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Mr. T. Pooley (London)

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Collins Livemocha Active Spanish (Collins Active/Livemocha)
Collins Livemocha Active Spanish (Collins Active/Livemocha)
Price: £34.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant concept, 18 Mar. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you are looking for a fun, relaxed and sociable way to learn a new language, then LiveMocha is an excellent choice.

What makes this language course stand out from others currently on the market is the fact that it relies on the input of an online community. There is no software to install on your computer here - instead you are given a subscription code and four good quality books for use as a point of reference. Once registered on, all of the lessons from your chosen language course are available online for you to complete at your own pace.

The exercises on offer provide a good selection of activities, ranging from simple "fill in the gaps" tasks to more complex oral dialogues. The interface is also very user-friendly - the units for each lesson are all clearly laid out and the exercises themselves contain pictures and recordings in order to help you further.

The unique selling point of LiveMocha however, is its online community. At the end of most lessons you are required to complete a short written and/or spoken exercise, which you then submit online. Once posted on the website, other users (often native speakers of your chosen language) provide you with helpful feedback on your exercise, correcting you and giving you useful advice in order to improve. I have found this aspect of the course very helpful indeed - within minutes of me submitting an exercise, I receive on average between five and seven comments, the vast majority of which are incredibly constructive. It's really encouraging to have native speakers tell you "Well done!" or "Keep up the good work!", and as such Livemocha's social dimension gives it a key advantage over its competitors. How much you integrate into this social aspect though is down to you - if you so choose, you can create a Facebook-style profile page for yourself and add specific friends with whom you can exchange exercises. This isn't compulsory, but is recommended. Furthermore, if you pay extra you can have your work marked by a qualified tutor in order to take your learning to an even higher level.

There are a couple of problems with this specific course though. The first is that it is South American Spanish as opposed to European Spanish. The variances between the two aren't massive, but there are a number of subtle differences so be aware of this as the product description does not make it clear. In addition, the course makes significant use of recorded dialogue exercises, yet doesn't come packaged with a microphone. True, most modern computers have an internal mic anyway, but if you didn't have one I'd imagine it would be rather irritating to purchase a separate accessory in order to get the most out of the product.

LiveMocha is an excellent education tool. Of particular note is the social element, which makes your learning a lot more interactive and fun. I can't praise this idea enough and truly believe it is the future with regards to home language courses. I have tried a number of different products and approaches before and they haven't worked because I didn't find them engaging enough. Livemocha is completely different, and I highly recommend it.

One piece of advice though - courses such as this will get you to a certain level of competence in a foreign language, but to become truly confident and eventually attain fluency I would recommend taking formal lessons and visiting a country in which your language is spoken. At present I am using LiveMocha to support and consolidate what I learn in my evening classes and I believe this is one of the most effective ways in which to use such a product.

A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided
A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided
by Amanda Foreman
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Epic, informative and well-written, 11 Mar. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Amanda Foreman's "A World on Fire" will likely be the most comprehensive account of British-American relationships surrounding the US Civil War you will ever read. Epic and painstakingly researched with incredible attention to detail, this is a book that anyone with a keen interest one of the most interesting periods of history should make a part of their library.

"A World on Fire" combines both historic and biographic approaches in its analysis the US Civil War. It accurately depicts the often unstable and hostile relationship between America and Britain through the experiences of a number of significant cultural figures, ranging from authors such as Charles Dickens to senior politicians including Abraham Lincoln and Lord Palmerston. Some of the information provided on these people is so detailed and engrossing that when reading this book, one can't help but feel that they have a deep understanding of the characters portrayed and consequently, many of the relationships that were formed and broken during this part of history. Similarly, significant events of the period - including a number of major battles - are presented in meticulous (and often graphic) detail. In short, if you are looking for information on a noteworthy event or person with regards to British-American relations during the Civil War era, more likely than not it will be covered here in great detail.

The sheer volume of information on offer here however is perhaps rather oddly this book's downfall. Foreman's work took twelve years to complete, and with it clocking in at over 1000 pages in total one can see why. That said, none of this content is filler. Throughout the book we are treated to numerous pictures, maps and photographs that help to illustrate this portion of history in greater detail. These elements complement Foreman's biographic approach well, and are yet another example of just how engaging this piece of work is. Yet one still can't help but think that all but the most enthusiastic of Civil War historians will be able to get their teeth into everything on offer here. As such, if you're looking for an easily accessible introduction to this period of history, you may be better off looking elsewhere.

There is also one shortcoming of this book that arguably cannot be disputed - its lack of a bibliography. Any account of history that makes reference to such a large number of sources as this needs to have a record of its research, and it is disappointing that there isn't one in this case. Whether this was the choice of the author or publisher is unclear, but it is unfortunate nonetheless.

