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Dr. Paul Ell (NI, UK)

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Hornby The Majestic With E-Link Dcc 00 Gauge Electric Train Set
Hornby The Majestic With E-Link Dcc 00 Gauge Electric Train Set
Price: £332.64

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant train set let down by software issues, 24 Aug. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
On paper this is a very attractive train set. It comes with two separate engines - a British Rail fairly modern Type 47 Diesel and a Pacific Class steam engine in BR Experimental Blue. Included are three passenger carriages in BR colours but ex-LNER stock and four goods wagons. Also included is an extensive range of track - sufficient for two interconnected circles and a siding. A trackmat comes with the set which seems to be more compact than other mats I've seen. To complete the layout as per the trackmat only one additional Hornby R8224 00 Gauge Track Extension Pack D - is needed. This is the one that includes a level crossing. The additional packs mentioned by Amazon are for a more complex layout. Usefully there are also several Building Packs you can buy to complete the setup. As the layout is fairly complex you'll probably need to put the set on a baseboard. It's not the sort of thing that should be assembled and packed away repeatedly. The track itself would deteriorate quickly if you did this.

Also the set comes with the very latest computer control system - the E-Link DCC - which comes with the associated Railmaster software which can control 9,999 trains together with signals, points etc. It allows the two trains that are supplied with the set to work independently of each other. The downside of this is that the set does not come with its own control unit but requires a Windows computer to control the trains. You get a black E-Link unit which connects to the track and supplies power via a transformer and connects to the computer via a USB port. This is great, you might suppose, assuming you have a suitable laptop around. The Railmaster software looks to resemble what I'd imagine is a real railway control room with a schematic of the track with points highlighted and the position of the trains marked.

Unfortunately the problem is that the Railmaster software is rather buggy. I'm pretty computer literate but had to resort to the manuals - and there's more than one - to start to get the software to work. More specifically there seems to be a problem with getting the E-Link box to talk to the computer. It's essential that you look at a PDF file called drivers.pdf. This talks about how to install the E-Link drivers on an XP, 7 or 8 machine. I'm running 8.1, which isn't mentioned but the 8 drivers do seem suitable. There are instructions because the E-Link box most definitely isn't plug and play. Even though the correct driver was on the supplied CD it had to be manually installed. The instructions in the PDF anticipate that you'll need to do this and even that you'll get an error message when installing the driver due to a signature issue. This means, as the instructions tell you, you'll need to restart the computer in safe mode. This involves a bit more fiddling, especially for Windows 8.1 users as the instructions are out of date and don't correctly tell you how to restart in safe mode. It's not too difficult to find out thought. Once I'd done all this, and manually installed the driver, Railmaster recognised the E-Link, and all seemed to be fine. Except that when I turned the whole system off and restarted it it would not recognise it again. After swapping to a different USB port a couple of times Railmaster did work again.

Nonetheless, although I've managed to get it working the computer regularly fails to find the E-Link box. Even when it does it thinks about connecting for a very long time - and runs through a range of COM ports until it finds the right one - in my case either COM 3, 4 or 5 depending on which USB port I use. So far I've failed to get the software to register with Hornby. The current software is time and function limited before registration so I have about 85 days to sort this problem out. I've got a long registration code but the software doesn't seem to want to talk to Hornby's server. The other thing to note is that the software that came on my CD was out of date and a new version needs to be installed. This seems to overwrite the original installation completely so is probably a fairly major update. However, if you install the software that comes with the set it should update automatically when you start it.

All of this would be OK if E-Link was an added bonus and there was another way of controlling the trains. Hornby do make PC-independent digital control units albeit without anything approaching the functionality that Railmaster offers. But as it is you have to get the software working. On the software itself, the interface is terribly dated, even though it's new, and needs an overhaul. On the plus side there's both iOS and Android phone an tablet apps which you can download. I've yet to wrestle with these but will as a tablet would be a much better way of controlling the trains. However, you still need a PC connected as well!

So a very good and comprehensive train set. The steam engine is a particularly fine model - and as a result Hornby recommend that the set is only suitable for 14 year olds and older as it could easily become damaged (and so the three years and above recommendation on Amazon is incorrect). More importantly a three year old, even with the IT literate young, is not going to be able to operate this set and the size of it means, as I've mentioned, that you'll want a baseboard. The set forms the most comprehensive package you can get from Hornby in terms of rolling stock, track and engines, but it's badly let down by the software. I'll update the review once I've tried the tablet versions out and played with some of the more complex aspects of train control - which can include collections of macros linked to timers so the trains will run when no one is about! For the moment though, disappointing, I can only give the set three stars as a great number of people are going to struggle to get the software to work. More in due course...

