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since 15/11/2004


GE Z150 18/06/2011

Z150 - great value entry-level digital camera.

GE Z150 The Z-150 comes with a strap, USB lead, AA batteries (unfortunately it does not take a lithium rechargeable battery) and a 1 year warranty as standard. The instruction booklet is a little limited in its scope, but a comprehensive instruction manual is also available on the accompanying CD, which comes with the drivers needed to attach the camera to your computer, via USB. Set up is quick and simple, with no glitches (at least not on my Windows Vista system). The camera is extremely simple to operate. It has a large 5" led screen, which is useful for reviewing your photographs, and this has a menu function which guides you through more advanced options. However, it is a simple matter of click and shoot for most scenarios. It has a wide range of features and face recognition, which belies the low price tag of the camera. It is suitable for beginners and those wishing a simple point and shoot camera, with some extra features. Optically, the camera is also impressive, with a decent 10.1MP resolution and a 5x optical and whopping 22x digitial zoom range. The results are more than acceptable for a camera of this price. One slight drawback is the lack of a wideangle lens. However, at extreme telephoto - like all cameras I would suggest the use of a tripod. This camera does come with an image stabilisation feature, but this only increases the graininess of the image to cope with camera shake, it is nothing very fancy. On build quality - could do better - the camera feels a little ...

Raleigh Manic 05/02/2011

A basic, but extremely good value mountain bike.

Raleigh Manic This bike was a replacement for my Giant Sedona DX hybrid bike (see which was unfortunately stolen. I couldn't afford to spend that much on another bike, so was looking for a cheaper alternative. As a result of my misfortune, I also have the chance to compare a mid-range bike, with a bike from the cheaper end of the market. I found the Raleigh Manic on sale in JJB sports for just £65 - a bargain considering it retails for twice this amount. Even now, you can get it for £110 - compared to the £300 asking price for the Sedona DX. As I bought the bike online, it came in a cardboard box for assembly. I do not have previous experience of putting a bike together. Fortunately, the instructions came with an on-line video to help, and an allen key. However, I don't recommend bothering with the Raleigh customer service line, all that will happen is you will get passed from one department to another and listen to tinkly music, without actually speaking to anyone useful. The only problem I had was that the nut on the front fork wouldn't tighten properly as the screw looked like it had been slightly damaged, so I had to use a hacksaw so that it would tighten. This annoyance, aside, it was surprisingly easy to assemble and set up. The Manic is a mountain bike, whereas the Sedona is a "comfort hybrid". I do find the ride a little harder than the Sedona, but it is still very comfortable. There is front suspension but the saddle is ...

Kettle Chips Sweet Chilli 24/12/2010

The crisps are great, but the flavouring is terrible.

Kettle Chips Sweet Chilli I recently bought a packet of sweet chilli kettle chips, as they were proudly emblazoned with "new recipe" (see picture). I used to like the old sweet chilli flavour, so I thought I would give them a try. They used to have some chilli kick, with a sweet flavour and this complemented the deliciously crisp, thick kettle chips perfectly. They should have paid attention to the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". According to the manufacturers' puff - "Sweet Chilli KETTLE Chips now contain the coolness of sour cream to balance the sweet chilli hit in an innovative, moreish combination" and they spent a YEAR developing the new flavour, in consultation with consumers in order to improve the product - see below. In my opinion, they have wasted a year's work. I could have told them after eating a pack that they hadn't got the flavour right. A look at the ingredients list gave me some clue to the horrors lurking inside the red packet. "Sweet chilli seasoning (sugar, dried sour cream, dried skimmed milk, dried yoghurt, sea salt, dried onion, dried yeast extract, dried chilli, dried red pepper, ground paprika, citric acid, natural flavouring, dried garlic, dried lemon)". 10/10 for the use of wholly natural ingredients, with no monosodium diglutamate in sight, but 0/10 for the taste, I am afraid. They taste like yoghurt / cream flavoured crisps and are far too sweet. The chilli flavour is far too ...