Minor gripes aside, this is a brilliant and meticulous account of British-American relations during the US Civil War. Epic, informative and well-written, anyone who has a fascination with this period of history would do well to read this book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 29, 2011 4:33 PM BST

Where to Ski and Snowboard 2011: The Definitive Guide to the 1,000 Best Winter Sports Resorts in the World
Where to Ski and Snowboard 2011: The Definitive Guide to the 1,000 Best Winter Sports Resorts in the World
by Dave Watts
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Where to Ski and Snowboard: 2011 Edition, 2 Oct. 2010
Where to Ski and Snowboard 2011 is quite possibly the most definitive guide to winter sports resorts you are likely to find. Detailed and easy to read, it is well worth the money and is likely to be an invaluable source of information for when you plan your next skiing holiday.

I am organising a group ski trip this year and in order to help me find the most suitable location for everyone I purchased this guidebook. It has helped me no end - all the bases are covered, including detailed information on cost, apres ski, slope difficulty, accommodation and much more. There are dedicated chapters that include useful piste maps on all major world resorts, so if you're thinking of planning a trip to a place you haven't yet visited or can't find much information on, chances are it's covered here. There are even chapters on the 'lesser known' ski locations in such countries and Norway and Scotland, which is perfect if you're looking to go somewhere slightly off the skiing radar.

What I particularly liked about this book was the fact that there is a 'resort shortlist' section that lists ski resorts that have a specifically strong attribute. Looking for a nice holiday on a budget? Or perhaps you want somewhere that has world-beating off-piste runs? In both cases (and many more), the best locations are listed, meaning that you won't have to traipse through 600+ pages of information to find a resort that suits your specific needs.

There are however, a few niggling problems with this book. The first is quite an obvious one, and that is the fact you can most likely find the majority of the information contained here for free on the internet. There is a wealth of dedicated sites out there that can advise you for free, so why would you want to fork out 19 odd quid on this guide? I would argue that it's worth the money because you have all the information you could possibly need in one place at your fingertips - it's so much easier to just pick up this book than spend ages slogging through numerous webpages via Google. Another shortcoming is the equipment guide - a welcome addition, for sure. But it is focused purely on the expert skier. I appreciate that this may be logical given the fact that beginners are less likely to buy their own gear as most hire it on the slopes, but for an advanced beginner/lower intermediate such as myself who is thinking of buying their own stuff it's a bit of an omission. The only other downside of this book is the most irritating one - the adverts. On almost every page there is an advert from some kind of skiing company asking you to buy their product or use them to plan your next holiday. At times these are incredibly intrusive (I've lost track of the amount of times I've been reading up on a resort, only to have my flow interrupted by a full-page advert).

All in all though, this is well worth a purchase. It covers pretty much everything you need to know about the world's winter sports resorts and does so in an easy to use fashion. It is now an essential source of information for when I plan my skiing holidays.

Space Invaders Oyster Card Holder
Space Invaders Oyster Card Holder

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Coolest card holder ever?, 26 Aug. 2010
This Oyster holder does exactly what it says on the tin - it has ample space to hold your cards and tickets. A slight criticism is that it could have been made out of a slightly more flexible material, as after just a couple of weeks use mine has 'bubbled' and creased a little. Still, this is by far the coolest-looking Oyster card holder out there, and certainly makes the rush hour journey a bit more bearable!

Samsung UE26C4000 26-inch Widescreen HD Ready 50Hz Slim LED TV with Freeview
Samsung UE26C4000 26-inch Widescreen HD Ready 50Hz Slim LED TV with Freeview

59 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great value for money, 22 July 2010
I bought this TV as a replacement for my old 19 inch LCD. After debating between getting this and and a larger LCD, I decided to go for the LED and I wasn't disappointed. The backlit screen really is worth the extra money and there is a discernible difference in picture quality between this sort of TV and standard flat screens. Colours are crisp and clear and although this model isn't 1080p, the 1080i and 720p outputs still look great on an HD source - I regularly play PS3 games and blu-rays on this TV and the picture quality is excellent.

From a technical point of view, this television is very easy to use. There's a quick set-up guide included in the box along with more detailed instructions, so if you don't want to be bombarded with reams of jargon from the word go then this is the TV for you. I was literally able to take it out of the box, plug it in, auto tune the channels and watch my favourite programmes in a matter of minutes. Admittedly, I did do a bit of headscratching when it came to fixing the TV to its stand but I think that's mainly a consequence of my inability to put any self-assembly product together rather than a design flaw on the part of Samsung!

