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Tim (UK)
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Melissa & Doug Classic Peg Puzzle Bundle
Melissa & Doug Classic Peg Puzzle Bundle
Price: 14.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant puzzles, 31 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My older children really enjoyed a similar lower-case alphabet puzzle when they were younger. This upper-case alphabet jigsaw is rated as 3+, although a two-year-old will probably have enough dexterity to do it, and to start learning the sounds and names of the letters. This three-puzzle set also contains two simpler puzzles for younger children (rated as 2+): the fish puzzle is the easiest, because the pieces are all the same shape, so can be mixed around between the holes (although the aim is to match up the correct colours); the number puzzle is chunkier than the alphabet and quicker to complete. The number puzzle can be used to teach the basics of quantity and counting, because the board shows the corresponding number of objects under each numeral. The plastic knobs make it easy for small fingers to manipulate.

Melissa & Doug Create-A-Craft Car and Train Bundle
Melissa & Doug Create-A-Craft Car and Train Bundle
Price: 7.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Just right for two nearly-4-year-olds, 30 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My twins (aged 46 months) loved making these models. They get a definite five-star rating from them.

It took them about 45 minutes, with a bit of adult oversight (although they managed all the painting and stickers themselves). Key to maintaining interest was the use of a hair-dryer to accelerate the drying of the paint and the glue. I can strongly recommend this approach.

The paints seem to be water-based, but are quite tricky to clean off hands and surfaces (much worse than poster paints), so aprons are strongly advised.

My only very minor criticism is that the instructions suggested assembling the models before decorating them, whereas the train engine really needs to be painted and sticker-ed first, because some of the stickers are meant to go behind the wheels.

See the "customer images" for the results of my daughters' endeavours.

Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Creation (Holman Quicksource Guides)
Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Creation (Holman Quicksource Guides)
by Mark Whorton
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.10

4.0 out of 5 stars Biased but recommended nevertheless, 29 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book provides an easy-to-read overview of an old-earth creationist understanding of Genesis. It is well written, if slightly disorganised in its structure. The authors believe that the bible is the inspired word of God, and seek to reconcile this with the modern scientific understanding of our planet and its creation.

What the book does not do is provide an unbiased overview and comparison of various different interpretations of Genesis. While it does describe some young-earth positions, it immediately criticises and finds fault with them, in a way that is not applied to the old-earth positions.

I have no problem with the authors promoting their own, old-earth views (which I happen to agree with), but it is unfortunate that the book claims to present a balanced survey of various different viewpoints, when it really does not. Perhaps this is more the fault of the publisher rather than the authors.

Despite its biases, this is a fascinating book, and a great introduction to the subject of Genesis and science, for any Christian who would like to explore this area (and you should!). But don't look here for a detailed explanation and defence of a young-earth creationist position (for that, you should probably visit AnswersInGenesis instead).

Bbb Mtb Pedal Bigfeet, Black
Bbb Mtb Pedal Bigfeet, Black
Price: 12.56

5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing grip., 29 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I got fed up with my feet slipping around on plastic pedals, and switched for some metal ones from a bike shop. Unfortunately, I only realised after they were installed that they were subtly different on the two faces, and one face didn't grip so well. So now I have these Bigfeet pedals, which are symmetrical and are performing superbly. No more feet slipping dangerouls off the pedals when pulling out at a T-junction in the wet.

Oral-B Braun CrossAction Replacement Rechargeable Toothbrush Heads - (Pack of 4 Refills)
Oral-B Braun CrossAction Replacement Rechargeable Toothbrush Heads - (Pack of 4 Refills)
Price: 14.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Demonstrably better cleaning, 26 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I normally use Oral-B Sensitive heads, so as to be gentler on my receding gums. I was a little concerned these cross-action heads might be a bit too stiff. They are stiffer, but not dramatically so. The angled bristles aren't a gimmick: they really do seem to clean better. To test this out, I compared the performance of the conventional sensitive head and this cross-action head at cleaning some dirt out from under my fingernails (all in the name of science!). The cross-action head was noticeably more effective. I'll probably be switching to these heads in future.

HP Pavilion 15-p001na 15.6-inch Notebook PC (Natural Silver) - (Intel Core i3 1.90GHz, 6GB RAM, 750GB HDD, Wi-Fi, Windows 8.1)
HP Pavilion 15-p001na 15.6-inch Notebook PC (Natural Silver) - (Intel Core i3 1.90GHz, 6GB RAM, 750GB HDD, Wi-Fi, Windows 8.1)
Price: 369.99

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great value machine; a slightly dodgy touchpad on mine, 22 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
[Note: I have two different versions of this laptop, and my review covers both. The first is the Intel Core i3 1.90GHz, 6GB RAM, 750GB HDD model. The second is the AMD A10 2.10 GHz, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD, Touchscreen model]

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: For my money, I would chose the Intel Core i3 non-touchscreen model over the AMD A10 touchscreen model.

