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Mark Thomas "physics_mark" (Midlands, UK)

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Travalo Easy Refill Travel Perfume Atomizer Spray Bottle in Bold Gold
Travalo Easy Refill Travel Perfume Atomizer Spray Bottle in Bold Gold
Offered by Prestige Europe
Price: £5.85

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The sweet smell of success, 9 Nov 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The ever more elaborate designs of fragrance bottles has created a dilemma for scent-conscious people on the move. How do you take your favourite one away with you without lugging around a half-pint bottle shaped like a fist? It's taken a while, but the solution is now here in the shape of miniature fragrance atomisers, and what ingenious devices they are.

Basically, if you can flip the top off your fragrance container (and some are more resistant than others), then you can transfer liquid into the Travalo Atomiser and take it with you. The product description boasts that it can hold more than 50 sprays and despite being only the length of your middle finger, on the evidence so far I suspect this is true. Once attached to the nozzle, a quick series of repeated pumps of the device fills up the chamber, and a window shows how close to full the canister is. That's all there is to it.

One slight issue is that the 'atomising' push-button top diffuses the spray quite thoroughly, almost too well in fact: the first time I used it I nearly ended up spraying it into my ear. For the ladies (or gents) who like to create a perfume mist I imagine it would be ideal. Switching from one fragrance to another after emptying the device is another possible hurdle, although by holding back an empty fragrance bottle with a screw top and filling it with water, then using this to effectively rinse through the Travalo, carrying a second scent without traces of the first is entirely possible.

The Travalo Atomiser is a great idea and a great device, perfect for all those occasions where you need to freshen up quickly and discreetly without carrying something bulky. It's small, light, tough, and inexpensive. What more could you want?

by Roberto Vidal Bolaño
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You say Bolano, I say Bolaño, 12 Oct 2009
This review is from: Amulet (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The opening of Amulet is encased by a factual historical event, beginning with the escape from the Tlatelolco massacre of the book's storyteller, Auxilio Lacouture. While government forces scour the University for dissenting students she hides for days, and her silent determination not to be found or to yield shapes a resolute character she carries with her from that moment onwards.

The book goes on to chart her life and encounters with artists, poets and a life of artistic expression in Mexico City. While Auxilio herself is neither a writer or poet, her critical appreciation of the works of others displays an artistic intelligence which is engaging and thought-provoking.

There is next to no dialogue in Amulet, yet somehow characters and their personalities are sufficiently captured as to feel solid, even if their interactions with Auxilio are occasionally so romanticised and irrational as to be almost beyond human. This, though, is significant to the book's central message of the importance of freedom, creativity and aspirational endeavour above that of the everyday.

As the book progresses, Auxilio's recollections take on an ever more dreamlike quality, mixing a swirling miasma of memory with mystical fortune-telling. Time becomes non-linear, and returns frequently to the near-death experience of the opening chapter, but with greater detail as the importance of that event is exerted more strongly on Auxilio's mind. We come to sense her influence on those around her, and the refinement of the notion that a community of artists must be unified to avoid the diminishing of its power.

Amulet is a sophisticated piece, enjoyable in its originality and only slightly marred by the lack of impact from any real drama. Without a devastating hook to the storyline Roberto Bolaño just misses the chance to really grab the reader and provide a memorable experience. Nevertheless, the imagining of the poets and writers living and creating in the city is strong and expressive, making Amulet a pleasingly immersive read.

by Sean O'Brien
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Intractable and unfulfilling, 5 Aug 2009
This review is from: Afterlife (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The stifling heat of the English summer of 1976 is a sympathetic backdrop for the melting pot of four newly-graduated friends who move together to a Shropshire village to decide on their futures. Martin, providing the commentary for the novel's events, is a self-doubting poet wannabe, having chosen to study the writings of fictional priest Thomas Exton, with whose anxieties and self-denial he identifies strongly. Caught up in an escalating feud between talented and inspired Jane and the driven but constantly sinning Alex, Martin frets over his own temptations and vulnerabilities while trying to maintain harmony within the ill-fitting group.

