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Mark Thomas "physics_mark" (Midlands, UK)

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Webroot Window Washer 2010 (PC CD)
Webroot Window Washer 2010 (PC CD)

4.0 out of 5 stars A couple of things to know about Windows Washer, 1 Dec. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Impressively, Webroot's Windows Washer has been around for twelve years now, and has maintained its position at the forefront of file removal and system cleaning during this time.

The 2010 version of the software is easy to install, relatively light on resources and fast to run. During cleaning a few handy pieces of information are displayed, including an accurate progress indicator, list of operations, and amount of disk space recovered by the cleaning process. This figure appears to be consistent with data reported from Explorer using a quick before/after inspection.

The option to add 'bleach' to the wash, in which data to be deleted is overwritten with random characters a specified number of times, is probably the software's strongest feature giving effective file removal and good peace of mind. Users have a choice of methods for file disposal, taking correspondingly shorter or longer depending on the number of passes used. Two of these options exceed standards required by government agencies for file deletion and theoretically make data unrecoverable.

The resident system tray application occupies a little more machine memory than would seem appropriate, but gives access to a few features which are convenient to be able to use during normal computer work. Usefully, and by default, the wash function is also integrated into Windows Explorer so that, by right-clicking on a file you wish to delete, you can opt to do it using Windows Washer and erase in a secure way.

There are a couple of small but significant oversights in Windows Washer that are worth observing. Integration with minority web browsers like Opera isn't comprehensive, and notably Windows Washer isn't able to remove search histories from Firefox's built-in Google search box on the toolbar; that still has to be done from within Firefox itself. Both are niggles, but as alternative browsers expand their market share it would be beneficial to trust data wipes from the internet caches of these programs.

Overall, Windows Washer performs well and warrants purchase interest. Is it better than open source alternatives? Arguably yes, mainly for the strength of security from multi-pass overwrites, updates and support, and the knowledge of dealing with a company experienced in efficient and comprehensive data deletion.

The White Tiger
The White Tiger
by Aravind Adiga
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Raw and energetic - a triumph., 25 Nov. 2009
This review is from: The White Tiger (Paperback)
Readers of The White Tiger are made aware of the outcome right from the beginning. The book is constructed as a series of letters to Chinese premier Jiabao from its writer and protagonist, Balram Halwai, describing his ascent from abject poverty and filth to wealth and comparative comfort, central to which is the brutal murder of his master and employer.

His patience, persistence and ingenuity are all called on just to keep himself alive, and in time he creates a sequence of opportunities which facilitate his climb to wealth against the opposition of a crowd of savages and criminals.

There is a beautiful shading of characters in Adiga's novel; no personality is truly black and white and even the condescending Mr. Ashok, Balram's master who fails to understand the seriousness of Balram's plight while perceiving that he is being sympathetic, is pitied as much as despised by the reader.

Balram himself is painted neither as a hero or villain though he is both; an intelligent victim who comes to understand the nature of his prison and plot a barbaric way out. His is a fascinating role: cunning but cautious, selfish but tinged with conscience, ambitious but always afflicted by an instinct for subservience bred into him by his background. His habits and actions are so consistent and believable that there is a real solidity to the character; his gradual awakening to the division of the classes and the method by which he must exit his predicament is enjoyably dark and corrupt. The novel focuses on this process more than the actions themselves, giving us the chance to understand and relish Balram's development, as well as the influences of a handful of significant others in the book.

The White Tiger is outstanding - a vicious, searing outburst against the poverty and squalor endured by India's innumerable underclass which the country's government ignores. It is a deserving award winner and a ripping tale in its own right.

Dandys Rule OK
Dandys Rule OK
Offered by westworld-
Price: £14.98

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rave Up, then Come Down, 23 Nov. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Dandys Rule OK (Audio CD)
When all the albums in the Dandy Warhols back catalogue are taken into account, Dandys Rule OK is unique; a triumphant and varied introductory fanfare to the world without caution or self-doubt. This is the Warhols in their early years, still trying to define themselves musically but confidently striding out to perform their own set pieces and unashamedly tout their influences on tracks like Lou Weed, Coffee and Tea Wrecks and Nothin' To Do in which, in true juvenile fashion, they would put the names of their fellow emergent Portland bands into the lyrics.

Much of Dandys Rule OK is unrefined and checquered, a mix of efficient, harmony-rich melodies and rough-edged, darker introspection. Grunge Betty, ever popular and often requested at live shows, typifies the coarseness of this early sound as Courtney Taylor's vocals crack over a twanging country and western beat. Genius and Dick, two of several mammoth tracks on the album, delve deeper and exhibit the sarcastic misanthropism that would become a theme of Come Down once they had had their first taste of corporate rejection at the hands of Capitol.

Yet there are interesting proto-elements of far more stylised Warhols work that would come later, notably a chord sequence on The Coffee and Tea Wrecks which would evolve into Bohemian Like You's anthemic opening some five years after. The jolly T.V. Theme Song, Best Friend and Lou Weed are splendidly cheeky and light-hearted; an aspect that the band would largely shed in time but which is given a deserving cameo here.

The closing number, the arrogantly introduced [It's A] Fast Driving Rave Up actually spans three tracks, and totals over twenty minutes when the prelude and finale are included. It's the Warhols' first - and best - album closer, a gloriously psychedelic romp in which two chords are pounded into oblivion, layered with a dreamy verse repeated in breathy vocals and a thick helping of electronic effects to amplify the feeling of a club rave in full flow. Future efforts would be shorter and more minimalist, competent in their own right but never quite as enjoyable as this audio barrage.

And indeed that is true of much of Dandys Rule OK - drummer Eric Hedford would leave, they would fall out with their record label, briefly flirt with commercial success and eventually return to their niche roots and cult following. But right here is where it all began; an energetic thrash through a variety of styles, some borrowed, some original, all executed with a talent and flamboyance that would never quite be given the same free rein again. Marvellous.

Travalo Easy Refill Travel Perfume Atomizer Spray Bottle in Bold Gold
Travalo Easy Refill Travel Perfume Atomizer Spray Bottle in Bold Gold

1 of 2 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

8 of 9 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
Sony RDR-HXD890 Freeview+ 160GB Hard Disc Drive DVD Recorder - Black

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
Price: £9.18

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: £10.17

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still in orbit, 1 Sept. 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.

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