Do you believe in life after death? 21/12/2010

Life after death is a comforting delusion.

Do you believe in life after death? There are three possible positions on the question of life after death. It either exists, it doesn't or we don't know. I don't believe there is any convincing evidence for life after death. Some say that "out of body experiences" are evidence for an afterlife. However, recent research, describing EEG (elctroencephalograph) readings has described a burst of brain activity shortly before the brain shuts down in terminally-ill patients. “As blood flow slows down and oxygen levels fall, the brain cells fire one last electrical impulse. It starts in one part of the brain and spreads in a cascade and this may give people vivid mental sensations.” What about mediums / ghosts - don't these show there must be a spirit world? Mediums use Barnum questions (named after the circus owner) that if you ask a general enough question, this will apply to someone in the audience. People like David Blaine make a living out of "reading people's minds" but he doesn't claim any special abilities other than an ability to read body language and the imagination to make up convincing tricks. Ghosts inhabit dark places, where our eyes are more easily confused. They are often accompanied by cold sensations, which can be explained by draughts in old houses. There is no concrete proof that ghosts exist. But people all over the world believe in various religions, there must be some truth in the idea that we can live after death, be it through reincarnation, ...

Compeed Blister Medium 17/10/2010

Got a blister? Get some compeed.

Compeed Blister Medium I ran a marathon last Sunday, and on peeling my socks off found I had two blisters on my left foot. Serves me right, I thought, for running in a fairly new set of trainers. However, I had a solution to hand in the shape of compeed blister plasters. These plasters sell for around £4 for a pack of 5 plasters. A slightly cheaper alternative is Boots own-brand blister plasters (£3.49 for 5), which are in all respects identical with Compeed's. This may seem a mite expensive for just five plasters, but in this case they are well worth it. They are advertised as giving instant relief to the pain of blisters, and for once this is a product which lives up to the hype. Pop them on and no more pain. They are quite thick plasters which grip tightly and surround the blister in a soothing gel. You only need one plaster per blister, and the idea is to keep them on for three or four days, when it will have healed completely. I do a lot of running, and find my feet (even with running socks on) are prone to blisters. Compeed works every time to gently cover up my aching feet, enabling me to carry on going. They are also extremely waterproof, as I could testify in a hot bath to ease the pain in my legs, the Compeeds still stuck on firmly after a good soaking in hot water. In summary, these are highly recommended for anyone who suffers from blisters. However, if you think prevention is better than cure, you could try coating your feet in Vaseline and wearing socks overnight - the idea ...

JR Universal Inkjet Refill 18/09/2010

Beat the printer cartridge rip-off

JR Universal Inkjet Refill Why are printers so cheap? Because the manufacturers are trying to get you to spend ridiculous amounts of money on ink cartridges. The money they spend subsiding the cost of a printer is more than offset by the £1000s you will rack up feeding it overpriced ink cartridges during its lifetime. The solution? - an inkjet refill kit. The JR colour inkjet refill kit comes with everything you need to refill any make of printer cartridge and complete instructions. These are easy to follow and you can also find the instructions if you need them on the manufacturer's website. However, once you have refilled cartridges a few times, it is really very straightforward. Some Epson cartridges have a chip which tells the computer how full they are and will refuse to be refilled. In this case, you will need to reset the cartridge, but a separate kit is available to let you do this. Otherwise, it is usually a case of levering the top of the cartridge off with a Stanley knife or similar sharp blade, filling up the three fill holes carefully, ensuring you get the right colour in each and that they do not bleed into each other. The kit comes with a syringe and needle to help you with this. Imagine all that money you are wasting on something as simple as a sponge with some ink in it. I would recommend doing this over a sink and wearing plastic gloves, as it can be a messy business and printer ink isn't the easiest stuff to get off. Then you simply put some sellotape over the top, ...

