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S. P. Long "Simon Long" (Cambridge)

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How Music Got Free: The Inventor, The Mogul and the Thief
How Music Got Free: The Inventor, The Mogul and the Thief
by Stephen Witt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, readable account of the rise of the MP3 and music downloads, 11 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"How Music Got Free" tells the entire story of the revolution that hit the music industry in the 1990s and 2000s. Starting with the development of the MP3 format itself by a small group of German scientists, it flits between the technological side, the music industry executives and the various music piracy groups who sprung up in the era of Napster, Kazaa and BitTorrent.

I've worked in this field in the past, so I was familiar with a lot of the material in here, but there were also huge chunks that were completely new to me - like the fact that a large proportion of the music that was illegally available online originated with one man, who smuggled pre-release CDs out of a pressing plant.

It's not perfect; the emphasis is very much on rap rather than any other type of music - I was surprised that Metallica's lawsuits against Napster aren't even mentioned. (Come to that, Metallica is hardly mentioned either.) But that said, it is hugely readable - it took me less than a day start to finish, and I was gripped for most of that.

If you're someone who has ever used Napster, LimeWire, BItTorrent or the like - and that'll be most people of a particular generation - this book tells the story behind them. It's well worth reading.

The Kamikaze Hunters: Fighting for the Pacific, 1945
The Kamikaze Hunters: Fighting for the Pacific, 1945
by Will Iredale
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent insight into a largely unknown British involvement in WWII, 1 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Like, I suspect, many people, I had associated the war in the Pacific against the Japanese with the Americans; I hadn't realised that British forces were involved. Will Iredale's excellent book shows how untrue that was, and describes the actions of the Fleet Air Arm, mostly using borrowed American carrier-borne aircraft flying from British carriers, in the defeat of Japan.

The book is based on numerous eyewitness accounts from pilots who were involved in the action, and details the full course of British involvement in carrier warfare during WW2, from the initial engagement of FAA forces against the German battleship Tirpitz, to the battles in the Pacific, right up to the surrender of the Japanese following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is also a lot of information on the training of FAA pilots, and the excerpts from letters and diaries give a strong sense of the characters involved.

The writing is excellent; the descriptions of aerial combat are gripping; this is no dry history textbook. I was very much reminded of Rowland White's excellent books about various famous RAF operations; if you enjoyed any of those, this is well worth a read. My only small niggle is that, in spite of the title, very little of the book is actually about anti-kamikaze operations, but that really doesn't matter too much!

BISSELL 18 V MultiReach 2-in-1 Lightweight Cordless Vaccum 13127
BISSELL 18 V MultiReach 2-in-1 Lightweight Cordless Vaccum 13127
Price: £159.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent companion to a full-size vacuum cleaner, 30 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Bissell Multi-Reach is a neat hybrid of a handheld vacuum cleaner and an upright cleaner. It is fundamentally a small rechargeable handheld cleaner which clips into a base module to produce a very neat and manoeuvrable upright, with beater bars in the head.

The rechargeable battery takes 4 hours to charge, for which time it sits on the provided charging stand; this also provides a place to store the crevice tool and upholstery brush. A full charge provides enough power for half an hour or so of cleaning.

The handheld cleaner is pretty simple - an on-off switch is all the control you get, and the supplied crevice tool and brush clip into the end; you can also use the crevice tool as an extension for the brush, which is quite neat. The dust is collected in a small bin at the front of the vacuum, which is transparent so you can see when it is full. There is a washable filter to keep the dust out of the air, so there are no bags or filters to buy. As other reviewers have noted, the small bin is the main downside of this cleaner - it fills up pretty quickly; five minutes over the carpets of our house (which were vacuumed a few days ago with a Dyson) was enough to half-fill the bin.

The portable just clips into the base unit, and this enhances the functionality - a new set of controls at the top of the folding handle come into play, allowing you to vary suction power, enable the brushes in the head and to turn on "EdgeReach" mode, which diverts suction to the sides of the head where, along with small brushes on the edges, it helps to pick up dust right up against the skirting board.

The base unit handle folds in the middle from a simple trigger action at the top of the handle, and folds in both directions; in one direction it allows for neat storage; in the other, it makes for much easier cleaning under furniture. The small height of the head is great for getting into small spaces, and the low weight, lack of cord and general flexibility make it very easy to push around.

You do get noticeably less suction than on a Dyson; this probably isn't suitable to be your only vacuum cleaner (unless you live in a bedsit or studio apartment), but the amount of dust it picks up in a quick whoosh around the carpets suggests that it's still doing a decent job. Other than the requirement to empty the bin every ten-fifteen minutes or so, I really can't find much to fault with this cleaner; I'll be using it a lot. Recommended.

Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse for Windows and Mac
Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse for Windows and Mac
Price: £65.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Luxury mouse - but make sure your Bluetooth hardware is compatible, 30 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is Logitech's top-of-the-range mouse, and it is a lovely piece of kit. As soon as you take it out of the box and hold it, it feels utterly natural in the hand. I already have a Microsoft ergonomic desktop kit, but the Logitech is an order of magnitude better to use in terms of comfort.

However, let's not get ahead of ourselves - it's not all perfect! The mouse uses EasySwitch technology, which allows it to be paired with up to three devices at once - you switch between devices with a small button on the bottom, which is a bit fiddly - I'd much rather this had been somewhere on the top surface of the mouse. The mouse will work with either the supplied USB dongle or with a Bluetooth Smart device - note that this is not the same as a Bluetooth device! My 2010 Mac mini will not work with the MX Master, as the Bluetooth Smart hardware is only present on more recent Macintoshes. This was a disappointment, as I'd hoped to be able to switch the same mouse between my Mac and PC, which it seems will only be possible if I buy another USB dongle. (They do, fortunately, seem to be easily available for around a tenner.) The supplied dongle works fine with both Mac and PC.

I should also mention the supplied documentation - or lack thereof. There are no instructions included on how to set up a Bluetooth Smart connection - I had to look online to find out that it wouldn't work! The web address in the supplied leaflet for the download of the mouse control software is wrong, which is also not great. Once you find and download the software (which is available for Windows or Mac) you can customise the buttons and controls to your liking.

Speaking of buttons, this isn't short of them - there are the two normal left and right clicks, two middle buttons (one in the scroll wheel), back and forward buttons on the side and a "gesture" button on the base of the thumb rest. When combined with the software, this is designed to override the mouse movement itself for other functions - so, for example, you can set it so that when you hold down the gesture button and move the mouse up and down, it changes the volume on your PC, and moving left and right skips tracks in your media player. Not hugely intuitive in use, to be honest, but a nice additional feature. The back and forward buttons are quite small and close together, but with practice you can distinguish them by feel.

There are two scroll wheels, one vertical in the centre of the mouse, and one horizontal under the thumb. Both have a nice weighting and a positive action.

The mouse is rechargeable with the supplied USB cable - a charge is supposed to be good for up to 40 days use.

This mouse has immediately become the one I will use with my PC from now on; it just feels so good in the hand. It's expensive, but feels very well built, so should last. I have to dock it a star for the use of Bluetooth Smart; I can see no reason why this can't have appeared as just a standard Bluetooth mouse, so for many people who want to gain the benefit of one mouse with two computers, you will immediately need to buy a second dongle. But other than that and the poor documentation, this gets a solid recommendation from me.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 13, 2015 9:04 PM BST

Panasonic ALL3 Wireless Speaker System (White)
Panasonic ALL3 Wireless Speaker System (White)
Offered by Hughes Direct
Price: £89.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Has potential, but nowhere near as good as Sonos; buggy and unfinished. And not gapless!, 26 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've had a large Sonos system in my house for several years, and it is one of the best-designed, most easy to use tech products I have tried. In recent years, other manufacturers have been trying to capture a slice of the market that Sonos has mostly to itself - Bose launched a range of products a couple of years ago, and now Panasonic are trying to get in on the act.

The ALL3 is squarely aimed at the Sonos Play:3 - it's pretty much identical in size, weight, price and styling. It's a single-piece speaker system with twin bass and treble drivers and a total power of 40W. It can be networked with either wireless or Ethernet, and can be mounted either horizontally or vertically, with the option of wall-mounting. In all respects, this the same as the Play:3.

It actually sounds pretty good; easily as good as the Play:3 with music streamed from Spotify or my iPhone. Not much stereo separation, as you might expect, but decent bass and clean treble, with a nice balance between the two. It'll go loud enough for a moderate-sized room without distorting. All so far, so good. But...

In terms of software, this isn't just slightly worse than Sonos; it's light years behind Sonos. The Sonos setup procedure is utterly idiot-proof - it took me ten minutes of fiddling and repeated attempts to get this to connect to my wireless network. When I first installed Panasonic's control app, I couldn't play anything at all from a local source; not the iPhone itself, not my local DLNA music server - it could see the tracks, but stubbornly flashed up "cannot play this song" messages every time. I managed to get music working from Spotify without too much trouble, but my own music - complete failure.

