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since 14/10/2003


Apex City of London Hotel, London 18/08/2006

At the Apex of the industry

Apex City of London Hotel, London Another week another hotel review, and one example of the way hotels SHOULD be. As is the case, I was off on an evening of boozing last night and decided to find a place to crash the night. We used's secret hotels to book the place, described as a contemporary 4-star hotel. Before I start singing the hotel's praises (since I was overawed by it all really) I just want to go through the booking process, since…. Aaaargh. Ok. Why so stressed? --------------- -------- Like I said, I booked using's secret hotels service. This means you book a hotel for a cheaper price, but you don't know the name of it. I've used this many times, and it's been fine. Usually you get a nice place, but occasionally misrepresentations do occur. Anyway, when booking on Weds afternoon I booked Friday night by accident, rather than the Thursday I wanted (i.e. yesterday). Fine, I thought, a quick call to Lastminute and it'll be sorted. The hotel had said they had space, and it wasn't a problem, but Lastminute had to change it. Ok, no probs. Just call Lastminute. *Tears hair out* No chance of speaking to a human. You end up getting lost in a crazy computeried maze and the only way to speak to a human is to go to (you guessed it ) sales. All other requests ask you to go to the bloody website. Anyway, long story short Lastminute gave me short-shrift and said the hotel didn't have space. A lie. They did. I asked them. Apex to the ...

Travelodge Birmingham Central, Birmingham 06/08/2006


Travelodge Birmingham Central, Birmingham This Friday just gone I made my way back to Birmingham to pick up my exam results. Having already decided to go out that night, I opted to book a cheap-as-hell room to crash the night. At £26 and smack bang in the middle of Broad Street (Birmingham's clubbing area) this place fitted the bill pretty well. I didn't expect too much given the price, but that said the hotel failed to deliver on every single count. Having arrived in Birmingham quite early since my results were released at midday, I ambled down to the hotel at around 1.30. Now check-in IS posted as 3pm on the website, but usually most hotels are fairly accommodating. I actually had no intention of checking in till 3, but I just wanted to dump my bag. The receptionist was pretty rude, informing me to come back at three before I'd even opened my mouth. After I asked her if I could at least leave my bags, she gave me an evil look and flounced around a bit. Honestly. Eventually she took them and put them behind the desk at which point I left pretty sharpish to have some lunch. You can buy food in the reception area but it's stuff like Ginster's sandwiches and so on. There is no bar or restaurant. Anyway, on coming back at 3 I was given my key and went up to my room. Not a great room, but big considering the price I'd paid, and the inclusion of a sofa (albeit a battered tatty green one) was a nice touch. That's where the niceties end. The layout of the room was baffling - you could not watch the TV from the bed. ...

Antec Performance One P180B 02/08/2006

Antec P180B PC Case

Antec Performance One P180B Before I start, this review was accidently published under my brother's ciao name due to the fun auto-complete function in Internet Explorer. Its been deleted from there now, so please bear that in mind - it's not copied or posted twice. Anyway, without further ado...... Recently my old PC started to make weird noises, and basically gave up the ghost. The problem, as it turned out, was only a £5 fan but I used the excuse to buy an entirely new PC. One of the bits that comprised my shiny new PC was this rather massive case. At somewhere in the region of 60cm high, it really is huuuuge, and at £80 without PSU rather expensive. Build Quality and Appearance. --------------- --------------- ---------- The first the (other than the size) that strikes you, other than the fetching paint job, is its weight. It weighs an absolute ton, and I struggled to lift it with all the PC's guts in place. The sides and front are finished in a sound-deadening material. This doesn't look as good as a metal finish, but nonetheless is a nice feature. The case features a rather crazy "spoiler" on the top (which fortunately is optional - I'm not a boy racer so I left it off). The case is set off by those nice blue LED's I'm so fond of, however most of them are obscured by the door on the front. Actually, it's just occurred to me. In the flesh, this case bears more than a slight similarity to my fridge. Albeit a black one, but still. Anyway back to its outside. The door is smartly ...

