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J. Higgins-Commowick "boiled_elephant" (Lincolnshire, UK)

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OK Computer
OK Computer
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable and definitive classic, 18 Nov. 2015
This review is from: OK Computer (Audio CD)
Radiohead fans have an accumulated reputation for being silly faux-poetic hipsters who take themselves too seriously, and to be honest, we deserve that a little bit. So, just to quickly dispense with that and offer a non-hyperbolic, unpretentious, level-headed review:

Radiohead are a very talented group with a near-unique sound, even now, and OK Computer is arguably their most refined, well-rounded and cohesive album. Thom Yorke has a memorable and lovely voice that hits the highs without cracking and he manages to convey real emotional depth with it even while singing pretty vague and odd lyrics that (unless you like to read ten miles between the lines) aren't about much at all. Every song is meticulously put together and the whole thing sounds like a set of musicians who have worked with each other for a while, taking their time and doing their absolute best for the sake of the craft. There is no slack - no wasted instruments or filler tracks, no sense of padding. It's one of the few albums on which I don't feel the need to skip any songs.

The musical style occupies a niche; their particular mix of pretty piano melodies, raw guitar riffs, accoustic backing and engaged, dynamic drumming hasn't been entirely reproduced by anybody quite so well since, which is a pity but definitely makes this album indispensable. It never sounds as dreary and generic as the bulk of Brit Pop, keeping an enjoyable level of energy and creativity, while having enough heart and sensitivity to avoid sounding juvenile and thrashy. It never devolves into a tedious navel-gazing unplugged session or monotonous distortion-heavy rock. Radiohead blend many softer and harder elements that other bands can only produce individually, and that's what made them a hit; the key to this album's enduring likeability is its variety.

OK Computer was an instant classic that inspired a host of successive pop acts, but it had a certain sincerity and passion that those subsequent acts haven't quite nailed. It had the privilege of forging a subgenre; all similar work since has sounded less brave and explorative, because it exists in Radiohead's shadow. So if you've enjoyed any modern indie/Brit pop or light rock of the past twenty years and haven't heard it yet, you owe it to yourself to give it a go, because it's the apex of its genre.

Belkin OmniView SOHO Series 2-Port KVM Switch with Audio and USB Sharing - DVI Display - USB (Cables Included)
Belkin OmniView SOHO Series 2-Port KVM Switch with Audio and USB Sharing - DVI Display - USB (Cables Included)
Price: £119.41

2.0 out of 5 stars Fussy and unreliable (4-PC DVI model), 9 Nov. 2015
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NOTE: this is for the 4-PC DVI model. The 2-port and VGA variants are, it seems, much simpler and more reliable.

I've been using this KVM for about 3 years now, so I really do know its strengths and weaknesses.

It's strengths are, basically, that it looks cool, the cables that come with it are very good quality, and it has a universal shared USB port for third-party devices like printers or macro keyboards.

Its weakness - its one, crippling weakness - is that it cannot emulate devices to PCs when it isn't switched to them. Most KVMs (the basic 2-PC VGA ones especially) appear as an active screen and devices to all connected PCs, all the time, making switching between them an invisible process to the computers. Not so with the DVI 4-PC model SOHO. Each time you switch to a computer, it re-presents the USB devices and the screen, and when it's switched away from a computer it doesn't give that computer enough information about the screen for all operating systems or graphics adapters to know what to do.

I have always had to switch to a PC to boot that PC up, otherwise it gives no display or gets stuck on the wrong resolution (on all versions of Windows). It also does some unpleasant resolution switching on large monitors when switching back to a PC: it momentarily emulates 800x600 then resets, and so resizes and rearranges your open windows and desktop icons (this happens on some machines and not others).

That's really it. It may not sound like a big deal, but this one basic problem - that it doesn't present itself continuously to all the connected PCs - means that it behaves *really* unpredictably. You have to be switched to a PC during its whole boot-up to be sure it'll display correctly (or at all), and some graphics adapters I've used it with just hate that little resolution flick it does when you switch back to it, and get stuck trying to work out how many displays you're using. I've had it across 7, 8, 8.1, 10 and Ubuntu, and on three different monitors (a 22" 1680x1050 and two models of 24" 1920x1200). Only Ubuntu has coped at all well with being booted up without the PC switched to it; Windows, more often than not, doesn't know there's a screen there at all, and gives no display output.

I was so frustrated that I sent it back to Amazon early on and received a replacement, which behaved exactly the same. I've put up with it ever since, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone: you can't switch on or restart several machines at once and switch back to them reliably, which is the whole benefit of a KVM.

