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I'm a miserable old git. I'm ashamed to say it's been a **** very **** long time since I reviewed my "trusts", have sought to rectify this by going through every review I've written in the past couple of years, if you feel hard-done-by, drop me a note.

Reviews written

since 31/01/2003


Rockyoo XK Detect C380-B Quadcopter 26/10/2015

Excellent toy, but strictly for the grown-ups

Rockyoo XK Detect C380-B Quadcopter This is a toy, but only in the sense that it serves no practical purpose – it certainly isn’t for kids, it’s a bull-blown semi-pro Quadcopter with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from something you’d expect to pay the fat end of £400 for. You wouldn’t expect someone to climb onto a high performance sports bike and NOT have accidents, and likewise, don’t go hoping anyone will be able to pick one of these up and fly them first day out without crashing. The unit consists of a plastic housing in the traditional “X” configuration, a very powerful brushless motor at each end, and a propeller atop. In the middle is space for all the electrics, and underneath the mounting ports for a high-resolution camera. I’ve seen footage from these, and they are mightily impressive machines. My mate has one (two actually, both currently out of service, more on this later) We started off with cheap copters – around the £50 mark. These were lightweight, and whilst fine indoors, or in calm conditions outside, they got blown about a bit, and the cameras weren’t up to very much. My friend bit the bullet and moved up to a ‘proper’ copter, and chose the XK Detect X380, because it offered all the ‘big boy’ options, but was about a third of the price of the ‘full on’ “Pro” copters. There’s probably a reason for this. In terms of spec, you get a battery which reputedly lasts around half an hour. It comes with a remote control unit, which needs to be ‘paired’ with the copter. The copter ...

Honda CB250RSA 27/09/2015

Wen bikes was bikes, and I was a lot lighter!

Honda CB250RSA If only they still made them today! I look upon the time I owned a CB250rs with great affection - for me it was the ideal machine, and if I could get my hands on a good one, grab it without a second thought. You don't see than may 250s nowadays - at the time, the 'one part test' allowed any learner to use a 250cc bile with 'L' plates and a normal provisional licence - considering it was entirely possible for such a machine to break every speed limit in the country, it was only a question of time before something had to be done about that! The RS came out in the early 1980s, and was pitched as a road alternative to the 'classic but ugly' Superdream. The machine was designed around an old trail machine (the XL-250) but was heavily restyled for road only use, and had a few tricks up it's sleeve. The engine was a single cylinder 250, with a four valve head - singles have a reputation of being a bit prone to vibration, and Honda got around that by building in a couple of counterbalances on the cam chain drive. This allowed them to increase the power to 26 horses, which doesn't sound a lot, but with a moderately lightweight frame, gave it plenty of poke at the lower end of the rev scale. Even though this was a single, the style gurus in Japan insisted on giving the bike a dual exhaust! - the suggestion was that this reduced exhaust velocity, but it was complete nonsense! Yes - it looked OK, but it really wasn't practical, and the original chrome work (rusting quickly) meant ...

Hippo Bag 19/07/2015

Just for the bag itself, this is still a great product

Hippo Bag I recently bought a hippo-bag, and found it was a great product, even though I didn’t use the ‘phone to collect’ service. Hippo Bag is an ‘end-to-end’ waste disposal service You get a big woven polypropylene bag, with webbing straps at your local DIY store for a nominal deposit, I think I paid about twelve quid for the “mega” bag – which is about 180cm long, and 90 cm square at the end (think of a very large coffin!) Hippo deigned the bag to take a redundant bathroom suite, and is rated at 1.5 tonnes. Here’s where the business model and I diverge slightly. The idea is that you fill your bag, phone a call centre, arrange for it to be picked up, and they arrange for this to be done in five working days for a penny shy of £110. If you’re using the full 1.5 ton capacity, that’s perfectly reasonable. Except, I didn't need that. I was doing some clearing in the garden and had a couple of cubic metres of prunings to sift – probably less than 50Kg, but big none the less. I simply stuffed the greenery into the bag, tied over the straps, and managed to jam it into the back of the car, with the back seats down. I’ve tried this at other times using conventional sacks, but even with boot liners, I usually end up with more rubbish in the car than the bags themselves, and spend more time clearing this up than actually chopping the bushes back! With a bit of brute force and lubricated by extensive swearing I got the bag in the back of the car, transported to my local ‘civic amenity ...