reveals yourself in 100 questions... 29/07/2006

Hundreds and Thousands

reveals yourself in 100 questions... It's been an absolute age since I have written something in the Café, and as such… Voila! Here is me in 100 questions exactly. This IS a long read, and as such I'd advise a cup of coffee and a comfy seat before starting. 1 - First Names: Ricky 2 - Pseudo(s)? Rick, Ric, Shaky (don't ask….) 3 - Girl or boy? Most definitely a bloke. 4 - Towns? (Birthplace and living town) Both in Hounslow (West London), but have also lived in Leicester and Birmingham 5 - Size? *cough* average. 6 - Age? 24 candles on the cake 7 - Colour of hair? Black, when I have any. 8 - Colour of the eyes? Err…. Brown? I think. Ha or "Hazelnut" if I'm feeling pretentious. 9 - Employment / current occupation? General bumming around at the moment, but I'll be starting on one of the "big 4" supermarkets Graduate Schemes this September. 10- Astrological and Chinese sign: Gemini and…. I think… the dog. Or the rat. Ah hang on, google tells me I am a dog. 11 - I like/love? Sleeping, eating, general bumming around, coffee, poker, Jack Daniels Also my missus, lest she be reading this :p 12 - I don't like? Waking up, lentils, tea, bridge and Vodka. 13 - If you can meet one person of your choice, dead or alive, known or not, who would this be? It would have to be a chap named Doyle Brunson, a living poker legend. My game is pretty poor at the moment, so I'd have to pump him for some advice. That and the fact he's 69 and ...

Thistle Euston, London 19/07/2006

Home, home on the train

Thistle Euston, London This weekend just gone it was one of my missus' mates' birthdays, and as is the norm we all decided to go out on a fun night of drinking. Rather than shell out the extortiante taxi fare home (at least £35 back to my part of West London!), we decided to book a hotel in advance and then wander home on the tube the next day. Booking the Hotel --------------- ----------- We booked the hotel through's Secret Hotels. The idea behind this is that in return for not knowing the hotels' name until you have booked, you get cheaper rates on the room. The Thistle was described as a 4 star hotel just behind Tottenham Court Road at a rate of only £69 - cheap for London. We booked there and then, and were a tad disappointed to say the least when we discovered we were staying at the Thistle. We have used the Secret Hotels before and stayed in some pretty nice places, however felt that maybe we were mislead on this occasion. A quick glance at other online reviews showed that not only was the Thistle rated as a 3 star hotel (as opposed to the 4 advertised) but also not too many people enjoyed their stay there. Oh Goody, the joys of Euston --------------- --------------- --------- Saying the hotel was behind Tottenham Court Road is a bit of a misnomer - it is in fact right next to Euston Station, with Tottenham Court Road a good 10 minute walk down Euston Road. The location is a bit poor, although convenient for business travellers I guess. The only place to grab ...

Malmaison, Birmingham 15/06/2006

The house of Ill-Repute

Malmaison, Birmingham A while back I stayed at the fabulous Malmaison in Birmingham's Mailbox as a treat for my birthday. A so called "boutique" hotel (whatever that means), it is one of the few places I have stayed at that thoroughly deserved it's 5* rating. And so, on with the review…. Location (The Mailbox? A Postbox? With a hotel in it?) --------------- --------------- --------------- --------------- ----------- Well, the Mailbox isn't actually a giant postbox, rather a trendy development of fancy shops and bars situated on the canal. It's a very unique building, the only way I can describe it is as a covered street. You have many famous names here, including Harvey Nichols, Armani, Boss and even Aga, should you decide you want a cooker. Past the shops and overlooking the canal are a variety of bars and restaurants, including Bar Estillo, Zizzi, Santa Fe as well as many, many others, It's possible to spend an entire evening just here, but Broad St (Birminghams main clubbing area) is all of 2 minutes away, as is the trendy Brindly Place development, complete with even fancier restaurants. The Mailbox is also host to a number of designer apartments, should you like it so mch you choose to live there, and a couple of art galleries/stores. It's around a 6 minute walk from New Street station, and maybe 10-15 minutes from Moor Street station and Snow Hill station. Booking Online (Who needs a middle man?) --------------- --------------- --------------- ------------ Malmaison's website ...