I then tried installing the app on my iPad, and was finally able to listen to local music from the iPad. It sounds nice enough - until you get to the end of a track and find it inserts a 1 second gap after every track. Forget listening to "Dark Side Of The Moon" as Pink Floyd intended, as one piece of music - this can't do that. I still haven't managed to get it to play from my NAS box or iTunes on my Mac, with both supposedly being possible. (I should point out I was an early adopter in home music streaming, and have extensive PC and Mac networking experience - if I can't get something to work, the average untrained user has no chance...)

At some point in the future, when Panasonic have fixed all the bugs, tidied up the rather awkward control application, made it gapless, enabled it to work properly with NAS-based music libraries and generally finished the software, the fundamental sound quality of the box suggests it may make a decent enough streamer. But now, as it stands, there is no reason why anyone in their right mind would choose this over a Sonos Play:3 - companies entering this market need to realise that the incumbent has been well-entrenched for many years for a reason, and they need to do a lot better than e half-finished product like this with which to grab the market.

For now, avoid this - just buy a Sonos.

HyperX XMP Predator Series 16GB (4x 4GB) 3000MHz CL15 DDR4 DIMM Memory Module (Skylake Compatible)
HyperX XMP Predator Series 16GB (4x 4GB) 3000MHz CL15 DDR4 DIMM Memory Module (Skylake Compatible)
Price: £108.44

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Only for the most powerful recent PCs., 23 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The HyperX XMP Predator memory DIMMs are ultra-high performance memory, designed to be used in the highest-specification PCs and for the most demanding applications. I didn't recognise the brand name, but it is a sub-brand of Kingston, a long-established player in the PC memory market, so reliability and support ought to be good.

The most important thing to note about these memory modules is that they use the latest DDR4 standard. This is not backwards-compatible with any of the previous memory standards, so if your motherboard is not DDR4-compatible (and anything over a year old definitely won't be), don't waste your time on these! Intel's X99-based motherboards are, at the time of writing, the only ones which support DDR4 - AMD have a DDR4-compatible chipset in the pipeline, but it doesn't seem to be in production yet.

So, assuming you do have a recent, powerful PC with the X99 chipset, what do you get for your money? The kit includes 4x4GB DIMMS, for a total of 16GB of memory, and these devices will clock at up to 3GHz - over twice as fast as the fastest DDR3 memory. The speed is reflected in the size and weight of the DIMMS - they are standard-size DIMMs, but they are encased in a large metal heatsink which more than doubles the size of the module. You need at least 6cm of clearance above the DIMM slots on your motherboard for these to fit without fouling on casework, and they will need to be in decent airflow for cooling. One thing to consider is how they fit with your CPU cooler - I have an Akasa Nero 2, and the fan on it is pressed hard up against the top of the heatsink on the nearest DIMM - it was a bit of a struggle to get the DIMM and the cooler onto the board together. That said, now both are on, they seem fine.

The benefits of fast RAM (and you won't get much faster than this) are going to be somewhat application-dependent. (Don't forget you will need to be running a 64-bit operating system to get the benefit of 16GB in the first place.) Any operations on large quantities of data, such as video, audio and image editing, should benefit, but don't expect to see huge speed-ups in graphics-limited applications like gaming.

For most people's uses, this RAM is complete overkill - not to mention being incompatible with most current motherboards and around twice the price of equivalent DDR3 memory. But if you are running an ultimate setup and want to extract the very last bit of performance from your system, this RAM is pretty good value compared to the competition and comes from a reliable manufacturer.

Adventures in Raspberry Pi (Adventures In ...)
Adventures in Raspberry Pi (Adventures In ...)
Price: £10.30

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent guide for young people (and adults), 17 Mar. 2015
This is the second edition of "Adventures in Raspberry Pi"; it's been updated to include information about the new Raspberry Pi B+ and some recent software changes, but is otherwise very similar to the first edition, so many of the comments at still apply.

The book is an excellent introduction to the Raspberry Pi. It walks you through the initial setup and installation of software, assuming no prior knowledge of the Pi (or even computers in general). It then covers some fundamentals of using Linux from the command line and the desktop environment, before embarking on a series of software projects in Scratch, Python and Sonic Pi. Towards the end of the book, interfacing the Pi to hardware is introduced, and there are a couple of projects which involve a breadboard and external components which demonstrate how to make practical gadgets using the Pi.

The presentation is very good - the text is clear and explains things well, and there are copious pictures, diagrams and code examples to show you exactly what to do. The author manages to explain things in simple enough terms for beginners without sounding patronising to more experienced users, and the progression through simple programming languages to more complicated ones to hardware is managed well. Anyone who works their way through this book will have an excellent understanding of what they can do with the Pi, and will have acquired valuable experience in writing and debugging code.