In Afterlife O'Brien betrays his poetic background all too often, wandering off into confused introspection for long tracts, and while this may be a literary device to highlight Martin's indecisive, drug-soaked thinking, it makes for agonising reading.

O'Brien's characterisations are a problem. The book's protagonists lack any real solidity and their relationships are jagged and inconsistent. Sometimes believable, sometimes improbable, their interactions are difficult to fathom and are often swamped by impenetrable, profane, arty debate. Even with the death of Jane, for whom Martin harbours a secret devotion, a true sense of devastation is absent, and she is not keenly missed by the reader either. However, the gradual fragmentation of the group as dangerous new characters are introduced as catalysts for the tragic outcome is at least interesting to observe. This, along with the claustrophobic village-setting that feels ever-more suffocating and volatile does something to assuage fears that the whole story is going nowhere.

It is difficult to get away from the feeling that Afterlife tries to be too clever for its own good. It attempts to be an intellectual, art house piece written from the point of view of a frustrated poet mired in academic and personal indecision. The effect of this, though, is to alienate the reader from what comes across as a pretentious exposition of academic over-confidence. There are brief sparks of clarity, but the lack of any definite structure or drama tends to make Afterlife an unsatisfying read.

Sony RDR-HXD890 Freeview+ 160GB Hard Disc Drive DVD Recorder - Black (discontinued by manufacturer)
Sony RDR-HXD890 Freeview+ 160GB Hard Disc Drive DVD Recorder - Black (discontinued by manufacturer)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly decent recorder with some neat abilities., 22 Jun 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Setting up the HXD980 wasn't at all difficult. A separate sheet indicates the most common arrangements for connections, making life very easy in the first instance, even with the plethora of connective options at the back of the unit. The set-up menu is a different story and took a little deduction to work out how to tune channels and set the quality of recording; important for managing space on the recorder's disk while achieving decent picture standard during playback. At an acceptable setting there is still over 65 hours of available space which I find to be more than adequate.

To me the unit is slightly taller than it appears from the pictures; the DVD recorder obviously requires an extra bit of height to work, making it a tad bulkier than some of the HDD-only models. 7cm may not sound like much but by today's standards it certainly makes it 'a feature' in our TV stand. Suprisingly for a Sony it's not especially stylish to look at, either.

As this is my first HDD recorder a big issue for me was how loud the unit would be during operation. In terms of noise, the Sony does require its fan to run during playback, which is totally drowned out if you're watching or doing anything in the same room. When not actively in use the Electronic Programme Guide updates every few hours, leading to a couple of minutes of activity or slightly more if it's a bigger update which, in an otherwise quiet room is above a whisper. Nevertheless I would say that for the majority of people it's barely noticeable and wouldn't be a problem.

Using the Guide to plan recording is straightforward enough although you have to work slightly harder to set times manually should you feel the need. The best feature of the device has to be browsing the Titles to playback; a joyful, one-touch process that's been superbly designed. There are even miniature preview windows which select a few snippets from whatever you've recorded and play for a couple of seconds as you move through the list, and a 'New' heading if the programme hasn't been watched yet. If you have to stop watching a recorded programme and come back to it the Sony can remember what point you were up to last time, even if you've switched it off and returned much later, which is a nice touch.

Although it's not touted anywhere it's possible to playback one file while recording another - so-called `Timeslip' - which has come in use on several occasions. You can also start watching a programme that's in the process of being recorded - `Chase Play' TV. However, it's not possible to record two separate channels to the disk at the same time, which I know for some people is a drawback.

Some features are excellent while others leave just a little to be desired. What you get is a competent, robust option which does a good job of the basics, plus a few with a flourish, but it does lack the all-round finesse of a high-end alternative.