Lowepro Nova 180 AW Shoulder Bag 24/06/2015

Bigger than you might think

Lowepro Nova 180 AW Shoulder Bag The Lowepro Nova 180 AW camera bag is a bit of a ‘tardis” in as much as it seems a lot bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It describes itself as being suitable for one DLSR and a bunch of lenses, but in actual fact it carries much, much more than that. Keen readers of Ciao will know I recently added to my collection of digital SLR kit, I now have two Nikon D-series bodies, and a few lenses. I also carry the other clutter and nonsense most semi-serious snappers do, namely spare batteries, filters, phones, binoculars, table tripods, trombones and computer cables (OK, I lied about the trombones!) I’ve been collecting photo junk for more years tan my better half cares to recall. It all started quite innocently, I had a 35mm SLR and a couple of lenses, that went in a traditional Aluminium flight case, as was the fashion in the 1970s – best part of that setup was that being relatively short of stature, the box could double up as a table/ step/ shield, depending on the circumstances you found yourself in. Fashion changed, and the trend was for ‘padded holdall’ style cases, these had compartments for you camera body, additional storage for lenses and the rest of the junk, but they were principally intended for a single body and several lenses (bodes being relatively expensive) The camera nearly always lay horizontally along the length of the case. More recently I’ve been using “top loading” cases – where camera and zoom lens fitted into a padded ‘holster’ – unzip ...

Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24 mm 1:3. 5-4. 5G ED 19/06/2015

This has immediately become my favourite lens of all time

Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24 mm 1:3. 5-4. 5G ED I’ve been taking pictures for an awfully long time, I got my first camera over 45 years ago, and used it at the 1970 Commonwealth Games – my shots were universally rubbish, but I was smitten. I’v e never quite understood the fascination for long lenses, perhaps because I’m short-sighted, but I’ve been fascinated by wide angle lenses, just as soon as I was able to recognise the format. In my 35mm days, I started with a 35-80mm zoom, uickly progressed to a 24mm which I used as standard for many years, and finally ended up using a 17mm which gave the most extraordinary results, the Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24 mm 1:3. 5-4. 5G ED lens is the only one I’ve used which went anywhere near this, and exceeded the angle of view. First of al, let’s describe the lens itself – it is around the same length as the ‘standard’ Nikon 18-55 zoom, but is a deal fatter, and feels quite a bit heavier. It fits on any “D” series Nikon Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera body and support auto-focus controls through electrical connections in the F-mount bayonet. It works just as well on my D3100 and D3200 camera bodies, the D3200 giving the higher resolution. The lens is categorised as an “ultra wide angle” rather than an”fisheye” – it gives an angle of view from 76’ to 28.5’ which in 35mm terms is around 14mm to 36mm. Fisheye lenses traditionally distort straight lines into curves, “ultra wide” lenses, through clever optics, still keep edges ‘straight’ but exaggerate perspective dramatically. We’re ...

Nikon D3100 18/06/2015

Not just for the "newbies"

Nikon D3100 The Nikon D3100 was aimed firmly at beginners when it was launched in 2010. It offers a range of “high end” features in what is a relatively simple to use package. As well as a 14 megapixel sensor it can record in HD video with sound, 11 point focusing, auto and manual exposure, but perhaps most important to serious users, the Nikon “F-mount” bayonet. There are many reviews which start at the point of describing this from the point of view of a novice user. I don’t intend to repeat any of this. I recently bought myself a new Nikon lens (review coming shortly) which left me with the “standard” 18-55mm in a bag at the bottom of my camera bag. Whilst “F-mount” lenses are reasonably easy to swap over, they do mean you have to take off the back-cap, take the existing lens off, mount the new lens, replace the back cap and put the old lens away before you can shoot. That leaves a few seconds when your camera internals are exposed to dust, sand, grit, rain, moisture, and in that time you can’t take pictures. I’m delighted with my ‘main’ D3200 – it does pretty much everything I want it to, but they still attract a fairly price tag, even although they’ve been superseded by the D3300. The D3100, on the other hand, is “two models behind” and a good one can be bought for around the £100 mark. Better still, if you have a 3200, they use the same battery. The trade-off is that it’s “only” 14 megapixels, as opposed to 24 on the D3200 and D3300. Using as a “spare” that really isn’t ...