Marketing 07/06/2006

£7k for a brain?? I'll take it!

Marketing For the past year I have undertaken an MSc in Marketing Management at Aston, and this op is about my time on this course. A little background Approximately 2 years ago, I decided that my career was going a nowhere soon. I was a shop floor manager for a major retailer, and to be honest was fed up with it. I had always held a vague interest in Marketing from my 1st degree, and decided I would follow my heart. After a little research, Aston became my preferred choice for the course. Aston Business School is well regarded for its Postgraduate programmes, and comes off reasonably well in the league tables in the UK. It is ranked 3rd for MBA courses in Europe. The course also allows full exemption from the CIM professional exams, with only the last set to take. The application process After biting the bullet and deciding to apply, I downloaded the application form from the University's website. Bear in mind Postgrad applications do not go through UCAS, but rather through the University direct. Of course Undergrad's have to go through UCAS. The application form itself is quite long, around 9 pages long, and asks for details of work experience, grades and a personal statement as well as confirmation of how you will be paying the fees. 2 references are also required. The application process is quite stringent; I later found out that only 9% of applicants are offered a place on the course (!). After this it was a case of waiting and praying. Luckily a few weeks later I was ...

Shuttle XPC SN95G5 V2 (SN95G5V2) 05/06/2006

A toaster? A PC? What?

Shuttle XPC SN95G5 V2 (SN95G5V2) Now, I'll bet the first thing thought by you is, "what the hell is this?". Well, it's what's known as a "barebones" PC - in other words, you put your own stuff into it. "Why on Earth would you bother?" is likely to be the second question, and the answer is simple: It's cheaper, more stylish and definitely cooler. So…. A little bit about it then. Looks Well, the first thing that strikes you about this thing is its size. Seriously tiny. We're talking toaster-sized. You would not believe you can squeeze a fully fledged PC in this case. It's made out of black steel, with a plastic fascia (shame, that. A metal front'd have been much nicer). The front itself is characterised by various flaps hiding all the drives and ports, and the LED's are a rather fetching blue. It looks very, very stylish. The sides have "Shuttle" embossed on them, along with air-vents. The rear is rather more ugly, with plugs and a whacking great fan uncovered. Putting the damn thing together Like I said, you put your own bits into this PC. Well, not your own bits. That'd hurt. But your own PC components (sans motherboard, since one is included, as is a PSU. The motherboard is a modified nForce 3, should you be wondering). The PC is capable of taking any socket 939 AMD processor (this means the majority of Athlon 64's, Athlon X2's and newer Opterons), and 2 sticks of DDR RAM. If this is all double Dutch to you, don't worry. RAM is the memory, and DDR is the type. Since 2 sticks are ...

City Inn, Birmingham 19/05/2006

City Inn - a hidden gem.

City Inn, Birmingham I think I spend far too much time in hotels, and can be quite demanding. That said, it is with pleasure I report that the City Inn in Birmingham is a hidden gem. Location The hotel is located in the trendy Brindley Place development just off Broad Street in Birmingham, and as such is ideally situated for pubbing, clubbing and general merriment and yet being secluded (for a city) enough for a bit of peace and quiet. Brindley Place itself is home to a variety of trendy bars and restaurants including the (in)famous Bank and various luxury apartments. It's a mainly pedestrianised area, and is easily accessible by foot bus or train from New Street station. The majority of other hotels in the area are located directly on Broad Street, which can be quite noisy with the drunken hordes clamouring around after about 10pm. Mind you don't get vomit on your shoes, should you choose to venture out . Brindley Place is also very close to Birmingham's canal network, meaning there are some interesting excursions to be had. The NIA and Sea Life Centre are also within walking distance, as is the HQ of the Royal Bank of Scotland, should you wish to complain about interest charges. Arrival and Check-in After booking with (shameless plug time) only a day or so earlier, we arrived last Friday (the 12th) just after the advertised check-in time of 3pm. The hotel lobby is modern, clean and spacious (with some great modern art), and there were 3 receptionists on duty, ...

