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r0ng0r0ng0 "r0ng0r0ng0" (France)
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Dark Matter
Dark Matter
by Michelle Paver
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An evocative and chilling tale of the high Arctic night, 29 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Dark Matter (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I very much liked this book and would recommend it to both aficionados of ghost stories and of the Arctic region. Michelle Paver has been successful not only in creating credible characters (every one of whom happens to be male) but also in describing the beauty and unworldliness of Svalbard. We get a feeling for the landscape, the sled dogs, the trappers and the naivety of the class-obsessed English explorers. I don't want to spoil the plot but will just say that it is one where there is a well crafted build of tension. A perfect and compelling read for a long winter's night.

This is her first book for adults - but I would say it would also be suitable for older children who have been fans of her other books.


Sennheiser MM 450 Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headset (discontinued by manufacturer)
Sennheiser MM 450 Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headset (discontinued by manufacturer)

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Feels like a step into the future, 20 Dec. 2009
I was recently in a large electronics store and was struck by the number of different parts of it that were selling headphonse: they were there in the "traditional" location of the HiFi department - but they could also be found with the MP3 players, with the mobile phones, in the "travel" department, as 'headsets' in the computer department and - in ruggedised form - with sports equipment. However, it's surprisingly difficult to find one set of headphones which come close to doing everything we would like them to do and do it well. I'd like to recommend these as a candidate.

Before we do anything we have to do some charging up. We can use the USB connection provided either your computer or the supplied USB mains adaptor can give us the power from the mains. A full charge will give you enough juice to last for at least 8 hours and up to 20 - depending on the mode you are using. The mains adaptor has all the attachments to work with sockets around the world.

In their least remarkable mode you can connect up these headphones with their supplied wire and connect them to an ipod, a stereo system, an in-flight entertainment system or whatever else you have lying about. Adaptors to make this easier are supplied. Sound quality is good from a firm bass right up to the high end - my definition of a good set of headphones is that they should frequently surprise you at some new detail of music you thought you already knew; these do.The fit is comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time and they don't leak excessive amounts of music out or outside noise in. These are not subtle little devices which nobody will notice you are wearing - but equally they are not giants that make you look like an audiophile from 1975: you look like somebody who loves music but still cares about looks. So far so good.

But I suspect this is not what made you interested in these headphones so we will move to the next stage and remove the wire. We need to assume that you are working with a device which supports Bluetooth of course. And it has to have been paired up with the headphones. Working with an I-touch, a Nokia E63 mobile and a couple of laptops running Windows 7 and XP I found this to be no problem (the iTouch or an iPhone will, I believe, need to be running version 3.1 of its OS or later however). The first thing that impressed me at this point is the wireless sound quality. It sounded every bit as good as it did with the wired connection and I was able to wander several metres from the source device without running into any problems. I could use the controls on the right earpiece - usually - to adjust the volume, or change the track. Technically you need to have a device, and playing software, which supports something called the "AVRCP profile" to do this. If you are used to walking about with headphone wires which catch on your jacket, tangle in your pocket and pull on your ears then this is a wonderful liberation - do take a moment to dance around the room. In the future all headphone will be like this, no? If you have multiple paired bluetooth devices around you then the MM450s will play music from only one of them at a time. Getting the right one to play the music may involve a little juggling but this all seemed to work in a fairly intuitive way.

But we can go further with the MM450s. Try activating the "Noise Guard" and ambient noise around your recedes while you get to hear the music even clearer than before. This does use a little more power and it can leave you feeling a little isolated - but it is a great feature if you like to create a bit of personal listening space in a noisy environment like a plane or train. What is particularly great is to activate the noise guard and then turn the listening volume *down*. Instead of hearing more noise from outside you just hear the music less loud. Finally you can turn the music off altogether and just use the noise cancelling.

A final step is to try making a phone call. The headphones gracefully handle the sound of incoming calls or texts and the buttons on the earpiece allow you to accept, end or reject calls. You have a microphone built in somewhere which will pick up your voice and, I am told, people at the other end can hear you clearly - even in a noisy environment. As you hold a conversation with thin air people will look at you strangely. That is because you are a technological trail-blazer of course - one day they will all be doing it. The other type of conversation you might want to have is with people around you - and here the headphones can be switched to "talk-through" mode so that you can hear your interlocutor rather than the music.