Plextor PX-128M6S 2.5 inch 128GB M6S Series SATA External Solid State Drive
Plextor PX-128M6S 2.5 inch 128GB M6S Series SATA External Solid State Drive
Price: £48.38

5.0 out of 5 stars Can't comment on Warranty issue, but..., 12 Oct. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
{UPDATE April 2016: Needless to say, SSD prices fluctuate a lot and that should be taken into consideration. Back when I wrote this, the Plextor M6S was really competitively priced; now, it's some £15 more expensive than the good value, budget, subsequently-released Sandisk Plus and no cheaper than the superior Samsung 850 Evo, so there's now no reason to buy one, sadly.}

I cannot comment on the warranty service as I haven't had to try and use it yet, but it seems hasty to write off a product entirely based on one customer's bad experience (there may be other contributing factors to the other reviewer's warranty difficulties that we're not aware of, so take it as what it is). In the interest of balance (as in, item rating balance) I wanted to review the actual product, because it's excellent.

I got onto this drive via the top rankings on ssdbenchmark; it's one of the best value-for-money drives in this size, coming in considerably cheaper per GB than the Samsung 850 EVO - there are cheaper drives still, like the Kingston and Sandisk range, but they have very mediocre performance in SSD terms.

This is very quick - I struggle to measure meaningful differences between it and the Samsung 850 EVO 120GB, and it's bigger and cheaper than that. It's also a full-metal housing, unlike the Samsung and Sandisk offerings.

The other review may be accurate, and the Plextor warranty service may be atrocious; alternatively, there may have been some one-off problem or miscommunication and that reviewer may have just been very unlucky. But just to review the whole product rather than just the warranty service: yes, the product itself is absolutely brilliant.

(And to allay any fears that the drive is somehow less reliable out of the box than other SSDs: it isn't, the other reviewer was simply unlucky in that regard. I've had literally dozens of these drives now and all have performed as expected.)

TeckNet RAPTOR Gaming Mouse with 2,000 DPI, 6 Button, Extra weight
TeckNet RAPTOR Gaming Mouse with 2,000 DPI, 6 Button, Extra weight
Offered by Hippidion.Store
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Ridiculously high quality for the price, 11 Sept. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I can't believe how good this mouse is.

I have two gaming PCs, two workstations in my office and I've used v7 M30P10, Logitech B100, Logitech g400, Logitech g9 and Logitech M900s mice for extended periods - £4, £6, £25, £50 and £90 respectively. I've also used a smattering of other models, as I work in IT. It's not exaggerating to say that this easily competes with the two premium Logitech mice.

It's a near-perfect weight, quite heavy but still easy to lift with your thumb and small finger pinch. Some would probably like it a bit lighter; it's a pity the 40g weight isn't removable (you could dismantle it and remove it if it's really too heavy for you, I guess).

It's long, textured in places to avoid sweat buildup and the plastic is very hard and expensive-feeling. The main buttons curve up towards the front and middle, rather than curving downwards, which makes them easier to click regardless of hand length - a clever tactic I haven't seen other designers use yet.

It's not quite as tall at the back as the Logitech mice, which is a shame - that extra height supports the heel and palm of your hand and makes for a more ergonomic pose and better control if you have really huge hands, but this is still very comfortable for most people. The width is perfect - slightly wider than the g9 and most of the Razer mice I've seen, and consequently easier to control.

The wheel is chunky and rubberized and has a very distinct but smooth action - the best mousewheel I've used except for the G900s, which has the free-wheel mechanism. This one lacks the left-right clicks on the wheel, too, but frankly I've had those for years and I've never once used them.

The DPI button just behind the wheel cycles through three sensitivity settings. They're all usable (none ridiculously fast or slow) and exactly what I'd want them to be.

One niggle I found is that the sensor on the underside has unusally long reach, and you have to lift the mouse further off the desk than normal for it to stop registering movement. There's a little action that we do with mice without even realising it, where we pick up and replace them to complete long motions or recentre our cursor; for the first time I was conscious of doing it, because it wasn't working and I had to lift the mouse further. If you normally 'reseat' the mouse like that all the time, you'll need a bit of time to adjust to lifting it up higher.

This is nitpicking, though. Basically, this mouse is high-quality enough that I'd be happy using it as my main gaming mouse if I didn't already have the G900s. It's £10 at time of writing, and that's just insane.

I was going to knock a star off for the shallow rear, which means it supports your palm less, and the laser's long reach, which makes reseating harder, but for £10, who on earth cares? I didn't expect this mouse to be half as good as it is. It's as comfortable and useful as mice that cost 9 times more (I should know, I bought one, like an idiot). I'm going to buy another of these as a backup just because I can.

