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Graham Phillips (Cambridge, UK)

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Holy Smoke/Hideous Kinky [DVD] [1999]
Holy Smoke/Hideous Kinky [DVD] [1999]
Dvd ~ Kate Winslet

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hideous Kinky, 11 Oct 2004
Julia, in her mid-twenties and with two young children, has travelled to Morocco in search of spiritual enlightenment of the Sufi variety. There they meet up with a varied selection of characters ranging from the genial criminal to the sour missionary. But she has no money, and lives in constant expectation of a cheque from her ex (the children's father) which is always late or insufficient. Gradually she inches towards the realization that she must learn to live in this world before chasing after another. And all the while it is the children, wise before their time, who bear the brunt of her neglect.
This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking story, totally lacking the car chases and mindless violence of Hollywood blockbusters. Aging hippies will find the period and location nostalgic, and the soundtrack is a good reminder of the early 1970s.
It is not entirely free of formulaic directing, though. The nude swimming scene seems quite untrue to the place and time of the story, and seem to have been put in purely because modern European audiences like that sort of thing.
All in all, an enjoyable evening's entertainment, which doesn't preach and doesn't pretend there are easy answers to life's problems.

Nightingale Songs
Nightingale Songs
Price: £10.03

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine example of nature sound recording, 2 Oct 2004
This review is from: Nightingale Songs (Audio CD)
The nightingale has a famously tuneful song, now rarely heard in the UK. This CD presents a single uninterrupted recording lasting close to 75 minutes. The recorded sound is excellent, close mic'd and sounding as if the bird is right there in the room. (Perhaps it would have been better a bit further away: it may then have sounded more natural.)
The venue was Mølen Bird Sanctuary in Norway. This is a small forest near the sea, and you can hear the waves breaking in the distance. I found that the two sounds go together well, and the sea is far enough away not to interfere with the bird song. There is no other sound to be heard.

The Historical Figure of Jesus
The Historical Figure of Jesus
by E. P. Sanders
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.29

86 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, informative, authoritative, 17 Aug 2004
Professor Sanders must be one of those rare academics who can write well for the general public, neither over-simplifying the content nor boring the reader with excessive detail. The book has just the right balance of readability and credibility, and there are new insights on every page. Particularly interesting were the first few chapters, covering the historical and political background. We are all aware that Palestine was "occupied" by the Roman Empire at this period, but what was the nature of the occupation? Was it, for example, comparable to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the early 1940s? The answer apparently is no, and the situation in Galilee was very different from that in Jerusalem. The book paints a clear picture of what life was like for ordinary people living in that region around that time. In dealing with the events of Jesus's life, Sanders always makes clear the degree of certainty of any assertion. There is a scale, with "beyond all reasonable doubt" at one end and "as likely as not" at the other. People who want simple answers in black and white may be disappointed by this, but ancient history is not an exact science. This is surely the honest approach.
Professor Sanders has been studying this period since the 1960s and appears to be regarded as knowledgeable on Jesus (as well as on Paul). I am not in a position to judge, but certainly the book seems more authoritative than some similar titles written by journalists or by those with a proselytising agenda. Although raised in the Church of England, I read this book as a complete layman. I was aware that I had no idea how much of what I had been taught was true in a historical sense and how much was mere legend, tradition or the personal opinion of my teachers, and I was starting to ask questions like "who wrote the gospels, and when?" and "what did Jesus ACTUALLY say?". This book has taught me a great deal about the origins of this vast religion.
There is perhaps too much emphasis on dates. To the lay reader, the exact years of Jesus's birth and death are less interesting than what happened in between. And while I'm looking for faults, I could mention that there are a few things that are not well explained. For example, the Pharisees are referred to as a party, but what is meant by "party" in this context? Is it something equivalent to a modern political party? Obviously not, though just what kind of a group they were is still not clear to me. But there are few such omissions. All in all, this book gave me the information that I wanted in an enjoyable form, and I happily recommend it.

Yakumo XL2 5.1 Channel Multi-region DVD Player [With Scart Lead]
Yakumo XL2 5.1 Channel Multi-region DVD Player [With Scart Lead]

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It simply works, 2 Aug 2004
Lots of shops are selling DVD players for the price of a decent toaster these days. This Yakumo is better than some of the supermarket players because (a) it's better looking, (b) it's multi-region, (c) it comes complete with everything you need (SCART cable, batteries) as well as stuff you don't (manual - don't bother: just plug it in and it goes).
The picture quality is fine, and the sound is good even when played through hi-fi amplifiers and speakers. The machine itself is virtually silent. I ordered mine on Monday evening with free delivery and it arrived on Wednesday morning. You can't do better than that.
If I try to find fault, I could mention that you need to point the remote directly at the player, and the printing on the remote is hard to read in low light (but you soon get to remember which button is which). Also, when playing a CD-ROM of JPG files, it goes at its own speed rather than letting you use the Next/Previous buttons, and there is some slight distortion (but this may be my TV). But hey, it's thirty quid, and it plays DVDs - what more do you want?