Interpet Aquaverse Glass Aquarium, 65 Litre
Interpet Aquaverse Glass Aquarium, 65 Litre
Price: £102.99

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neat and practical starter tropical tank, 23 Aug. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A good starter fish tank which has the advantage over some others that, holding 65 litres (110 litres also available), it's large enough to support a reasonable number of tropical fish without needing to constantly change the water or suffering high mortality levels. The tank itself is made of glass and a traditional rectangular shape. This too is an advantage. There are some snazzy small tanks around now but many of them are made of plastic-like material which can easily scratch and have curved sides which are both difficult to clean algae off and distort views of the fish.

The tank pretty much comes with all that's needed to get started. It has a single T8 fluorescent aquarium light, built into a neat black tank hood, a traditional glass heater, and an internal pump-driven filtration system. The filter is easy to maintain by simply replacing the filter media once a month or so. Since it relies in part on carbon, which has a fixed life in terms of removing nitrites from the water which if they build up will kill the fish, the filter does need to be changed regularly. Also included is a glass water temperature gauge, water de-chloriniser and a chemical to encourage growth of bacteria in the filter medium. This means the tank will be ready to take fish a bit faster.

What needs to be added is substrate for the bottom of the tank - either gravel or sand would be suitable. As the filter is not an undergravel type there's no need to stick just to gravel. Plus then plants and fish. The light is pretty bright so I expect plants to grow well.

The manufacturer recommends three corydoras catfish (which are active during the day), a bristle nose catfish although I'd probably chose a plecostomus even though it will outgrow the tank in due course, a couple of Cobalt Blue Gourami's although any dwarf gourami would do, five Glow Light Tetras - I'd probably go for Cardinals - and `feature' fish in the form of three Rams - maybe a bit challenging for the beginner.

Overall this is a great product which is pretty good value for money. It would be good if the electrics were wired under the hood so that it only used a single socket. I have another aquarium which does this for neatness. As it is you'll need three sockets - one for the pump, one for the heater and one for the light. The latter has a switch built in to the cable to turn it on and off easily. The others, including the pump, should be on continuously. Overall though worth five stars.

Note this is a review of the 65 litre tank.

Oral-B Trizone 2000 Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush Powered by Braun
Oral-B Trizone 2000 Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush Powered by Braun
Price: £29.79

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Low cost Oral-B brush, 23 Aug. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This electric toothbrush is at the lower end of the range of Oral-B’s TriZone range. The TriZon brushes come with a larger tooth brush compared tothe Professional Range which have the more typical smaller, round, brush head. In theory the TriZone brush is supposed to feel more like a manual tooth brush. That said, the TriZone is compatible with all the other brushes in the Oral-B range so presumably if you find the larger brush does n’t suit you you can simply change the brush head. Personally although the brush is larger I don’t feel it cleans quite so effectively. It its more difficult to reach hard to access parts of your mouth.

As a more basic electric toothbrush in range the brush comes with fewer preset programmes - just two in fact - the normal daily clean clean mode and a gum care mode in which the brush moves more gently. In practice though I image 90 per cent of people don’t change brushing modes even when they have five or six to chose from. The brush also lacks a carry box for travel, something which is useful if you travel a bit as it prevents the toothbrush coming on in your suitcase - or an external display or a bluetooth link to your mobile phone. The battery life is also a little shorter at around 7 days with twice daily brushing for two minutes.

The brush does have a useful pressure sensor with a bright red light to indicate that you are using too much force when brushing your teeth and has a light to show when the battery was running low.

Overall I guess this is an ideal brush to have as a backup, or to take on holiday (pity about the lack of a carry bag) or to test the water to see if you want to move to an electric toothbrush. In practice it does much the same as the more expensive models. Also you should note that although this is towards the cheaper end of the range it too is often sold at a heavy discount. You should be looking to pay around half the list price. Four stars, one off for having no travel bag, plus unlike more expensive models you only get one brush included.

Vibe FLI Over-Ear Headphones with In-Line Microphone - White
Vibe FLI Over-Ear Headphones with In-Line Microphone - White
Offered by SmartSalesUK
Price: £29.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, but other choices out there, 20 Aug. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is review for the wired Vine headphones, not the bluetooth version which is also described in the Amazon product description. So no NFC and a cable instead to link the headphones to audio source.