Batemans Dark Lord 23/08/2010

A very quaffable strong ale - for those who like the dark side.

Batemans Dark Lord So who makes this brew? Dark Lord is brewed by Batemans, a family brewer in Lincolnshire. The bottle proudly proclaims that they have been brewing since 1874 in their old windmill and "put quality before economics". Dark Lord? That's a funny name for a beer The Dark Lord of the title is a reference to Black Tom, who fought alongside Cromwell in the English Civil War, in the battle of Winceby in Lincolnshire. Maybe not a brew for Royalists then, but as a Republican I think it is great! How do I spot it on a shelf? The packaging, like all of Bateman's beers has their distinctive windmill logo around the neck and their unusual curvy label. It has a hand-drawn figure of Black Tom in the midst of battle. A dark beer - is that a stout then? No. Dark Lord is a porter ale, so-called because of the porters of Smithfield Market, who favoured a strong, dark brew. It certainly lives up to its name, delivering loads of flavour. Sounds nice - but what does it taste like, and how strong is it? Like the eponymous Black Tom, wielding his sword on horseback, this brew packs a bit of punch at 5%. As soon as you open the bottle, a rich toffee aroma hits your nose. It is very quaffable, with a smooth texture and strong, malty taste. It leaves a lingering flavour on the tongue, with a hoppy aftertaste and is all too drinkable, so beware - one too many and you will be under the table. Is it a real ale? This is not a bottle conditioned beer, so is not "real ale" in ...

Tesco Australian Reserve Shiraz 21/08/2010

A great bottle of wine at a bargain price. Fair dinkum.

Tesco Australian Reserve Shiraz A good Australian Shiraz will set you back about £7-£8 usually, but this is priced in Tesco at £4.20 for a 75cl bottle - an absolute bargain. It is very fruity with hints of cherry and plum, and has oaky undertones. Australian wines are quite different from French - in that they eschew all the traditional wisdom that grapes have to be collected from a specific vineyard and that they should vary from year to year according to the warmth of the summer or the soil conditions, etc. Instead, Australian wine producers blend their wine from the best grapes they can find to jam in as much flavour as they can, in a consistent wine that is the same from year to year. This isn't a bottle for wine snobs, then, but if you enjoy a refreshing fruity drink of red wine, then at the price this Shiraz is very hard to beat.

Numatic Henry HVR200 08/08/2010

Reliable, dependable and always has a smile on his face.

Numatic Henry HVR200 Why choose Henry? I have had a Henry now for 12 years without any problems. It wasn't even new when I got it, so it could well be about 20 years old - did some googling and apparently the first two years of the serial number are the year it was made - this is a 1993 vintage model. Yet its design has hardly changed. Simple, efficient, ultra-reliable - it can cope with anything you throw at it. But where are the gimmicks - dual cyclone power boost, bagless no-loss of power suction? You don't need them. Dysons are unreliable because they don't have a bag. Their motors break down easily because of the dust they have to ingest continuously. My partner used to work in a vacuum cleaner shop and the most common model they have to repair is the Dyson. Forget bagless - the old fashioned ways are the best. Has there been no improvements then since your old model? The new Henry has a twin speed switch. Other reviewers say it is quieter than the old model and it also has an improved vacuum attachment. Other than that they are identical. So why is it so such a great design? First there is the charming, smiley face which cheers you up when you are doing the vacuuming. Take off the lid though (a simple matter of removing a sturdy catch) and you see a commercial, powerful 900w vacuum motor underneath (newer models have a switch from 1100w to 750w). It sits within the lid of the cleaner, with a filter underneath and the body houses a large capacity bag. Very simple to ...

Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media - Nick Davies 06/08/2010

An excellent journalistic expose of modern news

Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media - Nick Davies Nick Davies exposes what he calls "churnalism": lazy, churning out of 'facts' without any journalistic integrity involved in researching an article. In the introduction, he mentions that "of course everyone knows that tabloids are economical with the truth", but in this expose, he find that a blatant disregard for the factual content of a news story penetrates even the quality press. This book is written by a highly experienced journalist, with the benefit of in-depth research. One by one, it punctures the reputation of the Observer, the Guardian, the Mail, the Times and the Express. Davies makes it clear that, while there are still many idealistic journalists of high integrity, the atmosphere within which they work corrupts and degrades the journalistic process. Davies can pinpoint the event which started this slippery slope - the predatory spectre of Rupert Murdoch and his battle with the printers' union in Wapping. Having decimated staff, throughout the media, newspapers are reduced to feeding on whatever scraps are given them by press agencies and the pesky business of analysing the details of news are simply ignored. Many "news" items have become simple advertising puffs for products or politicians. Davies cites the example of a reporter at the Observer, who acted virtually as a outhpiece for Alistair Campbell to provide him with pre-packaged spin. Journalists regurgitate what they are told because they don't have the time or the resources to check details. In ...

Poetry 24/07/2010

Adam's Apple Eating Adventure

Poetry Adam's apple-eating adventure Adam's amazing apple-eating adventure Began brilliantly by a babbling brook. Claudia the caterpillar contentedly curled, Deeply dozed, deliciously daydreaming. Eating extra-large eucalyptus Flowers, found by the foraging, Galloping, gallivanting, gargantuan Harold the heavy hippopotamus. Ivor the intrepid, insect-eating iguana, Jumped jubilantly in the jungle. Kevin the king cobra, coiled. Lazily, lugubriously he lolled. Millie the magnificent millipede Noticed Nellie the not-so-friendly, Obviously ostentatious owl, Preening, as proud as a peacock. Quentin the quagga quivered querulously, Running Reggie the rhinoceros ragged. Sylvie the serpentine snake, slithered. She Turned to Terry the tiger in the topmost tree. "Unicorns?" she uttered. "Vultures? Vengeful vixens? Why worry? We won't wake up Xavier the excitable axolotl Yet". Yvonne the yak yawned. Zacharia the Zebra zipped past Yevgeny the yellow Xiphias and Xerxes, an extraordinarily Wide, wonderful, wiggly whale. Venus the vilified vulture was very Unimpressed. She ululated To Terry, who, tired of her tittering, Snoozed sleepily, silently in the sunset. Reggie reared up. "Refreshing rest and relaxation are Quickly quaffed," he quarrelled. Polly the parrot pecked out pretty patterns On the outmost outcrop of the orange tree, Never noticing Nellie's nervous nattering. Meanwhile, Millie munched on magnanimously, Larry the lion leapt on a ...

Walkers Doritos Tangy Cheese 22/07/2010

Yummy cheesy snack, full of crunchy flavour.

Walkers Doritos Tangy Cheese I bought these at my local Co-op as they had a BOGOF on Doritos / Dips. Armed with a hot salsa dip and a 225g sharing bag of tangy cheese Doritos, I thought I would remind myself what they tasted like and do a review for Ciao at the same time. The first thing you notice when you pick them up is the liberal coating of cheesy flavouring (monosodium glutamate, disodium 5' ribonucleotide, cheese powder 2.5%, buttermilk powder, whey solids) which gets all over your finger, but can always be easily licked off again. It may not actually consist of all that much in the way of cheese, but it certainly tastes authentic and cheesy. If you like your Doritos au naturel, then these cheesy triangles do not disappoint. They are crunchy and cheesy without being too overpowering. After the cheese dissolves in your mouth, you are left with a satisfyingly crunchy triangle of corn. Doritos claim they "taste amazing because they are made the traditional Mexican way" - actually they are an American invention, later imported to Mexico - but I doubt Zapatistas use monosodium glutamate when making tortilla chips! Despite their dubious authenticity, they actually taste very delicious. I just popped another into my mouth just to make sure. Personally I prefer them with their natural accompaniment - the salsa dip, the cheese blends with the tangy chilli flavour to make a very tasty combination and the triangles are the perfect consistency to survive a good dunking. One disadvantage is that ...