The cover states that it is "written especially for young people", but that shouldn't put adults off from using this as well; it's not written in a childish fashion and actually makes a great introduction to programming for anyone, young or old, who hasn't done it before. As someone who works in computing, I am frequently asked where someone should get started with Raspberry Pi, and the answer from now on will be "with this book".

ByteStor Pro 16GB 45Mbps Class 10 High Speed SDHC Card
ByteStor Pro 16GB 45Mbps Class 10 High Speed SDHC Card
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Decent value SD card, 17 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This SD card has a 16GB capacity, which makes it suitable for photographic and video use - you'll get around 4000 10 Mpixel photos or around 40 minutes of HD video on it.

Speed-wise, it isn't the fastest on the market - under the old SD card speed rating, it is Class 10, the highest, equivalent to 10 MB/sec. It also supports the newer UHS standard, in which it has a Class 1 rating, which is equivalent to exactly the same speed; this means that it will work at pretty much the same speed in both old and new devices. 10 MB/sec is fine for most purposes - you might want to choose a faster Class 3 card for HD video, but for standard video recording on most cameras, this is all you need.

The only point I'd make is that, as a keen photographer, I tend to use multiple smaller cards rather than one large one; I'd be inclined to buy 4 x 4GB cards rather than one 16GB, just to help defend your photos against card failure or loss; using a single card that will hold 4,000 photos does feel a little like putting all your eggs in one basket.

But with that caveat, and the warning that you might need something faster for HD video, this is a decent card and good value for the price.

Oral-B Vitality Plus White and Clean Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush
Oral-B Vitality Plus White and Clean Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush
Price: £17.50

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok for a budget toothbrush, but it's worth spending more to get something better if you can afford it, 10 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Oral B were the first company who managed to make electric toothbrushes commonplace in the UK, and I used one of their "plaque removers" for many years. A few years ago, I switched to a sonic toothbrush from Colgate / Omron, as I felt it did a better job, but I was interested to see if Oral B had improved in the intervening time.

The Vitality Plus is a budget model - it is comparatively cheap, but lacks a number of features found on Oral B's more expensive toothbrushes. The inductive charger doesn't have anywhere to store brushheads, so this is very much a one-person toothbrush. There is only one speed (and it is slower than on the more expensive brushes) and no timer - also, while two brushheads are included, there is no travel case.

In terms of effectiveness, this is really no better than the original Oral B design from 15 or so years ago - yes, it gets a lot of plaque off your teeth, but my teeth really don't feel anywhere near as clean as when I use the sonic brush. On the other hand, that is significantly more expensive than the Vitality Plus.

As a cheap step up from a manual brush, or a replacement for a worn-out Oral B brush (the rechargeable batteries die after a few years), this is reasonable value, but I'd be inclined to spend a bit more on something that does a better job.

Doppler Labs Acoustic Advanced Tech Earplugs - Grey
Doppler Labs Acoustic Advanced Tech Earplugs - Grey

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as good-sounding as others, but much more comfortable to wear, 9 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Since I started to suffer from tinnitus a few years ago, I tend to be a bit more careful with my ears when I go to gigs, and have been wearing earplugs at them for a few years now. My current favourites are the Etymotic ER20s, which do a very good job of cutting the overall volume without excessively dulling the high frequencies; earplugs which are not designed for listening to music tend to leave you hearing nothing but the bass, and the effect is very unpleasant.

These earplugs by Doppler Labs are intended to work in the same way - overall attenuation while allowing the full frequency range through. They claim 12dB of reduction; slightly less than the 20dB of the Etymotics, and comparing the two, this seems about right - these cut the level slightly rather than rendering you deaf. The balanced frequency attenuation is partially successful, but these plugs do seem to roll off the treble rather more noticeably than the Etymotics.

However, they have one killer advantage over the Etymotics - they are *significantly* more comfortable to wear, and much easier to fit. The soft rubber ear plugs fit gently into the ears and feel very comfortable, and because they seal the outside of the ear canal, you just push them gently in. The Etymotics push into the inner canal, which is quite alarming in some ways, and I find they require continuous readjustment to get them to seal properly; even then, they don't feel comfortable and I find I am constantly fiddling with them; the Doppler Labs plugs can just be fitted and left alone.

If absolute attenuation and sound quality are your priorities, the Etymotics are better. As soon as you take comfort into the equation, the Dopplers become a very attractive alternative, and one which I think I will be using from now on. Recommended.

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