Having also recently taken delivery of an Asus X550CA Intel Core i3, having almost identical specifications, I was very interested to see how these two HP Pavilion laptops would would compare with the Asus (below).

First, comparing the two HP models with each other, despite the lower headline speed, the Intel Core i3 processor seems to be significantly more efficient than the AMD A10 processor. When running the same tasks on both machines, the Intel processor consistently indicates a lower percentage CPU usage. Moreover, the laptop remains a lot cooler. Not only does the AMD model get warmer underneath, but its cooling fan revs up much more often. These are pretty quiet machines overall, but the AMD is definitely noisier. I would recommend going with the Intel processor.

The AMD A10 model has a touchscreen. I love the touchscreen on my Android tablet and on my smartphone, but I am much less convinced of its value on a laptop. Laptops already have a keyboard for text entry and a touchpad for controlling the screen. The touchpad is a more efficient way of controlling the cursor, because it requires smaller movements and because it keeps your hands close to the keyboard. With multitouch support on the touchpad, even complex actions such as pinch-to-zoom don't need you to touch the screen. And as soon as you load a Windows application that isn't specifically designed for touchscreen interaction (such as a web browser or email program), it becomes too fiddly to use the touchscreen in any case. My feeling is that touchscreens on laptops are a bit of a gimmick. As for the screens themselves, both the HP screens are fairly bright and clear, with reasonable side-to-side viewing angles, but affording fairly little vertical movement before the picture starts distorting. The touchscreen is slightly more reflective than the non-touchscreen.

The Intel HP laptop contains a Broadcom WiFi chip, which I have found maintains a more stable connection to my router than the Realtek chip in the AMD HP laptop. With the two laptops side by side, the AMD one will drop its connection from time to time while the Intel one forges on regardless.

Unless you a running a large number of heavy-weight applications simultaneously, I don't think 8GB of RAM is much of an advantage over 6GB. I've not come close to using 6GB at a time.

Considering the Asus X550CA Intel Core i3 for comparison, the Asus has a nice metal-effect interior, which I prefer over the black plastic of the HP Pavilions. The Asus also has a slightly larger hard drive, but a slightly slower and older CPU than the HP Intel core i3 laptop (1.8 GHz vs 1.9 GHz), with an older integrated graphics chip. Performance wise, I've found little to choose between the three of them. They all run all the applications I have thrown at them with ease. I've been very impressed at the effortless audio and video playback, which is all handled by the integrated graphics chip, leaving the CPU free for other things (or to rest quietly). The screen on the Asus is slightly more matte than the HP screens.

Excellent audio playback is trumpeted by both manufacturers. It's not bad on either machine, and is acceptable enough for watching a movie directly. But in truth, the sound doesn't come close to that of even a cheap hifi system or a modest pair of headphones.

The keyboard on the HP laptops has fairly little travel, providing slightly less feedback than the Asus, and making touch typing slightly harder. But the Asus keyboard flexes more.

My biggest bugbear has been the Synaptics touchpad on the HP laptops. One of them seems to be faulty (on the Intel Core i3 model). It does not have a proper right-click action (the pad clicks OK at the bottom left, and near the middle, but press in the bottom right corner and it merely flexes, with no click being recorded), and it also gives a very jerky motion to the cursor when trying to perform a physical-left-click-and-drag action [UPDATE: I have managed to fix the jerky motion by replacing the HP-provided drivers with new drivers from Symantic's website, although the touchpad freezes for several seconds on occasions]. I assume the lack of a physical click is just a one-off manufacturing fault, because the other HP model doesn't suffer the same problems. These issues can be worked around using alternative multi-touch gestures, but it's taking some time to get used to these. The Asus touchpad works better.

As with the Asus, the HPs are lightweight and run very quietly most of the time. The HPs have slightly noisier hard drives, but it's still pretty minor.

I very much like the fact that the HP Pavilions have three USB ports, including one on the right hand side, and that these ports remain powered up during standby (unlike the Asus), which is great for charging phones etc.

If I were to choose again between the HPs and the Asus, I would probably go for the HP Intel Core i3 1.9GHz, because it has the most modern and efficient processor (so long as I got one with a touchpad that works properly), followed closely by the Asus Intel Core i3 1.8GHz. However, all three machines are excellent laptops, and there really isn't much to choose between them. They are all light-years ahead of the five-year-old Compaq laptop I was using until a few weeks ago.