Sony Ericsson W900i 16/05/2006

The return of the Walkman

Sony Ericsson W900i I bought this phone as an upgrade around 4-5 months ago, and have to say that despite its weight and iPod-aping white colour scheme it is one of the best phones I have used. I guess the question is, what does it do that's so great? APPEARANCE (vanity vanity vanity) Like I mentioned, the phone is iPod-white, which may or may not be to everyone's taste. It is dominated by a large and crisp (252 thousand colours I'm reliably told) screen, which swivels 180 degrees to reveal the keypad. The rear features the camera and speaker, whilst another smaller camera is visible just above the screen. The actual menu interface is very clear, with large icons, but the standard theme leaves much to be desired. Fortunately additional themes are provided, including animated ones and they are easily downloadable online (sadly I've grabbed a Louis Vitton one). FEATURES (it is a phone after all) Well first and foremost it's a phone, and a talented one at that. Basic calling is simple and easy, with the added benefit of voice dialling and excellent sound quality. The phone features a speakerphone for hands free operation, which is useful if your, say, on the loo! In terms on phone numbers it can store an awful lot, I'm not sure of the exact number since it depends on a few factors like how many MP3's you have, but what is astounding is the amount of information you can hold per number. Multiple numbers are par for the course these days but the W900i lets you store email address, ...

Microsoft K49-00005 11/02/2005

Doubles as a handy Surfboard!

Microsoft K49-00005 A few months ago I invested in a very expensive Coolermaster shiny keyboard.... that turned out to be the cats' arse in keyboards. I have since replaced it with this Microsoft do-hicky which manages to have bells AND whistles AS WELL as working!! Surfboards --------------- ----- The first thing that strikes you when you rip open the cardboard packaging is the size of this thing. Its big. Big enough to Surf on! The size is increased by a new row of buttons on the top edge, and a detachable wrist rest on the bottom. Its jet black ion colour, looking thourghly good all round. Its not metal in any way shape or form, but the plastic its formed from seems pretty sturdy. The only thing that spoils the appearance in my opinion is the LED's - they are green. I'm sure blue one's are the same price, and look so much classier. In Use --------------- This keyboard is a joy to use (generally). The keys are lovely and tactile, and make the sort of clackity-clack noise that any self-respecting secretary would be proud of! The wrist rest in particular really adds to how comfortable this device is to use. Some real thought has gone into the design of this device, with the spacebar being slightly oversized, again a feature that really enhances how nice this keyboard is to use. Microsoft has seen fit to add a new row of keys along the top, which do such things as switch on your music player, open My Documents, Messenger, Internet and so on. Lost your calculator? No problem. Press ...

Numark AXIS 8 Tabletop CD Player 24/01/2005

I can't fit vinyl in that!!!

Numark AXIS 8 Tabletop CD Player This is a review of Numark's Axis 8 pro CD player. Who the hell needs a £400 CD player?!?!? --------------- --------------- --------------- --------------- ----- This CD player is aimed at the semi pro DJ, who requires that little bit more from his or her kit. It includes many of the features found in top end kit that retails around the £800 mark. This is by no stretch of the imagination a peice of kit thats designed for hifi use. Thats probably overkill - kinda like using Concorde to deliver post. Or something. So what's it do then. --------------- --------------- ---- Well, in its most basic form, it plays CD's. It does this rather well, turning on quickly and having giant rubber buttons. It features quite an unusual method for changing track; rather than pressing a button, you turn a knob. It took me a while to figure this! It supports such CD player basics such as shuffle, pause, program play et etc. No no no. Whats it REALLY do? --------------- --------------- --------------- --- Of course, it does far, far more than this. Being primarily a piece of DJ gear, it has the obligatory pitch control, allowing you to adjust the speed of your song to match that of the one already playing. Now, the difference being, this CD player has a pitch control that ranges from +/-6%.... to +/- 100%!!!! What this means is that you can effectively double the speed of your track, allowing for some crazy mixes. Ever wanted to mix a Luther Vandross track with some frantic DnB?? ...