This television is currently in my bedroom and doesn't look out of place or dominate the room. At 26 inches it's fairly large and as such the fact that it is incredibly thin and aesthetically pleasing only adds further to its appeal. In all, this is a very attractive looking TV with excellent picture quality that represents good value for money. The only slight downside is that the sound quality isn't outstanding, but this is true of most other televisions of this size anyway.

So in short, if you're looking for a mid-sized LED TV that doesn't completely break the bank, look no further!

Price: £5.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great sign of things to come..., 27 May 2010
This review is from: Vivarium (Audio CD)
I purchased this mini-album off the strength of the excellent "Lightspeed" single, and was not disappointed. This CD is packed full of great songs with nice hooks and melodies, with "John Wayne" being a particular highlight. The vocals are also excellent, and Sam McTrusty's Scottish accent enhances the impact of each track tremendously.

I know that being Scottish, Twin Atlantic are inevitably (and perhaps lazily) going to be compared to their fellow countrymen Biffy Clyro. But if you are a fan of the latter then you will no doubt like this band - think of something that sounds like a cross between new/old Biffy Clyro but also brings something new to the table.

Additionally, the album sleeve has a nice "pop-out" effect which although obviously doesn't add or take anything away from the music, provides a nice touch and reflects the amount of effort and thought that has gone into this EP.

Although some tracks are better than others, this is an excellent debut and shows a great sign of things to come by Twin Atlanic. I am very much looking forward to their next release!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 8, 2010 12:47 PM GMT

The Strange Death of David Kelly
The Strange Death of David Kelly
by Norman Baker
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it in the interest of truth and justice, 19 April 2010
If you, like countless other people in the UK - and indeed across the world - were unconvinced by the outcome of the inquiry into the death of Dr. David Kelly, then you simply must read this book.

I was one of the many members of the public that was duped into believing the British government's claims that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, and was suitably outraged when the truth came to light. I was however, utterly disgusted when the report into the suspicious death of a man who had proof that the motivations for the Iraq war were greatly exaggerated deemed the cause "suicide", when all of the evidence suggested otherwise.

Norman Baker presents the facts of this case honestly and accurately. He does not write as if he has an axe to grind, nor does his account of events contain any kind of journalistic bias towards one side of the argument or the other. Instead, he analyses all of the available evidence and arrives at sound, logical conclusions, all the while maintaining dignity and respect towards those most affected by this tragic event - something that the government failed to do.

Blair, Hutton and anyone else involved in the crass cover-up of this ghastly episode deserve to be punished for obstructing the course of justice.

Read this in the interest of truth.

Portrait Of A Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed
Portrait Of A Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed
by Patricia Cornwell
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Laughable, 19 April 2010
Oh dear. If you are looking for a well-written, well-argued theory regarding who Jack the Ripper was, then you have come to the wrong place. Patricia Cornwell's book is so fraught with inaccuracies and assumptions that it wouldn't be taken seriously in a school classroom, let alone the academic community.

Cornwell's belief that Walter Sickert, a celebrated artist, was Jack the Ripper is based on "evidence" such as the facts that his paintings contained blurred images of women who looked similar to the Ripper victims; that he had a disfigured penis (proven untrue) which made him hate women; and that mitochondrial DNA found on some of the infamous "Ripper" letters can be traced back to him. This last "fact" is especially laughable seeing as the DNA found was 110 years old and unreliable to the point that millions of people living in Britain in the 1880s could have been a match. Furthermore, the "Ripper" letters are now widely believed to have been hoaxes, meaning that any flimsy evidence they provide does most likely not point to the true Ripper.

What really angers me about this book though is that it is such a lazy, inaccurate and offensive piece of research. For some reason Cornwell appears to have made up her mind as to who Jack the Ripper was before undertaking any proper investigative work, and instead of neutrally gathering evidence prior to fingering a suspect, she has decided to finger Sickert beforehand and frame flimsy "proof" around her assumption in order to ascertain his guilt. But the worst aspect of this work is that it attempts to viciously tarnish the otherwise good name of a celebrated artist. He may have been an oddball, but given the evidence, Walter Sickert was no serial killer. To try and blacken the reputation of a clearly innocent man is unforgivable.

Cornwell has on record defended her work by claiming that were she a man, or a Brit, her theory would have been widely accepted. Says it all, really. Avoid.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 29, 2010 2:15 PM BST

Heavy Rain (PS3)
Heavy Rain (PS3)

149 of 160 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A landmark in video games, 27 Feb. 2010
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Heavy Rain (PS3) (Video Game)
"Heavy Rain" is by far the most innovative game I have played for quite some time. No other title has immersed me so deeply and made me feel so much a part of a story. Although it does have a couple of minor faults, this is likely to be a contender for Game of the Year (and we're only in February!).