Princess Mononoke KODAMA wooden box 1
Princess Mononoke KODAMA wooden box 1
Offered by EAR QUAKE Partnership Limited
Price: £19.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adorable, 4 Sept. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A brilliant, well-made little box with very fine paintwork on it. It's very small - if you have a specific purpose in mind, measure it out first, as it's smaller than you might imagine.

Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
by John Gray
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, dubious and frustratingly unsubstantiated, 4 Sept. 2015
The philosopher Gilbert Ryle wrote the pioneering work 'The Concept of Mind' in a notoriously vague and shape-shifting way that has made it impossible to formally rebuke and has thus also guaranteed its immortality. It is still batted around in discussions today, because laying out exactly what his argument was is as difficult as deciding whether it works or not. Ryle wrote in an informal, uncited way that hurled ideas around without ever really demonstrating anything.

John Gray pulls the same trick here, perhaps hoping for the same sort of attention (or perhaps just out of academic laziness). Like Ryle, he barrages the reader with thought-provoking, disarming questions and well-phrased assertions that give pause for thought. Like Ryle, he fails to substantiate them with evidence or concrete facts, preferring instead to cajole and persuade the reader into agreeing with him, pushing his viewpoint again and again from oblique angles with forceful wording like a politician pushing an agenda.

The brunt of Gray's argument is that the human condition isn't entirely something to be proud of, and that humanism - which strives to place humans on a pedestal and make wildly optimistic claims about our future prospects - is misguided. He argues that we are not in control of ourselves, that we are largely adrift in the currents of forces too large for us to control (politics, war, economics, natural resources, religion) and that thinking we are masters of our fate, as a species, has done some of the greatest harm of all.

That's a very thin slice of his whole argument, and he has some fascinating ideas. Sadly, he never delivers the killing blow on any of them. He presents them, a series of astute, insightful remarks ripe with clever quotable language, and then utterly fails to demonstrate that they're actually true.

Some probably are true, and many are plausible and interesting. At one point, for example, he claims that written language is intrinsic to violence and organised destructiveness, and that when humans developed writing their capacity for evil increased greatly as a result. This got my attention: it's plausible and intriguing, and it's empirically testable. Is it true? I still don't know, because Gray doesn't bother to research it. He's happy to make the claim and leave it to others to prove him wrong.

It might still sound like an interesting and worthwhile book; a conversation starter and food for thought. It certainly is interesting, but how worthwhile is a book on such a broad and important subject that contains no empirical evidence or hard claims? When I tried to discuss the book with people who'd read it, we found ourselves struggling to get anywhere, because we aren't anthropologists or historians and we don't have the data one invariably needs at every turn in this subject - the data the author should have compiled to support his position.

His greatest adversary on this subject, Stephen Pinker, outdoes him spectacularly in his book on violence and the human condition, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Giving Humanism a much-needed firm foundation, Pinker argues the opposite case - that we have become less violent as we have become more civilized and developed, and that there's hope for humans as we continue to advance. He meticulously verifies his claims with research and hard evidence at every turn, giving his opinions a skeleton of facts to hang off of.

Why doesn't Gray make this effort? Ryle was writing about the brain and mind at a time when we knew almost nothing about either, and was therefore limited to speculation and inference. Gray has no excuse: he's writing about the human condition at a time when information about humankind is everywhere. We've never been more historical and self-documenting, and statistics and data that could prove or refute most of his arguments are out there. But Gray doesn't bother to find or distill them into anything that might lend support.

Perhaps he is content with his opinions as they stand, and doesn't want to risk bruising them with statistics and research. Or maybe it is that this was his first major work, and he was only dipping his toes in the water. Either way, it ends up feeling like his voice is coming from the back of a large, comfortable armchair from which he isn't willing to move, placing him a long way below some of his contemporaries writing popular history/philosophy/anthropology and not that far above the bloggers and columnists who fill the internet and editorials with their enjoyable, unsubstantiated rhetoric. Like them, he is worth reading, and he is enjoyable, but he's not worth taking seriously until he proves he can do his research.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 12, 2015 4:30 PM BST

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John Le Carré
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, troubling and brilliant, 17 Oct. 2014
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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is, on the surface, a simple enough spy story. Its set pieces are now so familiar that they're archetypal: an undercover agent, fake passports, defectors, double agents, checkpoints, counter-intelligence and deception. It's a compact and easy read and won't take long. But by the halfway point it has become something more sophisticated, and by the end it will have left a deep impression on you. More is going on here than standard espionage thrills; this book is not meant to thrill or entertain.

le Carré explains in the afterword that he wrote it out of a sense of urgency and moral duty after seeing the Berlin Wall in person and realising what so many well-intentioned ideologies and political theories had finally amounted to. I was reminded of Orwell's most famous political novels, which were similarly compact and direct, angry, made up of essentials and intended to forcefully draw attention to uncomfortable truths about the consequences of political ideologies. Like Orwell, and unlike his peers in the spy genre, le Carré presents an outraged criticism rather than a daring adventure, and victims rather than heroes.