These, I guess, might be considered to be 'designer' headphones - they are pretty hefty, appear in a range of bright colours, and come in rather snazzy packaging. I find them a little to heavy for my liking and although the headphones are adjustable I find they clamp on to my ears a bit too firmly. Of course this all helps to exclude external noise. It's a bit like wearing a set of ear muffs! Large over ear cups with big cushioned surrounds - entirely suitable for cold weather. Indeed, as the headphones don't have noise cancelling technology, the headphones need a system to exclude external sound. Another approach is to emphasise the bass of any music source. The Vibe headphones make a lot of this. They describe the headphones as 'Extreme Bass Stereo Headphones' and say that 'Bass is the heartbeat of all music.' Certainly the bass is significant, and I like a fair bit of bass when listening to music, but for my tastes it's a bit overdone. It also makes the headphones not particularly suitable for listening to non-music sources. So for voice radio, and as a mobile phone headset (the headphones have an inbuilt microphone) the sound is rather muffled.

As I've said, the headphones are large. To make them more transportable they fold. This does reduce the bulk a bit but there still more bulky than Bose noise-cancelling headphones for example. Moreover there's no travel case and I'm not too sure how the plastic and metal build of the headphones would fare when travelling or commuting. Other issues - strangely there are no instructions with the headphones. Not essential but there's a switch on the headphone cable and I've yet to discover what it does! The flat headphone cable matches the headphones in white and has a flat design. It can be detached from the headphones though as the headphones aren't wireless I'm not too sure of the point of this. It might make the speakers a little easier to carry around I suppose. Of course if the cable is damaged you'll be lucky to find a matching one unless Vibe sell bespoke cables.

Overall I'm not particularly impressed with this product. They make a statement but I suspect that if you're concerned about that you'd buy Beats headphones of something similar, plus they're not all that much cheaper than Beats. So all this is a bit negative. The headphones are fine for listening to music but I think there are better products out there. So three stars for OK.

Braun Oral-B TriZone 6000 6-Mode Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush with Wireless Smart Guide and Bluetooth Connectivity
Braun Oral-B TriZone 6000 6-Mode Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush with Wireless Smart Guide and Bluetooth Connectivity
Offered by Gadget Heaven
Price: £83.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five star toothbrush technology, 20 Aug. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is near the top of the range of new (as of Summer 2014) Braun Oral-B 'TriZone' toothbrushes.The TriZone 6500 and 7000 come above it in black rather than white (toothbrushes can have designer colours!) and have smart travel cases for both the brush and charging unit. Like all of the other models in this range it has bluetooth built in and an App for iOS and Android that allows you to link the toothbrush to your mobile phone. I'm something of a gadget fanatic and enthusiastic adopter of the web of things. I've got light bulbs that can be controlled over the web via an App not only turning them on and off, but selecting the colour, or event making them turn on when I arrive at my house and off when I leave. I've some scales which are linked to the internet uploading heart rate, BMI and weight and a coffer maker which knows when the separate milk container is running short of milk. So I welcome the opportunity to be able to review my daily teeth-cleaning activity and the chance to programme my own cleaning regime. Bluetooth and the App are an add on, not essential by any means, but an interesting feature nonetheless.

What else makes this electric toothbrush stand out though. Well, what others may also consider an affectation, is a very useful separate display unit. This displays which of six brushing programmes you've selected, shows you when to move on to brushing each quadrant of your mouth, warns of using undue pressure when cleaning your teeth and has a timer to make sure you clean your teeth for at least two minutes. You can use the toothbrush without the display but it helps. Other useful features are the range of programmes available for tooth cleaning although I suspect most people will stick to the standard cleaning routine although the whitening option might be used a fair bit. I'm less sure about `tongue' cleaning or `gum massage' however. I've said that the toothbrush can be used without the display and by briefly interrupting the programme the brush tells you when to move on to the next quadrant of your mouth. There's also a very bright red indicator light which comes on if you're applying too much pressure when cleaning.

The toothbrush comes with so useful extras - a travel case for using when on holiday or away on business. Also four brushes are included - three TriZone brushes and a small-headed brush which is a precision cleaner whatever that means.

I've attempted to differentiate between Oral-B TriZone and standard electric toothbrushes. The brushes that come with the toothbrush are larger than the usual Oral-B ones and this seems to be the key. Braun says:

"Oral-B has brought you another way of cleaning with dynamic Triple Cleaning Action. Other Oral-B power toothbrushes are designed to emulate the motion of professional dental cleaning tools but TriZone electric toothbrush mimics the brushing motion of a manual toothbrush with the enhanced benefits of power, leaving you with superior oral health compared to a regular manual toothbrush."