Dark On Fire
Dark On Fire
Offered by dodax-online-uk
Price: £11.34

3.0 out of 5 stars Flickering in the dark, 16 Jun 2009
This review is from: Dark On Fire (Audio CD)
After the sunnier aspirations of JackInABox, Dark on Fire signals a return to deeper, more considered territory for this, the fourth studio album from Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian. To categorise Turin Brakes as acoustic folk seems a little unfair; they are definitely capable of belting out more robust numbers as album highlight Ghost proves, kicking along with its off-the-beat chorus and a groovy bass riff. That said, there is plenty of introspection and soul-searching elsewhere on the disc for those who enjoy it, though the effect is often to leave the listener thinking 'so what?'.

Other Side and Bye Pod are classic Turin Brakes, all emotional outpouring and lonely vocals, but run for too long. Real Life is entertaining enough, but lacks imagination and feels like a cameo on the disc. Stalker promises much, with its searing verses belted out in Knights' best attempt at a growl, but the chorus comes across a little flat, lacking the venom of the rest of the song. And indeed that's what feels like is absent from the album as a whole - a dash more vigour sprinkled onto the livelier efforts would provide much-needed contrast from the touching, melancholy body of the remaining tracks.

It's not unpleasant, yet to my mind, the overall sound of Dark On Fire is displeasingly hollow and pessimistic. While it works in part as an atmospheric and echoing record, there is nevertheless the feeling of something missing to give a properly satisfying listen.

Earth To Dandy Warhols
Earth To Dandy Warhols
Price: £8.15

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still in orbit, 1 Sep 2008
This review is from: Earth To Dandy Warhols (Audio CD)
After an initial honeymoon period I learned to hate Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars, the Dandy Warhols' previous full-length work, having originally given it five stars here but ultimately falling out of love with a sloppy collection of distracted noises haphazardly recorded just so they could get their friends' voices on the CD. The tidier sounds of Earth To The Dandy Warhols come, therefore, as a great relief and the album as a whole is a far more satisfying listen.

The Dandy Warhols are never conventional, yet there is a surprising feel of musical normality trickling through much of Earth To The Dandy Warhols. Indeed, it seems they have received the message of rejection aimed at their satellite of late and have, in general, tightened up the sprawling mess of sounds that was Odditorium, while at the same time deploying the array of scratchy guitars and bassy rumbles we have come to expect from them and make them unique.

The World (Come On) opens the effort beautifully with clanging bells and a clipped guitar riff which propels the song wonderfully, before melting into a rare moment of savage rawness in Mission Control's opening bars and the funky twangs of Welcome To The Third World. Love Song bounces along nicely with a neat banjo accompaniment, and Mis Amigos - a re-branded version of inter-album single "Me And My Friends" - is entertaining if mildly repetitive. Unusually for the Warhols there are echos of other bands threaded through the music here, from U2, INXS and R.E.M. to a splendid twist on James Brown, yet they manage to mix in Zia's keyboards and a plentiful supply of extra effects to keep the sound their own throughout.

The Warhols have rather lost the plot with their epic album closers in recent times, and Musee D'Nougat, while initially shivering the nerves with a distant continuation of the space themed sounds, turns into a rather pointless 14 minutes of background noise without purpose or definition. Nevertheless there is plenty enough interest in the rest of the work to warrant good listening time and if the lyrics are unspectacular and occasionally unclear, the overall robustness and welcome jollity of the remaining 12 tracks is well worth hearing.

Earth To The Dandy Warhols is a step back from the brink for the Portland foursome - while there's the definite impression that the creative power of the late 90s has now faded, the spark that makes the Warhols different is still quietly sizzling in what is now an impressively broad, and deep, compendium of work.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 28, 2009 10:20 AM GMT

HP Photosmart C3180 All-in-One Printer
HP Photosmart C3180 All-in-One Printer

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality at a stupendous price, 1 Jun 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
For me, buying an HP printer has possibly been too long in coming. Historically I have always chosen Epson products despite having seen some of the smooth, efficient outputs from HP products elsewhere, but following my initial experiences of using the C3180 I am now a convert.