Tesco Value 9 Function Wired Cycle Computer 08/07/2010

Good cycle computer for the money - but no instructions!?

Tesco Value 9 Function Wired Cycle Computer This is a reasonable, basic cycle computer. It appears to be very similar if not identical - the display, mount, etc. seem very similar - to a Eurolight 8 cycle computer, which goes for £10 at Argos. Tesco are selling this for £6 - a bargain? I took it home and unpacked it, only to find out that there were no instructions. There didn't seem anywhere to put them either, given that the package was crammed into a tiny plastic packet. This also meant that it was quite fiddly getting everything out and the wires untangled, ready to put in place. I had never used a cycle computer before, so this was going to be a challenge. I phoned Tesco for advice (they have a freephone helpline, but the person who answered advised to take it back to the shop and get some instructions. He thought it should have some, and thought that I might be able to get some help online - though he wasn't sure. Not exactly very helpful. Undaunted, I looked for some advice, and found a helpful video. You need to attach a magnet to a spoke of the front wheel and line this up with a sensor on the front fork. Use cable ties to attach the little gizmo and the same for the housing on the handlebar. Slot the computer in place, and off you go. The only other thing to do is to calibrate the thing according to your wheelsize. It measures how far you have gone, each time it detects the magnetic pulse and uses that to calculate speed. This model you need to hold down both buttons and wait until it resets itself, ...

Alcatel OT-203 04/07/2010

Very basic phone. Ideal if you only want it to text and call.

Alcatel OT-203 I am always losing my mobile phone. After going through about five different models in the space of a couple of years, I settled on the Alcatel. Reasons - I don't want internet, a QWERTY keyboard, to keep up with facebook, an iplayer, a 4MP camera or GPS on my phone. It is a phone, not a computer or a camera. This makes it very easy to use and it is very cheap, so I don't care if it gets lost. Features - there aren't any. It has a very basic couple of games, which soon get very dull after about ten minutes. It texts and makes phone calls. What more do you want? One drawback, because of the very limited memory on board the phone is that you have to delete all sent / received texts every now and again - it simply can't store very many. Durability - not great - after about six months use, my screen is the worse for wear and the battery compartment is a little on the loose side. There are just six plastic clips holding it in place and it is easy enough to remove - again, nothing fancy. Battery life is excellent - it keeps on going and going. I lost my charger ages ago, so I use a mini-USB cable that runs as a charger when connected to a PC. Can last for a week or so between charges - probably due to the tiny screen. Price - £5 - probably the cheapest phone on the market.

Giant Sedona DX Gents 28/06/2010

A very good all-round bike that is great for commuting

Giant Sedona DX Gents I got this bike through the NHS's cycle to work scheme, meaning that I pay for it in instalments over a year, tax-free. However, even at its £299 asking price, it is still good value as a road bike and is sturdy enough to cope with off-road paths, but is not a true mountain bike. Giant have targeted this at a city user, who is not about to ride the Tour De France and just wants a reliable bike to get them safely from A to B - in this the Giant does an excellent job. One of Its plus points is its seating position - you sit high on the saddle and the straight handlebars give you an excellent view of the road. Comfort is good too, through a plush saddle and front Suntour suspension. It also comes with puncture resistant tyres as standard. The suspension, for me, was a little hard, but it still irons out potholes. The bike comes without a mudgard or rear rack, so if you need to carry things with you on your travels - consider investing in one of these. The 21-speed Shimano gears are also extremely convenient and easy to use, with a simple flick on the handlebars to shift higher or lower and number indicators to tell you which gear you are in. I would have prefered a higher gear ratio at the top end, however - but the low gears make light work of steep hills. Changing gears is extremely smooth. The brakes slow the bike down rapidly without any skidding, helped by the alloy wheels. The wheels are removable with quick-release levers, which aids any repairs - but these ...
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