So there you have it. I'm not sure emulating manual brushing is good though compared to professional dental cleaning tools but Braun see a market here. Nonetheless the toothbrush will work with all other Oral-B brush heads.

Downsides. Well I think the battery life could be better. Braun say a charge will last for 10 days with one user (2 minutes use twice a day). It only just makes this which is a bit of hassle if, like me, you don't have a charger in your bathroom. Also, as always, the brush charge comes only with a two-pin plug and no adapter so you'll need to buy one if you don't have a bathroom charger. This toothbrush is expensive but, like other electric brushes, can often be found at substantially discounted prices, sometimes more than 50% so before buying check for special deals. Finally if you use the toothbrush holder the whole assembly takes up a fair amount of space close to the sink.

Overall though this brush delivers all that is possible in electric toothbrush technology (except the smarter cases with the 6500 and 7000).

Wired for Culture: The Natural History of Human Cooperation
Wired for Culture: The Natural History of Human Cooperation
by Mark Pagel
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable discussion of the key role of evolution, human development and culture, 20 Aug. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Brilliantly readable and wide ranging book which argues that cooperation amongst humans around a ‘culture’ is key to human development. I say wide ranging as it covers topics from biology in terms of evolution, the development of art, the importance of practiced religion, and the role of music. The book also discussed common morality which tends to link across humanity. Whilst reflecting the authors background in Biological Sciences I am not surprised at this surefooted handling of evolution, or evolutionary biology in particular. What is surprising is the expertise that he extends the discussion so widely. However, and the reason I’ve dropped a star, is the fairly strong insistence that evolution forms the basis for almost all our activities from sibling favouritism to religiosity. I don’t quite buy in to the predestination theory the book advocates, but I’m not an evolutionary biologist. What was worthwhile was seeing how far the argument could be pushed in a reasonably convincing way. What the book largely lacks is supporting evidence for the theories put forward. That said, this is not designed to be a textbook.

You can decide if culture leads to human development or human development leads to culture. The book helps along the way

Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (PCVS-Polity Conversations Series)
Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (PCVS-Polity Conversations Series)
by Judith Butler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Challenging relatively specialist book, 20 Aug. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book is unlikely to attract the casual reader, but then again it is aimed at an academic audience. Nonetheless I found the style unhelpful with over-complex language being unnecessarily used almost to feed the authors ego. The result is a book which, thankfully, has concise and progressive chapters, but has a dense style which requires close reading.

The discussion on the left and queer and feminist theories is pretty insightful and relevant. However, I’d like the book to be more grounded in empirical evidence than appearing to be largely conjectural. As such I’d recommend only to a subject expert.

Road to Referendum
Road to Referendum
by Iain Macwhirter
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative read on an issue which will impact far beyond Scotland, 20 Aug. 2014
This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book is very shortly set to be out of date with the referendum on Scottish independence due to take place in less than a month. As someone who's English living in Northern Ireland I guess I have more than a passing interest in the debate and the outcome of the referendum. What's particularly interesting from a NI perspective is that the British/UK government has demonstrated that it is prepared to allow a democratic vote from a constituent country within the Union on whether it wishes to remain part of the Union. This doesn't necessarily solve the Northern Ireland problem as many would suggest that a vote restricted to the Northern Ireland of today is undemocratic as the state was established to ensure an inbuilt Unionist majority. Indeed if a vote were held today there would, no doubt, be a very large majority in favour of the Union, a vote against a break from the UK which would attract more voters than from just the traditional Unionist community. Of course, from the other perspective, the `nationalist' NI position would be that only an all Ireland vote on the constitutional position of NI would be valid, something that Unionists would not accept, and even then a majority for a break with the UK would not be guaranteed.

So interesting questions and impacts for NI from the Scottish vote. This book is neither pro or against independence. In fact it does a very good job in charting a neutral path whilst explaining both sides of the debate. It's also very readable. It sets a very good and well grounded historical context to the independence vote and a particularly interesting section on the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party including their remarkable win, that was never meant to happen, in the last Scottish Assembly vote. The pre-war history of Scotland is necessarily an overview with increasing detail from the 1950s. The debate on how Scotland would fare as an independent county I found insightful as was the discussion of government from a somewhat distant Westminster.