Tell Me more Italian 6
Tell Me more Italian 6

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Barely usable, 30 July 2004
This review is from: Tell Me more Italian 6 (CD-ROM)
When learning a new language, sometimes the motivation drops and you need something different to keep you engaged. That's what this course promises, with lots of varied and enjoyable learning activities. Unfortunately, it has been done badly and the promise is not fulfilled.
For a start, it's slow, even on a new PC with a fast processor and 1GB of memory. Installation puts the player application on your hard disk but leaves the content on the CD. Every time you do anything or click anything you get the hour-glass icon while the program spins up the CD to retrieve the next item. (Actually, it's not an hour-glass but a big animated pendulum clock, as if to rub it in that you have to wait and wait.) It may only be a couple of seconds each time, but after the first few hundred times it gets increasingly annoying. It probably doesn't do the CD mechanism any good to be constantly starting and stopping either, and the noise is distracting.
It crashes regularly. About every ten minutes it just hangs, and has to be closed down with Ctrl-Alt-Del and the Task Manager. You can re-start it, but that means putting up with the opening splash animation and "music". Again, it's only a minute or so, but after the tenth time it gets irritating.
The quality of the recorded sound is variable. Some samples are OK but others are barely intelligible. They sound to me as if they have been over-compressed; but maybe they are just poor recordings in the first place.
The supplied headset is rubbish. It only has once ear piece, and I never did get the microphone to work. You wouldn't expect a good one at this price, but I think they should have left it out altogether and reduced the price accordingly. You may want to budget for a decent headset separately. (The ones with a USB connection are good as they avoid the interference you often get from internal sound cards.)
I wonder whether the designers did any usability testing? I spent a lot of time trying to work out how to use it rather than concentrating on the games and exercises themselves. Also, there are some irritating little errors, like a word square in which the correct answer appears twice but only one of them is accepted as correct, the other is marked as wrong. The worst thing is the speech recognition technology. It works OK for single words or phrases; but some of the answers are two sentences, and if you leave the slightest gap between them (anything more than half a second) it gives up completely.
The "extra" items (maps, cultural articles etc) are just padding. You'll find much better resources on the web.
All in all, a major disappointment. After a few hours of struggling with it, I have finally given up. My copy is now for sale, but I don't suppose anyone would want to buy it after reading this!

Logitech Premium Stereo Headset 30
Logitech Premium Stereo Headset 30

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How technology ought to be, 28 July 2004
The sound quality is good. I also have a pair of expensive hi-fi headphones that faithfully reproduce all the distortion and crackle generated by the computer's internal sound card. The 'phones on the Logitech headset are not as good (they are a quarter of the price) but because they use their own DAC there's no interference, so the overall sound quality is better. There is a very slight hiss, but it's perfectly acceptable and only noticeable during silences.
The microphone is also good. Most people find it difficult to judge how well a mic captures their own voice, but this seems quite accurate with minimal distortion or hiss.
The whole thing is light weight and reasonably comfortable. (However, the packaging is excessive. There's no excuse these days for using so much non-recyclable plastic.)
Installation. What installation? Just plug it in and it works (at least on Windows XP). Why can't all technology be like this?

SuSE Linux 9.1 Personal
SuSE Linux 9.1 Personal

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine, but not for AMD-64, 19 July 2004
This review is from: SuSE Linux 9.1 Personal (CD-ROM)
I installed this on my old PC, and it all worked well. Installation was easy, giving dual boot into Windows or Linux. Once installed, it does what it says on the box. The interface is a bit different from Windows (and I slightly prefer Windows) but the applications all work as you would expect.
However, on my new PC, which has an Athlon 64-bit processor, it won't install. First it gives a warning about installing 32-bit software on a 64-bit machine, then it tries to continue but in fact hangs up. It seems I need to fork out for the 64-bit Professional edition, at more than twice the price. It's a pity the Manufacturer's Description does not mention this.

The Rough Guide to Sicily (Rough Guide Travel Guides)
The Rough Guide to Sicily (Rough Guide Travel Guides)
by Robert Andrews
Edition: Paperback

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Generally helpful, 15 Jun 2004
I found several inaccuracies, such as restaurant names misspelled or maps showing hotels on the wrong side of the road, but nothing seriously wrong. The history and culture sections were adequate for the general visitor, and for most of the historical sites there was enough detail to save you having to buy separate guide books for each attraction. In Palermo, hotel listings were rather brief, and it may be better these days to search on the web, but out in the villages there were some useful recommendations. Town maps were generally adequate (though rather small scale: you need good eyesight) but I would suggest a proper road map as well if you are doing much travelling about by car. All in all, a useful book; it's difficult to see how it could be improved significantly without getting bigger and heavier; but others are probably as good.

The Rough Guide to Italian (A Dictionary Phrasebook)
The Rough Guide to Italian (A Dictionary Phrasebook)
by Lexus
Edition: Paperback

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well designed, convenient., 10 Jun 2004
This is ideal for carrying around with you all day while in Italy. It is slim enough to fit comfortably in a pocket or bag, and has most of the words you will need in day to day situations. The layout and design are good: clear typography and use of colour. There are many phrases as well as words, and I found surprisingly often that these were just what I needed.
The downside is that there are relatively few words. This cannot be avoided except by making the book bigger or the type smaller. You may want a "proper" dictionary as well. Similarly, the menu reader omits a number of things like the less common varieties of fish, often leaving you guessing. I would have preferred a much more detailed food section as a separate volume. However, for general use, at this price, it's excellent value.

Trumpet Concertos By Fasch, Haydn, Hummel And Molter
Trumpet Concertos By Fasch, Haydn, Hummel And Molter

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully played, well recorded., 8 Jun 2004
These are not demanding works to listen to, just thoroughly enjoyable and mostly well known. Marsalis elicits a degree of subtlety and sensitivity from the instrument that may surprise those who think of brass instruments only in the context of marching bands.
There are many other recordings of this repertoire, but this one must be among the best. The trumpet sound is superb, well balanced with the orchestra, and the recording very life-like.
Good value, too: cheaper than Marsalis's earlier recording, and with more material. Recommended.

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