Kingston Technology 16GB USB 3.0 Micro Duo Flash Drive
Kingston Technology 16GB USB 3.0 Micro Duo Flash Drive
Price: 7.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for compatible devices, 22 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This tiny device is a great way to transfer data quickly between a PC and a smartphone or tablet without the hassle of fiddly memory cards or slow wireless links. Just make sure that your mobile device is new-enough to support USB On-The-Go. One of my Android phones has a micro USB charging port, but annoyingly doesn't support USB host mode. This device is so small that I fear I will lose it before long, but it does have a loop that can be used to attach a lanyard, which could help to mitigate this a bit.

Melissa & Doug Construction Set in A Box
Melissa & Doug Construction Set in A Box
Price: 14.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for budding engineers, 21 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"We love it Daddy!" was the verdict from my nearly-four-year-old daughters, when I was deliberating just now whether to give this construction four stars or five.

The set is brightly coloured and easy for small hands to manipulate. We have not found any of the difficulties mentioned by previous reviewers in fastening the pieces together: all the threads work very smoothly and easily. The back of the box provides four or five example projects. My girls enjoyed helping to build the crane, and then went off piste, making robots to their own designs (largely without parental input).

My only criticism is that, as with some other Melissa & Doug products I've had, the box has no lid. This seems like such a simple thing to provide, and would make the container useful for storing the parts for years to come. As it is, the wooden presentation box is destined for the bin (after first trying to remove the instruction sticker off the back, which provides patterns for building four objects - a crane, a motorcycle, a plane and a racing car), and I now need to find a carrier bag in which to keep the bits. I would have docked one star for this annoyance, but my girls are adamant that it deserves five!

Bigjigs Toys BJ749 Rope Ladder
Bigjigs Toys BJ749 Rope Ladder
Offered by Bigjigs Toys
Price: 13.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but is it weatherproof?, 19 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a nicely made ladder, which my 3 year olds are enjoying climbing and swinging on. I had to adjust the spacing of the rungs a bit, but this is fairly easily accomplished by moving the knots a bit. My main criticism is that the wood appears to be plain pine, without any dip or pressure treatment. I suspect it will rot pretty quickly if left outdoors for long (which is surely the point of it). I've treated mine with a coat of outdoor varnish, which I'm hoping will make it last a bit longer.

Asus X550CA 15.6-inch Laptop (Dark Grey) - (Intel Core i3 1.8GHz, 6GB RAM, 1TB HDD, DVDSM DL, LAN, WLAN, Webcam, Integrated Graphics, Windows 8)
Asus X550CA 15.6-inch Laptop (Dark Grey) - (Intel Core i3 1.8GHz, 6GB RAM, 1TB HDD, DVDSM DL, LAN, WLAN, Webcam, Integrated Graphics, Windows 8)
Offered by Box Limited
Price: 379.97

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great buy, 19 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'm really pleased with this laptop.

It's surprisingly lightweight and extremely quiet (much more so than the old laptop it replaces). I'm not a fan of glossy screens, but this one isn't too bad (I was intending to add an anti-glare film, but have decided it isn't necessary). The keyboard keys don't travel as far as on a desktop keyboard, but provide enough feedback for fast typing. They are much better than the keys on a Sony Vaio that I also own. The touchpad works well, but is very large, and prone to getting nudged when typing. This was ameliorated after I updated the driver for the latest Elantech one from Asus's website, which allows for more customisation of sensitivity, and after I installed the free Touchpad Blocker application, which allows you to disable the touchpad when typing.

The Core i3 processor doesn't break a sweat doing any everyday tasks (web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, etc.), and the integrated graphics chip handles mp3 and DVD playback effortlessly. Even basic CAD software runs very smoothly. This isn't a machine for a serious gaming fan, but for everyone else, it should be fine. 6GB of RAM is more than enough for Windows 8.1, and I doubt I will ever come close to filling the 1TB harddrive (which comes partitioned into two 500GB sections).

The only slight annoyances are that it took many hours (and I mean a lot!) for Windows to install all the updates (from Windows 8 to 8.1, and dozens of other system updates and drivers), despite having a fast broadband connection; and that there are only two USB ports, both of which are on the left side, and neither of which supports charging of devices while the laptop is in standby (despite there being an Asus "USB charging" application pre-loaded on the laptop).

You may be interested in my recent review of the similarly-specified HP Pavilion 15-p001na Core i3 1.90GHz, 6GB RAM, 750GB laptop, which is arguably slightly better still than the Asus.

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