OCZ ARC100-25SAT3-240G 240 GB 04/04/2015

More zoom than an ice lolly!

OCZ ARC100-25SAT3-240G 240 GB All right – so the reference to a particular brand of frozen treat will probably be lost on anyone under a particular age, but take it from me, Solid State Disks (SSDs) are a well-established means of speeding up an otherwise lethargic system. Just for reference, The Zoom in question was a multi-coloured lolly from Lyons Maid – contemporary with the FAB, which I believe is still in production, both were heavily marketed as a ‘thunderbirds’ merchandising tie-in. I have an otherwise perfectly functioning desktop computer which is nearly six years old – I’ve already maxed out the memory (at a mere 4Gb) and upgraded the hard disk twice. The particular design of this system doesn’t lend itself to further upgrades (It’s an “all in one” computer which doesn’t allow me to upgrade the processor or motherboard) it still performs moderately well, but I’ve noticed it takes an eternity to boot up, and recent upgrades to applications programs seem to take a lot longer to load up. I didn’t especially want to reload windows (after installing a ‘clean’ version it also involves downloading and applying all the patches to Windows/7, and then I’d have to re-install all my apps) I did notice, however, that the Hard Disk light seems to spend most of it’s time “on” which indicated that the disk may be contributing to the slowness. A “quick and dirty” fix, I thought would be to install a solid state disk, the OCZ ARC-100 240 fitted the bill entirely. A little background first; SSDs are ...

Panasonic NV-M40 02/04/2015

Look like a pro

Panasonic NV-M40 Confession; I don’t have an NVM-40, mine is a 50 but there is virtually no chance that it will be added to CIAO – as I’m not delving into detailed specifications please indulge me. Given that even the cheapest smartphones produce higher specification results in digital format, why would anyone be interested in buying a 20 year old camera the size of a suitcase when they could use something which fits in their shirt pocket? Why indeed! I reply with two words “size matters”. In terms of bragging rights, the NVM range of camcorders always win in terms of ‘looking the part’. These were semi-pro devices, primarily used by wedding photographers, the underlying specification was by current standards modest (they don’t even record in stereo) and share the same proportions as ‘ghetto blasters’. They do look magnificent though, in a similar sense as do Ford Capri cars, shoulder pads and Duran Duran styling. The camcorder uses a full-size VHS cassette – these are becoming harder to source nowadays, but you can pick up cheap ones in Poundland – given the choice of using a ‘good’ branded well-used 20 year old cassette or a cheap new one, the cheap one wins every time for me. Original batteries will have long since died – I managed to source lead-acid replacements (just a little but too big, but can be held in with ‘duct tape’) for around £15 each. To use, it’s pretty straightforward – charge the battery, switch on, press eject, slap a tape in, and it’s good to go. Controls are as ...

GPO GPO 1970'S Retro Telephone 01/04/2015

Ours was navy blue!

GPO GPO 1970'S Retro Telephone In terms of telephony, it doesn’t come much simpler than this. The rotary design telephone was initially designed in 1891, and other than a few stylistic improvements, it remained largely unaltered over a period of 80 years – hard to believe anything can last that long when a typical mobile pay monthly deal builds in a replacement every 24 months! This instrument was issued at a time when ‘mobile telephony’ meant an extra long cord had been fitted, ‘phone jacks’ were only available for the (radioactive) ‘trimphone’. The success of the design relied on it’s simplicity. Under the sleek plastic shell, there lurked a bewildering array of ‘screw down’ connectors, joining an electromechanical bell, a couple of resistors, capacitor, carbon microphone and a magnetic earpiece. The GPO (General Post Office) had a state monopoly on equipment and fittings. It was technically illegal to interfere with any part of the apparatus, and if you wanted yor phone relocated, it involved a costly call-out. It was only in the 1980s that you could have phone “jacks” fitted round the house, and even then you could only attach certificated equipment. At the heart of the device was the ubiquitous ‘rotary dial’ You put your finger in the appropriate hole and rotated the dial clockwise to a chrome end-stop. As yoou released the dial, it slowly returned to the original position, sending the requisite number of pulses down the line. You could buy a lock (probably wasn’t entirely legal) which ...