Colour printouts are swift, quiet, and of a good standard even at the draft quality setting. I printed some 150dpi graphic designs and was pleasantly surprised at the sharpness and colour radiance even at this resolution. The scanner facility seems to be excellent, although it can take a little while to perform a scan at higher settings, and you'll almost certainly be better off using a different application to pull the images into an editor to save the files; the resident software is horrendously unreliable and inefficient. In terms of looks the device is pleasingly compact and neat, with a solid feel while being surprisingly light.

The absence of an essential USB cable (type A to B) is definitely an irritation and it was lucky that I had a spare one lurking in some old parts boxes otherwise it would be an additional expense. In fact, it did lead to me having to install the nightmare HP custom software rather than my usual preference of leaving Windows to deal with the new hardware. I opted for a minimal install and it doesn't encroach too much; that said, the hard-drive space required for the drivers still seems excessive to me and I might review this choice at some point. There really is no need for all this complex rubbish to be installed when all people want their printer to do is print.

Ink cartridges come in two varieties: black and a three-chamber, single-unit colour cartridge. This is both a positive and negative, insofar as one only has to expend all of one colour (cyan, magenta or yellow) and a complete new unit has to be put in. The flip-side is that third party ink - or better yet, an environmentally conscious re-fill of your current cartridge - is now so cheap that even this isn't too much of a burden.

Of course, it's still early days, but up to now this printer has been an excellent and dependable tool which, even though the price has gone up noticeably again since I bought it, is still an absolute bargain.

Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia
Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £4.48

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely marvellous throughout, 12 Mar 2007
On the process which brought about the formation of The Dandy Warhols' third published album (ignoring the secretive Black Album which the record company blanched at the thought of marketing) band member Pete Holmstrom is quoted as saying that the creation of Thirteen Tales was one of the best experiences of his life, with every new sound and idea seeming to interlock with, and compliment perfectly, all the others. Indeed, while there is a sufficiently eclectic mix of styles and atmospheres across the tracklist to cover a splendid spectrum, each sequence rolls so beautifully into and out of the last that from track one to track ten could almost be a single, epic journey. The threading of songs from the start is stunning: from soft acoustic subtlety through thumping, ire-fuelled arrogance, into banjo-strumming country twangs, before climbing to upbeat cockiness, sinking down into introspective worrying and out the other side to the legendary Bohemian Like You - still magnificent after dozens of listens and half-caught sound clips. There is so much here that fans of the Rolling Stones, Love and Rockets, Thin Lizzy and many more will recognise and appreciate, and such depth and refinement of a sound the band might otherwise have deliberately allowed to become uneven and grungy. It is truly stirring stuff, and makes for a deeply satisfying listen from beginning to end.

Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia announced a glorious and triumphant arrival to the mainstream rock conscious, and gave The Dandy Warhols their first taste of mass commercial success. Since then, whilst maintaining a small but dedicated following, they have slid away from the limelight and back toward the roots of their eccentric, undistilled noisiness. Nevertheless, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia should deservedly be held up as a shining example of rock music talent stylishly performed and perfectly captured.

Guild Wars Factions
Guild Wars Factions

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Work still to do, but massively involving and fun, 26 Nov 2006
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Guild Wars Factions (Video Game)
Having ventured into the world of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) for the first time with Guild Wars: Factions, I feared that I was entering the genre at the wrong point and that the experience would be disastrously dull and unrewarding. In fact, the introductory tutorials and in-game explanations work well to ease new players into the RPG realm of Arena Net's second game in the Guild Wars series, and capture the imagination in an involving and expansive adventure.

Guild Wars: Factions introduces two new professions to the original set of six - the Assassin who is physically vulnerable but can strike quickly and powerfully to take down enemies at close range, and the Ritualist, another magic-wielding character capable of protecting team mates or doling out damage from afar. Add to that the feature of taking on the skill set of another profession as a secondary aspect of your character and the possibilities become vast. This is dealt with effectively in the early stages of the game and new skills are acquired gradually as the game moves on, rather than bombarding the new initiate with options straight away. The character professions are varied and well-balanced, although there are definitely more and less accessible options, and luck will dictate some of your success early on. The in-game player representations are set down at the start of the game and demonstrate the splendid artwork and graphics that are essential in games of this type.