The headphones can fold down to fit in the supplied case and they seem to be built pretty robustly. I have not yet had a chance to try them while out running and there is a possibility that they may not play well with moisture or sweat - so you might want to consider alternatives if this is important to you. For all other others: if music quality AND convenience of use if important to you then I would recommend these as a wonderful treat.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 22, 2011 9:41 PM GMT


Inside UFO 54-40 (Choose Your Own Adventure)
Inside UFO 54-40 (Choose Your Own Adventure)
by Edward Packard
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique book with a "hidden chamber", 19 Nov. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
These days we are surrounded by hypertext links which offer us a set of options: your television, your camera, your ATM or this page can each offer enough to keep you busy all day. So it is easy to forget that in the early 80s that sort of choice was a novelty and the mechanisms involved tended to be completely different.

For me the "choose your own adventure series" was my introduction to "interactive narrative" when I read them as a kid. I remembered this one by Edward Packard in particular because the book featured a passage about the planet "Ultima" - which was a sort of paradise. In fact (as the introduction of the book warns) there was no way to get to Ultima by following any of the 30 other storyline options in the rest of the text. But of course the only way to find this out was to spend ages trying to find one.

The book itself asks the reader to become a kid who is then abducted by aliens while flying in Concorde. It is a well told and illustrated story and would probably still appeal a contemporary 9-12 audience. Adult collectors who are interested in narrative tricks or who remember the book from when they were children would also be satisfied buyers.


A Gate at the Stairs
A Gate at the Stairs
by Lorrie Moore
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No, no, no. Don't bother, 19 Nov. 2009
This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Beautifully written, but sadly, bad characterization and plot. Dare I say a bit cliché as well. The author, in this timely post 9/11 novel, manages to hit on every topical issue (Racism in small town America, mixed marriage, 9/11, misunderstood terrorists, selfish yuppies, interracial adoption, etc.). The biggest problem is that I couldn't care less about her central character, or any other character for that matter. The central character, a midwestern college student, seemed to have the insight of a 40 year old. Why? Yet, I didn't really care. The plot was unbelievable and uninteresting. The author, Lorrie Moore, is accomplished at writing technique but I'm afraid the contrived plot and bland characterization let her down. Half way through I wanted to stop, or at least skip to the end, but I persevered and at the last page, I wished I had skipped ahead. Another few hours I'll never see again.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 4, 2010 10:51 AM GMT


Alan Bennett's 'On the Margin' (BBC Audio)
Alan Bennett's 'On the Margin' (BBC Audio)
by Alan Bennett
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £9.25

3.0 out of 5 stars Salvaged elements of a reputedly great TV series: a few gems, 16 Nov. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you only half pay attention to the CD then it could be a contemporary Radio 4 comedy recording: a string quartet introduces each sketch, we hear the live studio audience (I am guessing) laugh along. Listen a little closer and you will make out the unmistakable tones of Alan Bennett. Do a double-take perhaps, to pick out John Sergeant,from the days before he was a pundit or a hoofer. In fact (and the sleeve notes didn't make it clear enough for me to realise this) we are not listening to a radio program at all - but to parts of the soundtrack for a TV series. Other than the script these are the only elements which survived the BBC's myopic mid-70s policy of saving cash by taping over old material. When it was released in 1966 "On the Margin" apparently got fab reviews and was so popular that the series was repeated twice in the following year.

How much can one appreciate the charm of the original from this fragment? I think the answer depends on how much you are willing to put in: without the original visual elements you have to work a little harder to understand what is going on. TV of this era required longer attention spans from its audience: more akin to what we would expect only in a theatre today. Listening while driving to work or cooking a meal may not work. I am giving this CD only 3 stars because I suspect that most prospective listeners will not be sufficiently motivated. Exceptions may be those who remember the original series and want to be reminded of it,those who are keen collectors of Alan Bennett's work and lovers of early radio comedy. To be fair there are some excerpts (such as "The Telegram" and "The Defending Counsel") which remain accessible by virtue of being concise, straight comedy. The more extended character portraits require more of an effort.

Bennett had actually risen to fame several years before this with "Beyond the Fringe" and the title "On the Margin" gives an indication that this was intended as a (probably slightly more quirky) sequel. The script has the mixture of satire and affectionate portraits of British life that has become a hallmark of the author and some of the observations and jokes have worn well. Buy if you are a serious Alan Bennett fan or have one in your life.


Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
by Steven D. Levitt
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre economics with life-or death implications beautifully explained., 6 Nov. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the sequel to the best-selling non-fiction 2005 book "Freakonomics" which was itself largely a product of the authors' series of contributions to The New York Times. Here academic economist Levitt and journalist Dubner have adopted much the same formula as they did last time: several meandering chapters describing research by micro-economists into unexpected corners of life.

I bought "Freakonomics" to read on a long flight and it fitted the job perfectly: I could dip into it at any point to find something fascinating and the book managed to combine an appreciation of scientific rigour with a skill in compelling writing (as an illustration "Freakonomics" is now in production as a film - not a fate given to many books in this category I'd suggest). Later I became a devotee of the authors blog where an Aladdin's cave of topics are given over to economic analysis by the authors and their readers. Many of the ideas of "Superfreakonomics" have originated from this blog.

If you loved the first book then I see no reason why you should not also love this also; if you have not read the first book then you could equally start here. There are a number of underlying themes: the economic lot of women, the nature of altruism and the difficulty of selling a "cheap fix" to various problems for example. They are illustrated with a vivid array of stories about prostitutes, manure, suicide bombers and monkeys. It would have been quite easy to make a "humor" book which was simply a bestiary of odd facts but the authors are careful to show how the ramifications of all this esoteric oddness are related and often the difference between life and death. In particular there is a great chapter about global warming: the limitations of the current climate models, the quasi-religious reaction many have to the subject, the errors in most people's understanding of the subject and a dramatically inexpensive engineering solution.

I've giving the book 4 stars rather than 5 because I think it suffers from too many ideas rather than too few. The authors have tried to fit in avalanche of ideas generated from their blog and I felt that a book which considered a smaller number of concepts in more detail would have been better. For example the coverage of global warming by these authors could have made a great book in its own right. My second quibble with the book is that some of the issues they cover are sufficiently important to demand very careful fact checking: to judge by the criticism of some of their new assertions on their blog (Nathan Myhrvold's assertion that solar power can exacerbate atmospheric warming for example) this has not always been done to the required standard.


Easy Tasty Italian
Easy Tasty Italian
by Laura Santtini
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully designed book of Italian fusion recipes, 3 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Easy Tasty Italian (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Recipe books fulfill a number of potential functions these days so let me start of by saying where I think "Easy Tasty Italian" particularly excels: it would be a great gift. Laura Santtini's book of recipes is beautifully laid out and photographed; there are lots of recipes including a several will be probably be novel even to a fairly experienced cook. There are lots of stories and quotations to spice up the recipes and one gets an impression that many of them have been carefully road tested at her family's acclaimed Venetian restaurant in London. As a book for somebody who shares your fine taste in food and in design: it will impress, tantalize and inspire even if it is never used in anger.

But what sort of person would really love this as a gift? Most I suspect but Santtini's writing style and selection of ingredients is a bit girly; I am suspecting that macho cooks with a primary interest in chopping up their ingredients with expensive knives and then flambé-ing their dishes dramatically might find options such as "Lemon and Lavender Posset" a little prissy. For similar reasons I am going to suggest that some purists may object to some of the recipes: this is fusion Italian really and there may be some people who may find some of the choice of spices "wrong" rather than "innovative". The book has a lot of background on the "umami" taste category and instructions on how to use it to make "flavour bombs". Not everybody will buy into this. The third group who may not be ideally suited for the book are beginners: some of the recipes are indeed short and simple but anybody who is lured by the "Easy" part of the title into expecting idiot proof guides to lasagna, tiramisu and macaroni cheese will be disappointed. Equally those who live somewhere where they are unable to find ingredients such as 'jasmine flowers', 'beetroot powder' and 'grains of paradise' will find problems with some of the recipes: it's not a book for somebody who does all their shopping at Asda.

Once in the kitchen I found the recipes pretty easy to follow: Santtini explains the background of the dish and offers clear, well laid-out instructions with appropriate variations on ingredients and techniques. There is usually an attractive photo to inspire and compare against. The recipes are listed under the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. I found this a little annoying if I was trying to find, say, salads, meat dishes or deserts. There is a pretty good index however.


Terra: Tales of the Earth
Terra: Tales of the Earth
by Richard Hamblyn
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars High quality account of the nature's destructive potential, 12 Oct. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book tells four tales of disaster: the earthquake which destroyed Lisbon in 1755, the atmospherically polluting eruption of Iceland's Mount Laki in 1783, the volcanic destruction of Krakatau island in 1883 and the large tsunami which hit the town of Hilo, Hawaii in 1946. For the full apocalyptic effect which well suits a book of this sort these chapters are labeled as "Earth", "Air", "Fire" and "Water" respectively.

