very first time I saw this, in a darkened cottage in rural Wales. Perhaps that added to the scare factor too. Now, fifteen years after the first time I saw it, I can watch it almost with a wry smile. I must have seen the film a dozen times, so its power to frighten has diminished considerably, and looking at some of the effects now with a discerning 21st century eye, you can practically see the ...

Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure - Dave Gorman 03/02/2004

Any good? Search me!

Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure - Dave Gorman At the turn of the year 2003, Dave Gorman found himself at Heathrow Airport with a ticket to Washington, D.C., his passport and a hazy memory of the night before. As things become less fuzzy, he remembers his drunken acceptance of a mission to find a chain of ten googlewhacks in a row. This book chronicles this mission through the highs and lows, and comes on the back of a sell-out tour where the adventure was chronicled. I didn’t see that tour, but I hope it was better than the book turned out to be. For anyone who has no idea what a googlewhack is, it’s simply any two-word phrase entered into http://www.google.com - the world’s largest search engine – that returns just one hit. Dave comes across the term when someone lets him know that his own site features a googlewhack – Francophile Namesakes. Dave sets out to find some of his own, and after meeting the person whose website was linked to by his googlewhack, he is stunned when this person finds two googlewhacks of his own, one of which leads to another man called Dave Gorman living in France. Anyone who has heard of Dave before will know his earlier adventure (also now in book form) led him to find people around the world with the same name as him, so this coincidence leads Dave on his googlewhack adventure. Such is the premise of the novel. As an idea it’s quite ingenious – I’ve searched them out myself but the idea of finding the owner of the website they lead to and meeting them would never have entered my ...

Play.com 19/01/2004

.comPLAYtely wonderful

Play.com First off, apologies for the awful pun on the title. All the good puns had been taken already. Play.com (henceforth just “Play”) is one of the best-established shopping sites now operating in the UK. It sells CDs, DVDs, Audiobooks, Computer games, Mobile ringtones and even boys’ toys (a.k.a. ‘Gadgets’) at extremely competitive prices and with the added bonus of free, generally rapid delivery to all UK addresses. This really is the site that any self-respecting DVD-aholic should have bookmarked and the first to turn to for new releases. The site largely grew out of its DVD sales and expanded into the other markets. Personally speaking I have no experience of buying gadgets, ringtones or audiobooks from the site so this review will focus on the main consumer durables that it sells. ..:: RANGE ::.. The stock range in terms of CDs, games and DVDs is impressive. All major new releases will be stocked and a vast collection of sometimes obscure titles is also held. This is not to say that other sites, notably Amazon.co.uk, will not have a wider range, but unless your tastes are exceptionally leftfield you can be 99.9% sure that what you want will be carried. All items will be very competitively priced indeed, particularly when free delivery is taken into account, though not always the cheapest available. Many items are available more cheaply from CD-Wow.com, for example, but Play’s excellent site layout and customer services are big attractions, and there is almost always a ...

Carrie - Stephen King 19/01/2004

The Power of the Mind

Carrie - Stephen King I’ve never been a horror aficionado. Although I had read one or two Stephen King novels before, and seen my share of horror and slasher films, it’s never top of my list when I’m looking to purchase new books. I guess I don’t like to be spooked too easily. However I came to the novel “Carrie” as a long-time admirer of the film version. This review is therefore written from the perspective of someone moving from movie to book – sometimes this can be a disadvantage, I find, as you’re left with the imagery of the film rather than forming your own. As an example, we’re told early on that Carrie and her mother are both overweight to varying degrees, but with the mental image of Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie in my head it was hard to picture them any other way. As someone who has seen and enjoyed the movie a few times, stumbling across a hardback version of the book in a second-hand shop for the bargain price of 29p made it an obvious puchase – heck, at that price any book is an obvious purchase! It’s likely that a full-price version would be considerably more expensive. The first thing that struck me was how slim the novel was compared to most other Stephen King books – this version stretches only to 222 pages. But, despite knowing the story inside-out from the movie, it was one of those rare books that I couldn’t stop reading and inside three hours I’d devoured it all. Anyone reading it ...

Friday's Child - Will Young 18/12/2003

Friday's Child is Loving and Giving

Friday's Child - Will Young “Where’s Will Young gone?” I’d heard this question over the latter half of 2003 about a dozen times. A fair few people know that I’m a massive fan (just so you know my prejudices before this review really kicks off) and despite my protestations that he’d spent the year writing and recording the new album and doing a bit of European promotion, most people seemed to assume he’d just called it quits like so many other reality TV artists. How wrong they were. Will came back with his new single last month which caused stock shortages as the shops underestimated his continued popularity. But with albums by reality artists performing relatively badly – Will’s “Pop Idol” compatriate Gareth Gates saw his second album flop by entering the charts at number 11 earlier this year – the big question was how this album would perform. The follow up to his successful debut “From Now On” which sold 187,000 copies in its first week and almost 800,000 in total would always be the acid test for Will’s career. Almost completely freed from the ‘Pop Idol’ tag, this album was about Will’s own identity and style and if the public didn’t like it, it wouldn’t bode well for his career. But they certainly did like it. He became the first reality artist to have two number one albums, and by selling 202,000 copies in the first week and 207,000 copies in the second week sales have far ...
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