A great deal of the middle part of the game (for those starting their characters in the new Factions land of Cantha) is spent traversing back and forth around the murky Kaineng City, which can lead to frustration and a feeling of mission areas being re-used to lengthen what is already a substantial campaign. Fortunately, these shorter missions can be eschewed in favour of tasks which further the central storyline, although even this involves no small amount of revisiting areas and returning to previous battles. This recycling of venues and missions can be distinctly banal, and is a process that is repeated in the later phases of the game when the 'factions' aspect of the title actually comes into play. None of which is to say that tweaking the build (the pruned down skill set that characters take with them into explorable areas) and re-running quests is not a fun and rewarding experience; indeed for someone new to role-playing games like me it is one of the strongest motivators to play. However there is more than a hint that the speed with which this sequel appeared is indicative of a slight lack of effort on the part of the producers.

The game-makers have got several things right and several things wrong with Guild Wars: Factions. The requirement of being connected to the internet at all times to play is irritating and limiting, but the cost-free provision of servers to roam around is an obvious boon. The enormous scope of the game is wonderfully captivating and involving, but too many times the players find themselves treading over old ground to gain experience and seeing the same (admittedly beautiful) sights for the tenth time. The storyline is not spectacularly imaginative and the voice-acting in cut scenes is truly dreadful, but the attachment that players feel to their in-game characters and the ability to turn an average build into a devastating combatant with just a few changes is compelling and implemented beautifully. The game doesn't always challenge the player in quite the way it should, using cheap tactics to stack the odds against characters in more difficult areas, though this is countered somewhat by the ability to team up with human veterans of the campaign who can show you shortcuts and superior tactics to conquer even the most resistant of bosses. This is probably the best aspect of the game and here again the variety in combinations of professions and skills is a shining reflection of a core that is robust and fun.

Overall I am of the view that the niggling drawbacks of Guild Wars: Factions are slightly outweighed by the enormous scope and excellent implementation of the player professions and skills. While not always fair, the game is just taxing enough to prevent uninhibited progress without being so tricky as to be obnoxiously hard. There are a few things that have been improved since Prophecies, and many facets of the gameplay are wonderfully entertaining, but there is still some way to go before Guild Wars is crowned as the ultimate MMORPG out there.

Offered by Leisurezone
Price: £9.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smooth and skillful, 26 Nov 2006
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: JackInABox (Audio CD)
Following the atmospheric musings of Ether Song, Jack In A Box finds Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian in a noticeably more upbeat mood. The folk-rock sounds definitely remain, as do the powerful and distinctive harmonies, but the overall attitude of the album is of a far sunnier disposition than previous offerings. In particular, opening number 'They Can't Buy the Sunshine' is a glorious and elating slice of life affirmation which is as silky as it is catchy. The title track itself is a wonderful effort with a strumming, bluegrass feel which trundles along in fantastic fashion; the band's live rendition of this song is even more stunning at nearly twice the length. There are some energetic rock-out moments mixed in as well, with `Red Moon', `Over and Over' and `Last Clown' all cleverly written to get the head nodding and the feet tapping. Indeed, some astute production has clearly been applied to polish up each track and keep everything as compact and precise as possible.

The album occasionally strays into melancholy territory, which when placed against the otherwise uplifting feel of the majority of this compilation sits slightly uncomfortably, even if the quality of these calmer pieces remains undeniably high. There is something effortlessly professional about this recording even if there is the unshakeable feeling that despite never slumping in enjoyability, the album never quite seems to reach a pinnacle, either.

Turin Brakes have a knack for making splendid records which are as good for background music as they are for attentive listening, and Jack In A Box is another good example of this ability well applied.

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