Richard Hamblyn claims he chose to feature these particular disasters because - in addition to being interesting stories - each led contributed some important aspect to the way in which we understand events of this sort. The Lisbon earthquake marked the start of a more scientific and secular attribution of blame for disasters as well as providing the genesis of the field of seismology. The Laki eruption gave rise to the notion that atmospheric pollution could have global consequences for the earth's climate - something inescapable given today's focus on global warming. Karkatoa's eruption was the first large disaster to have its news rapidly disseminated by telegraph and hence became the ancestor international disaster reporting and response. Finally the Hilo tidal wave helped prompt the Pacific notions to create early warning systems to prevent the loss of life in tsunamis.

Hamblyn does a skillful job of describing interweaving the first hand accounts of survivors with those of contemporary observers and then adding in the insights provided by science and more recent events. I found the whole book a very compelling and lucid read which must have been hard when dealing with so many different types of sources. The overall effect of the book is like watching episodes of a high quality documentary series - I suspect this book would particularly appeal to those of us who like to seek these out.

I particularly liked the parts of the book - mainly in the (preface and after-word)which looked at some of the common elements from the disasters and at how lessons have been heeded or ignored. It was bitterly ironic that the Boxing day tsunami was predicted in advanced by the Tsunami warning centre in Hawaii but that they had no effective way of notifying the people who needed to be told about it in the Indian Ocean for example.

I was reviewing a pre-release edition of the book which made reference to - but did not include - a number of illustrations. Hopefully these will live up to their promise in the final work.


Signs And Wonders
Signs And Wonders
Offered by DLC_MUSIC
Price: £4.99

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding album of anthemic songs, 29 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Signs And Wonders (Audio CD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had never heard of Animal Kingdom but, to judge by this album, I think the world is about to. Vocalist, Richard Sauberlich has a wonderful upper-register voice and"Signs and Wonders" is crammed with the sort of well produced, anthemic tracks which had me comparing them with the likes of late 80s U2 (for their guitars and wide-open vocals), Coldplay, Keane (for the prominent use of piano) and other stadium fillers. The band also show the sort of lyrical complexity and arrangements which made me think of Teardrop Explodes, Damian Rice, Elbow and other slightly less mainstream acts. At any rate I would be surprised if in a year or two there are not large fields of festival crowds singing along to this, if some of the tracks do not become the soundtrack for wedding first dances and if anything other than the smallest petrol station does not sell a copy. The album really is that good. On first listening the stand out tracks for me were the rousing "Good Morning Mr. Magpie", "Tin Man", "Dollar Signs" and the particularly wonderful "Two by Two". Some of the other tracks are a little more melancholic and harder to get into but there is nothing in the way of filler. A strong "recommend" to all other than those who would prefer debut albums to have slightly rougher edges.


Tomas
Tomas
by James Palumbo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.00

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Self-indulgent surrealism., 3 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Tomas (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In opting to tell a story in a surreal style an author has the liberty of throwing out many rules that form the grammar of a rational novel. That can be great if the aim is to surprise or to shock. There are two potential dangers however: firstly the temptation to do-away with elements, such as convincing characterization and a tight plot, that make a story compelling in the first place. Secondly the tactic of using surrealism as a screen behind which to hide faults such as clichéd observation or lack of a coherent message. I'm giving Tomas 2 stars because I believe it falls heavily into both pitfalls. I found it an irritating, over-vitriolic, misogynist, self-indulgent read and had trouble finishing it.

As the person behind The Ministry of Sound James Palumbo is well connected and has a mastery of PR. There are not many first time authors who would be in a position to have their work reviewed (and enjoyed) by Stephen Fry for example. It is unusual for somebody well known in business to suddenly publish a novel - and this is indeed an unusual book. 'Tomas' takes place in the world of Russian Oligarchs, indolent trust-funders and silicone-enhanced starlets. The book advertises itself as a modern satire which lays bare the greed and foolishness behind the credit crunch. My problem with it is that I was unable to find any appealing characters or penetrating insights in it. The one element I did quite like were the illustrations by Neal Murren.

I suspect this is the sort of book which some people will love; but I would warn most readers to approach Tomas with caution.


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