TDK go blue Bluetooth USB Adaptor 15/01/2005

Bluetooth... Or long in the tooth?

TDK go blue Bluetooth USB Adaptor Right, now this is a review on the TDK go blue Bluetooth adaptor for your PC. What’s it do, then? --------------- --------------- Well, in a nutshell, it enables your PC to access Bluetooth devices. Right, but my teeth are yellow. What is Bluetooth? --------------- --------------- --------------- --------------- ------------- Bluetooth is a form of wireless communication. It enables devices (like mobiles and PC's) to "talk" to each other without the need for wires. "Why would you want to do this!" I hear you cry. Well, there are many applications. Imagine a Bluetooth printer - you could connect it to any computer on the fly - or a Bluetooth keyboard - so you can sit on the sofa and type. The reason why I purchased this was that I have a range of Bluetooth enabled mobile phones, and I wanted an easy way to transfer stuff to and from them. Bluetooth has amazing range - this particular adaptor has a range of 250 metres, more than plenty, but you can also get 100m and 10m. Obviously the usable range decreases when you chuck walls in the way! What’s in the box? --------------- --------------- -- Well, you receive the adaptor, a CD... and not a lot in the way of instructions. These are on the CD in PDF format. You also receive 2 little plastic holsters you can stick to your PC to hold the adaptor in place. How do you make it work? --------------- --------------- ----------- Installing this thingy is difficult, if you have Win XP Service Pack 2. XP SP2 adds ...

Samsung SGH D500 12/01/2005

The little black dress of Mobile Phones

Samsung SGH D500 Recently I was due an upgrade on my mobile phone contract, so after much deliberating settled on this little number from Samsung. Now Samsung are not a make I would ordinarily consider, but this particular phone has been the subject of rave reviews on the web, so I figured I would splash out. How does it look? --------------- --------------- -- In a word, gorgeous. It is a very small phone, dominated by a huge screen. It is finished in a high quality glossy black plastic (sadly not metal). On one side, you are greeted by volume buttons, and on the other a dedicated button for the camera. There is a small external keypad, with the majority of keys only viewable when you slide the phone up. The only niggle I have with the aesthetics of the phone is that the cover for the charger is not secured in anyway. It is a very small bit of plastic that could get lost very easily, so you need to be doubly careful when charging the phone that you keep it safe. A lot of thought has gone into the design of the phone (battery cover aside). There is a small ridge of plastic where most people would rest their thumb to slide the phone up, making it very comfortable to use. The headphone socket has a cover that slides away when not in use (this does beg the question, why could they not use a similar one for the battery cover??). What can you do with it? --------------- --------------- --------- Well, clearly its a mobile phone. So I'll start with that. As a mobile, it rocks. Call ...

O2 29/12/2004

Better chance with a bottle in the ocean.

O2 I have had a contract phone with Vodafone for the past 2 years, but decided to get an O2 Pay as you talk Sim card since my better half has (actually "had") an O2 contract phone. Now, since then we have both had nothing but problems with them (yes, its a "rant-view"). However, to be unbiased, let me tell you about the good points and the advantages to O2 first. The Deal --------------- ---- O2 offer good value for money. When I picked up my Pay as You Talk Sim, the deal was that so long as I topped up £10 a month (easy when my contract bills are in the regio of £150!) I would get 500 free texts monthly, and a rate of 5p a min to other O2 mobiles. My other half had a fantastic contract deal as well - 500 minutes and zillions of texts for around £25 a month. She also got a fantastic deal on her phone - a (at the time) state of the art Nokia 7210, with camera attachment, for free. I had paid £149 weeks previously on Voda, so I must say I was pretty gutted. There is a very wide range of tariffs available, both on contract and Pay as you talk, and a very good range of phones. Reception --------------- ---- Reception on O2 cannot be faulted. I was able to receive reception in the basement at work - where my Voda couldn't. Minimal dropped calls, and good call quality all round. Features ------------- O2 offer all the major features, such as Picture messaging, Wap, GPRS and so on, with the notable exception of 3G services. Customer Service --------------- ...
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