Overall this book should be of value to anyone with an interest in UK politics. If the vote is for independence somewhat bizarrely I suspect the book may attract more English readers then! It's certainly pertinent in an England looking favourably to an extent on the UKIP vision of the world, to the debate about whether Scottish MPs should vote on legislation just impacting on England (although of course the reverse has always happened for Scotland) and for the UK's future in the EU with the SNP firmly in favour of continuing membership. Moreover, if Scotland goes, the remaining parts of the UK are pretty much guaranteed a right of centre government for the foreseeable future. Well worth a read, and five stars.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 22, 2014 12:28 PM BST

Bolse® Wireless Presentation Presenter with Laser Pointer and Fly Air Mouse
Bolse® Wireless Presentation Presenter with Laser Pointer and Fly Air Mouse

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent multi-function presentation tool, 9 Aug. 2014
I give a lot of conference presentations and invariably use PowerPoint. I hate being tied to my laptop when doing this - pressing the spacebar to move on to the next slide - and have been looking around for a wireless presenter for a while. This device certainly fits the bill and includes some very useful add ons as well.

So what you get in the very smart box the Presenter comes in? Well with the device are 2 AAA batteries, instructions and and USB wireless usb receiver to connect the computer to the Presenter. Of course I didn't read the instructions and couldn't get the Presenter to work and worked out I needed a USB receiver. I then discovered this was included and was cleverly stored in the battery compartment of the presenter.

The Presenter is plug and play. When I first tried to use it with my Apple MacBook Air the Air seemed to think I was installing a keyboard. I removed the USB receiver and plugged it in again. It then worked perfectly. The presenter allows you start a PowerPoint presentation if PowerPoint is open, move backwards and forwards through slides, and very usefully blank the screen at any point allowing you to take questions for example at the end of a talk without the final slide still being shown. It also works with Apple's Keynote presentation software although not quite as smoothly.

The usefulness of the Presenter doesn't stop at this though. Built in is a powerful laser pointer which has a dedicated button and can be used during presentations. This means one less device to carry, and something that's very useful in its own right.

The Presenter can also be used as an 'air' mouse. In this mode the mouse pointer is moved my moving the Presenter in your hand through three dimensions. You get the usual mouse select buttons and roller wheel. This works particularly well when demonstrating something on a laptop without needing to stand in front of it using the touchpad. It's also good to manipulating images with 3D visualisation software. It can also be used for presenting something via an LCD projector - such as a website - using the air mouse and looking at the projector screen instead of being hunched over your laptop. This works very well as long as text entry, obviously, is not required.

Overall I think that any one of the three functions the Presenter delivers - a high powered laser pointer, an aid for PowerPoint, or a remote Air Mouse, is worth the price. Combined, and with excellent build quality and thoughtful design (especially when you realise the USB receiver is held in the battery compartment for safekeeping and transport!), this product is pretty much unbeatable.

So overall five stars and throughly recommended. If you give a lot of presentations this device is pretty much essential.

This device was provided by the manufacturer for independent and impartial receive purposes.

Philips YS527/17 Click and Style 2-in-1 Shave and Stubble
Philips YS527/17 Click and Style 2-in-1 Shave and Stubble
Price: £49.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good value multi-function razor., 3 Aug. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This Philips 2 in 1 Shave and Stubble system both works as a wet/dry shaver and stubble trimmer. It comes with two different heads for each function. At this price point, and reflecting the dual function, it works well in both capacities. Whilst it is at the lower/lowest end of the Philips shaver range having only two rotating blades, and from what I can discern, the most basic design of these blades, it works surprisingly well. Best results are achieved using the razor with a wet shave. However, if you're going to stand over the sink and use shaving foam etc as far as I'm concerned you may as well use a standard razor - certainly you're not saving any time and I don't think any electric shaver is as good as a traditional razor. I think one of the main reasons the shaver works so well is that two shaving heads simply makes the shaver more manoeuvrable and it's easier to reach all parts of your face with ease.

The stubble trimmer is probably the more effective part of the package. After all there are better shavers around. This has a 5 length adjustable plastic head, and it can be used without the attachment for even shorter stubble. It works well although on the shortest cut without the attachment is a little hard on the face as in effect you're running a bit of metal up and down your cheeks!

Positive features - it charges very quickly indeed, is shower proof if not completely waterproof, and is good value for money.

Negative elements - well the shaver is not top of the range, but that's reflected in the price. The stubble cutter is, as noted, a little hard on the skin and the plastic attachment looks as though it might break over time.

One additional point. Amazon suggest this is a shaver for younger men - 16 to 25. I'm not sure why - it's not especially kind to the skin - and this is not repeated in the documentation from Philips as far as I can see.

As a final assessment, with the dual function, fast charging, and mixed wet/dry use this is worth four stars.

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