His purpose was to criticize the nature of espionage - the way in which it is conducted, how far it departs from the principles of its societies, and the coldly pragmatic and unethical decisions that are its logical endpoint. The novel is dark and bleak with a steadily growing sense of horror. It's unflinching in its study of the mindsets on both sides of the Cold War, making no attempts to charicature or vilify any of the involved parties: the bizarre mixtures of ideology and pragmatism, of inhumane practices and gentlemanly sentiments, of sociopathic manipulation and lingering honour that existed on both sides of the conflict are studied in knowing detail.

le Carré creates the bare minimum of characters needed to tell his story and then richly explores every nuance and contradiction of their natures. They are given a rare depth and realism through generous dialogue and brilliantly astute characterization, and feel wholly human. Their vain struggles to comprehend and outwit systems whose explicit purpose was to never be comprehended or outwitted by anybody, not even their own agents, is disheartening; their anguish and frustration as they attempt to do the right thing in situations where the only currency is human suffering and the only choices left betrayals, even more so.

le Carré gives us no enemy, no bad guy, to draw a moral compass from; as in real life, and especially in the Cold War, there are only people on both sides faithfully following their principles and methods, doing what it seems must be done, and realising too late that the results are terrible. The awful situations created and choices made are presented as a problem with no solution, a Pyrrhic battle in which human lives are sacrificed and traded and nothing of proportionate value is recovered by anyone - as in Orwell's 1984, human suffering is demanded by calculating systems of control, and nobody is empowered to prevent it.

On account of all that, it should be an alienating read. The greatest accomplishment here, though, the saving grace, is how sympathetically le Carré humanizes the protagonist, Alec Lemas, effortlessly making us identify with a man other writers would mystify or glorify as a tough and hardened professional. He recognises that every tough and hardened operative is, at base, just a normal person whose training or particular psychological quirks suit him well to the work of espionage; that, when the work is done and the consequences dealt out, it's a human being who must cope with them.

Several reviewers contrast him with Ian Fleming's Bond, and rightly so; where James Bond is a steeled, wry hero-figure who thrives on the challenges and triumphs of his experiences, Alec Lemas is a terribly relatable ordinary man with finite endurance, gradually worn down by years of traumatic experiences and unsavoury work, pushed to the edge of his emotional endurance by the ethical contradictions of his duties. Through him, we gradually see how hopeless and expendable individuals are in the process of espionage, how amoral and inhuman a process it is. There's a dark, preoccupying unresolved question at the heart of the story that will have you rereading it, struggling, as Lemas does, to find an answer: how do intelligent, earnest, well-intentioned men end up doing such brutal things?

AmazonBasics Digital Optical Audio Toslink Cable 1.8 m / 6 Feet
AmazonBasics Digital Optical Audio Toslink Cable 1.8 m / 6 Feet

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literally, as good as any other, 10 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Audiophillia is full of snake oil salesmen, but nothing tops the overblown fuss some retailers manage to make over fiber optic cables. Here's the secret: a TOSLINK is a TOSLINK. It's entirely made of plastic, it's transparent and digital, it suffers no signal loss or interference or any kind and it either works or it doesn't work. If you buy ones made of metal, ones with gold plating, ones with special braiding, with shielding or reinforced ends, you need to revisit your secondary school physics books. It's a plastic tube transmitting light; you don't need a shroud, ferrous collar, bell or whistle on it.

This is the cheapest one that's still well-made; it's all-plastic, sturdy and clips in properly. Hence, it delivers 100% of what you need from a TOSLINK cable, and anyone who tries to persuade you to spend more is a shill.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2014 8:51 AM BST

Stanley 090950 300mm MaxSteel Adjustable Wrench
Stanley 090950 300mm MaxSteel Adjustable Wrench
Price: £14.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge, sturdy, 10 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This thing's bigger, chunkier and more comfortable than it perhaps looks in the pictures. Measure out the length of it to get a proper idea: it's very hefty and easily handles (for example) the rear wheel axle nut on a motorbike. It's strong and wide enough for just about anything you'd be able to undo by hand and the filed sides - to make it slimmer and less obstructive - are a useful touch. Buy two of them and you'll never have to buy an adjustable spanner again.

Velvet Revolver Mug, Libertad
Velvet Revolver Mug, Libertad
Offered by LoudclothingUK
Price: £3.65

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect, 10 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
There really isn't much to say about a mug (it either holds water or it doesn't, and this one does), but it looks great and the seller sent it quickly - and Amazon won't let me rate it unless I write a review, so here it is.

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