In a city on the East coast of America, a murderer known as "The Origami Killer" is on the loose and taking the lives of innocent children. You, the player, are drawn into this terrifying tale by playing four different characters in an attempt to bring the killer to justice.

What makes "Heavy Rain" so great is the fact that it is utterly unique. Every action you take, every word you say, has a consequence. The way in which you react to any given situation has an effect on how events unfold later in the game. Sure, there have been games before in which a player's actions determine which variant of a path they travel down (RPGs such as "Fallout 3" come to mind, for example), but not on the scale that "Heavy Rain" does. If a character dies, there is no returning to a previously saved game - the story progresses without them and the way it pans-out is affected by such events. The developers claim that there is an exceptionally large number of ways in which this game can conclude, and this means that everyone who plays it will have a different experience. In short, "Heavy Rain" delivers a level of interactivity heretofore unseen in video games.

The story is immersive, gripping, and full of suspense. The characters have a lot of depth to them, and offer enough variety between one another to keep things interesting. One of this game's strongest points is also its soundtrack - the music constantly shifts to reflect the tone of each scene, and at times the orchestral score is utterly chilling. It really does add to the atmosphere tremendously. Gameplay-wise, some people have criticised "Heavy Rain" for merely consisting of a series of "quicktime" events. However, it is so much more. Although it is scripted and you do follow one main storyline, the outcome of your actions cannot be broken-down to a mere "pass/fail" format - they instead trigger different events in which you can complete a scene. These actions vary from life or death situations to the simple activity of brushing a character's teeth - either way, you can't help but feel as if you are a part of this game.

However, "Heavy Rain" is not without some minor flaws. At times, the voice acting isn't quite up to scratch. Lip-syncing seems a bit off and character's facial expressions appear slightly wooden. Furthermore, the graphics aren't exactly groundbreaking. Don't get me wrong, this game looks fantastic, but there are a couple of moments when the visuals are questionable. At one point, my character was having a conversation in a busy police station and all of the CPU "background" characters were passing through him as if they were ghosts - this is fine in a game such as Warcraft, where constantly bumping into other people is a hindrance. But in the case of "Heavy Rain" it serves to undermine the realism that the story has so delicately created. In addition, the controls could perhaps have been improved upon - they often feel a little bit clunky and unresponsive. One such instance occurred when I had to guide my character through a series of small, dark tunnels - the constantly changing camera angle appeared to confuse the system as to which direction I wanted to go in and as such I was left constantly going back and forth. But these small problems really are infrequent gripes with what is quite simply, a spectacular game.

"Heavy Rain" won't be everyone's cup of tea. If you're after a gung-ho, mindless action game then this is not it. If however, you are looking for something unique, something that requires you to weigh-up every consequence of an action and something that will immerse you into a story like nothing else, then you must play this game. It is utterly unique and completely engrossing.
Comment Comments (23) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 25, 2010 7:39 PM GMT

Up (Combi Pack - Blu-ray + DVD) [2009]
Up (Combi Pack - Blu-ray + DVD) [2009]
Dvd ~ Ed Asner
Offered by Magic Movies Ltd
Price: £10.45

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disney and Pixar haven't lost their touch!, 16 Feb. 2010
"Up" for me ranks as one of the best films Disney and Pixar have created thus far. After seeing the woeful "Cars" a couple of years ago I was seriously concerned that a staple of my childhood was starting to lose it. Well, "Ratatouille" and "Wall-E" both went some way to getting Pixar back on track, but "Up" blows even these two terrific films out of the water and makes me regret thinking for one second that one of my favourite movie studios had gone off the boil.

I shan't ruin any of the story for you (after all, the Amazon blurb will tell you what you need to know), but believe me when I say that you absolutely must see this film. What makes "Up" so charming is that it can be enjoyed on numerous levels by people of all ages. Kids will enjoy it because of the lovable characters and grand adventure, while adults will be drawn in by the overarching themes of love, loss, companionship and redemption. Everyone however, will be attracted by the humour, suspense and brilliant storytelling. In short, you must have a heart of stone not to enjoy this film.

As for the blu-ray itself, I was very impressed by both the visual and sound effects. Colours are vibrant and the level of detail is just what you'd expect from high definition. The extras contained on the disc are also a welcome addition, ranging from alternate scenes to cinematic shorts containing some of "Up"'s main characters.

In sum, this film is brilliant. It is charming, endearing, funny and exciting. The quality of the blu-ray transfer is also excellent, making it a worthy addition to anyone's hi-def collection.

Buy it - you won't be disappointed!

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