Panasonic LAB50 29/03/2015

Bright idea: Replacement bulb for PT-LB50 range of projectors

Panasonic LAB50 The very thing when your PANASONIC projector burns out the bulb! Whether it’s for doing presentations for meetings, watching films or goofing about projecting images onto your (and other people’s) buildings, from relative obscurity LCD projectors have become smaller, lighter and above all, cheaper. LCD projectors have one failing in particular though, and it’s one they hold on common with most projector devices, namely the bulb. The average life expectancy of a bulb for this projector is around 2,000 hours, but may be reduced considerably if it is repeatedly switched on and off, or is subject to knocks or bumps whilst newly switched on, or is cooling down. 2,000 hours equates very roughly to one year of operation at five and a half hours a day The LAB-50 bulb is specifically designed for the PANASONIC PT-LB50 projector. If you are a professional presentor it's probably worth having one of these handy in case you get 'caught out' at your next important meeting. The package comprises of a Glass reinforced plastic “cage” into which are mounted the electronic connectors, a 125w halogen lamp and some optics. Replacing the lamp is a relatively straightforwrd process; Switch off theprojector disconnect the power unscrew the lamp cover on the projector, unclip the lamp housing dust the internal compartment to remove any collected debris pop the new lamp in place replace the cover. Take care not to touch any of the optics, and especially not the lamp itself An Original ...

Through Bolts 29/03/2015

Fixes heavy loads to solid concrete easily and quickly

Through Bolts Let us sing the praises of the humble ‘through bolt’ – if you have something big and heavy to attach to a flat concrete surface, these are the chaps for you. Also known as “anchor bolts” or “Wedge bolts” the through bolt is ideal where you need to fix to a solid surface which you wouldn’t be able to drill ‘right through’ to use a conventional bolt. Through bolts are typically used in concrete to support or restrain high loading, where a conventional plastic plug would be insufficient – loading factors of around 1000Kg are not untypical, but this is dependent on the substrate 9what you’re mounting it into) being strong enough. Therefore, this wouldn’t be used to hang a small picture on a plasterboard or stud partition wall! Typically this would be used to mount gate posts, handrails, garage doors, or high load racking to concrete floors or uprights. Take care that when using you don’t compromise the strength of whatever you’re mounting onto – beware beams, reinforcement rods etc. The bolt consists of a machined steel shaft with a thread (screw) cut at one end, a washer and nut are typically supplied. Sometimes the shaft comes with a steel sleeve – which is the exact diameter of the hole it is intended to be inserted into. The far end of the shaft spreads out as a cone, around which are a couple of pieces of metal which mirror the profile of the cone. The outside of the metal pieces are the same diameter as the sleeve. (It’s far easier to understand when you look at ...

The Grand Budapest Hotel (DVD) 27/01/2015

Beautifully understated

The Grand Budapest Hotel (DVD) The Grand Budapest Hotel has to feature as my favourite film from 2014 In structure the narrative takes the form of ‘double flashbacks’ – the narrator describes a story told to him in terms of an encounter with another character in the 1980s, when the “Grand Budapest Hotel” was clearly a shadow of its previous glory some fifty years previous. The story told describes a series of events taking place in the mythical country of the Republic of Zubrowka, sometime in the 1930s, and located somewhere in Central Europe. The plot is based on the character of Masseur “Gustave H,” played by Ralph Finnes, the all-powerful concierge at the Grand Budapest, his sidekick “Zero” (Tony Revolori) a refugee from an unspecified war-torn country somewhere probably to the east of Zubrowka, and their attempts to secure the ownership of a priceless painting seemingly bequeathed to Gustave by an ancient ‘lady friend’ – “Madame D” played by a heavily made up Tilda Swinton, who dies in suspicious circumstances. Gustave is implicated in Madame D’s death, is incarcerated, breaks out of prison and is reunited with Zero, they then re-acquire the painting in a background of highly theatrical murders , and a coup engineered by fascists. On that basis, it wouldn’t seem terribly inspiring plot line, but the delicacy with which the characters are portrayed is astonishing. The single most striking aspect of the film is the care taken in framing the shots, virtually every scene is conspicuously symmetrical ...

Sennheiser MM 400 Headset 16/01/2015

Wireless, digital and over 10 hours between charges

Sennheiser MM 400 Headset He Sennheiser MM400X Bluetooth Headphones are very much what you’d expect from their description, headphones, designed by Sennheiser, supporting Bluetooth apt-X protocols. Advertising literature points out that these are primarily designed for ‘smartphones’ – although their use is not limited to this, indeed I have never actually used mine for this purpose. The headphones comprise of a padded stainless steel headband, two ‘closed back’ sound units into which the electrics (including battery) have cunningly been concealed. The phones can be folded flat, and can be stored in the profided zip-up black nylon case – along with the headphones come a standard ‘wall wart’ charger featuring a micro-USB charging lead, a number of international plug adapters (so you could connect to the mains in the UK, the European continent or further afield) Especially handy is a patch cable, if your battery runs out, you can connect it directly to your audio device through standard 3.5mm stereo lack plug. For normal listening, the battery will last around 10 hours, use as a ‘bluetotooth headset’ this increases to around a claimed 20h (presumably lower quality audio takes less power) and re-charge can be achieved in 3 hours, although I know this to be significantly les if you use a high current charger, although a shorter battery life might be anticipated. The device is based on Bluetooth, which is a digital format. That’s digital in the same sense that it offers a broadly acceptable and ...

Lenovo Iomega ix4-300d Network Storage 70B8 4 TB 08/01/2015

A lot more storage for far less than you might expect

Lenovo Iomega ix4-300d Network Storage 70B8 4 TB Let me first point out that I should have put this review under the diskless version of the device, not the 4Tb model described in the header! the only difference is that for the one I've reviewed, you supply your own hard disks, it's substantially the same unit though. How much storage is too much storage is an impossible question to ask – and is just about as sensible as asking the same of money. I’m going to split my review into two sections; the first describing what a NAS is, and the second part is about the Lenovo box. Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a commodity that originated in large enterprise enterprises as a offshoot to externally connected disk subsystems in Mainframe environments, and go back almost as long as mainframes themselves. It meant you could attach a processing unit from vendor A and connect it to a storage array from vendor B, not only that you could also attach other computer systems. Over time, the ‘personal’ computer became popular, and centralised file servers held departmental data. Not everyone needed an expensive file server, so niche devices evolved to fill the space between computer to computer shares, and conventional file servers. In it’ simplest form, a NAS can be any old computer with a single drive offering shared access to a number of desktop computers. Unfortunately that doesn’t offer much protection as the single disk drive could fail, and without a backup all your files would be lost. NAS devices can be built on commonly ...

Dell Inspiron 1501 30/12/2014

Don't replace - upgrade!

Dell Inspiron 1501 One of the great “joys” of being the resident family “pc doctor” is that relatives often throw down “challenges” in the misguided belief they’re doing me a favour. I really shouldn’t respond to them, but perhaps pride, or a misplaced sense of obligation means I rarely turn them down. The Dell 1501 was such a case, and had I any sense, I’d have pronounced it ‘dead on arrival’ but I just couldn’t help myself. The 1501 was almost destined from day one to be an excuse for a laptop. Corners were not so much cut, as being intentionally “rounded”. It featured just about the cheapest processors available, a bare minimum of hard disk, minimal connectivity, and above all, a case so flimsy it could be regarded as an accident waiting to happen. It did, however unintentionally, poses several unexpected redeeming features. Dell in their infinite wisdom like to keep things simple. They use industry standard components and don’t try anything ‘clever’ – as a result there’s still components and spares cheaply available. They also have construction down to a fine art – what’s easy to assemble is equally easy to take to bits and maintain. The particular example I was offered to play with had obviously seen better days. It was painfully slow, the screen was cracked and had somehow stopped supporting the VGA external monitor. The screen was the easy bit – it uses a bog-standard 15.4” LCD panel – used on just about every 15” model at the time (may still do). Replacing this was no rouble ...
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