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Boing (UK)

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Malignant Invasion
Malignant Invasion
Price: £0.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's... well... Okay, 4 Sept. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'm really ambivalent about this book. To say it's being distributed practically for free, I feel a bit guilty saying anything too harsh.

Basically, as another reviewer stated, you DO care for the characters and you DO want to know what happens to them. Even though they are at times inexplicably heroic, then inexplicably stupid, then have inexplicably Mills and Boon sex at the least appropriate time possible.

The idea behind the threat was interesting and it would have been nice to get more of a view of the history between Humanity and Sartan, rather than the hasty exposition that was crudely tacked on right at the end of the book. Having said that, the plot did require a certain level of mystery and the author carried it off well.

It's not terribly well-written to be honest, but then nobody is expecting Nebula Prize winning stuff here. It was a likeable story that had both ambition and imagination, so it gets four stars from me.

The Handmaid's Tale (Vintage Classics)
The Handmaid's Tale (Vintage Classics)
Price: £4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Work, 4 Sept. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is the first book I've paid full Kindle price for (I usually stake out the Deal of the Day and catch titles for 99p or thereabouts), and I took a bit of a gamble as I have never read any Atwood before. I am pleased to be able to say it was an excellent purchase.

The Handmaid's Tale is written as a blend of several different forms of first person prose, principally taking place in the fictional state of Gilead (established after the United States government is violently deposed by a fundamentalist Christian sect). The book seamlessly joins together fragmentary episodes from various times in the narrator's life, along with stream of consciousness reactions to her 'current' situation and imagined escapist alternatives to the events that are actually occurring. As complex as it sounds, the recipe works well and the text simply flows.

The plot deals with issues such as fanaticism, gender separation, sexual power, the right to self-determine, and mandatory birthing. It does this in a way that mirrors and therefore emphasises the quiet, vicious practices of the ruling classes of Gilead. We are introduced to "them" very early on by Offred, the narrator, but the true scope and horrifying brilliance of the Gilead social engine is slowly and precisely dripped in throughout the entire story, until by the final scenes the reader is almost as desensitised to the brutality of the regime as the cowed and muted Handmaidens living through it.

The Handmaid's Tale is probably one of the better dystopia novels I have read, and I found it easier and more enjoyable to get along with than Brave New World. It's a very useful study in systems of power and abuse, and I'd recommend it to anyone.

(Discontinued by Manufacturer)
(Discontinued by Manufacturer)

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, it's Worth the Money, 10 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Firstly, the picture. Holy mother of the television gods! It basically sends all other screens in the same price bracket to the corner of shame. There is nothing else I can add that will emphasise just how good it is.

There is a "simulate 3D" function which attempts to interpret 2D into 3D, quite fun for games such as Battlefield but not anything like true 3D by a long shot. True 3D is excellent. I highly recommend Despicable Me (Blu-ray 3D) as a good value and highly entertaining family movie for showing off the television. The 3D is used really well throughout with some very memorable scenes. Tron Legacy is also a cracking 3D title.

Be careful when purchasing the glasses. Amazon's prices do fluctuate, and sometimes the single pack glasses are cheaper than the double packs, as bizarre as that sounds. The TDGBR250 is the best on the performance/budget curve, but if you want to go all out with the best possible 3D image currently available the TDGBR750 Titanium Glasses are supposed to be a bit better. They cost about twice as much as the TDGBR250 glasses when bought singly. Do not buy the TDGBR100 or TDGBR50; they are out of date with more significant cross-talk.

Having on-board wireless and a Digital Freeview HD tuner is brilliant. I connected the TV to my wireless network very quickly and it downloaded a firmware update all by itself. Freeview was easy to set up, and it found a decent selection of channels including BBC HD (which has a brilliant picture). There's also a CAM slot in the back of the telly, so if you want to receive channels like ESPN without a package subscription you should be able to stick a viewing card in there (with a suitable CAM adaptor).

The on-board services like Youtube etc duplicate much of what I have on the PS3 and my Sony blu-ray player, so I haven't looked at them much. Judging by the rest of the somewhat sluggish menu system I think the PS3 will certainly give a faster and slicker experience.

For full 3D, you will need to connect your playback device (PS3, Sky+ box, whatever) to the television using a high speed HDMI cable that supports HDMI 1.4. I used the AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet which is cheap as chips and perfectly adequate. If you want to run your playback device through another device such as a surround sound receiver, then all links in the chain must be HDMI 1.4 compliant in order to play 3D content. That includes the cables, and the receiver.

If you connect your PS3 through another device and it does not detect a 3D-capable television, do the following:
1) Make sure your PS3 has the latest firmware upgrade;
2) Connect it directly to the television with a suitable HDMI cable, and go through the picture setup menu.

Here's what I don't like about the TV:

The speaker stand! While others have said it gives great sound, mine seems weak and tinny. I thought it was possible that I received a bad unit, but further research revealed a lot of people who think it's a joke. I had to turn the TV up to about 24 with films to be able to hear everything and this caused speaker vibration from the treble. I spent some more money on a Sony BDVE190 combined blu-ray player and surround system, and even this low-end 300W system blows the speaker stand out of the water. Switching between the two while content is playing reveals a truly drastic difference. I've now upgraded that to a BDVN790W, which is even better.
I know integrated speakers are always rubbish, but the "integrated speaker stand" is a substantially sized unit with high build quality, and Sony have missed an opportunity here to load it with decent hardware. Prospective buyers should be aware of its limitations.

The menu system! Slow, unresponsive, and can be awkward to navigate. Some options appear in various places throughout the menu system while others are difficult to find. Although most options which affect picture give you some degree of live preview of the changes, others don't. I recommend using the inbuilt I-Manual to learn about the various settings. Unfortunately the I-Manual doesn't give an explanation of what every single menu option does/means, but it covers a lot of useful features.

Neither of the above issues would stop me from buying this television again. It's a large and impressive unit with a superb picture. The "gimmick" of 3D, when executed this well, really does add a new dimension of immersion to films. OK sorry for the terrible pun. But it's true!
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 9, 2012 6:47 PM BST

Despicable Me (Blu-ray 3D) [Region Free]
Despicable Me (Blu-ray 3D) [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Steve Carell
Price: £6.60

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Film, Great Value, Great 3D, 9 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This was my first 3D purchase, and I'm glad I bought it. I don't want to ruin the film for those who have not seen it, so suffice to say that although it is slightly formulaic it's still an original and well-executed "anti-hero finds his heart" family movie.

The reason I wanted to post this review is twofold: firstly, to assure prospective buyers that the use of 3D is pretty much first class. It really adds a sense of depth and immersion, and in several scenes it is used to great effect. In fact, the standard of animation is excellent throughout with imaginative realisation, some beautiful rendering, and highly expressive characters. Secondly, the first disc I received from Amazon was defective: it froze at several places (the same each time) and the player then skipped several seconds when it caught up with itself. There was also a dropped audio problem. I returned the disc via Amazon's return service and had a replacement the next day, which has worked perfectly. So if yours also sticks I suggest returning it for a replacement, because there are obviously bad discs out there.

The extras are mostly generic, but a must-watch is the Minions' short film "Banana", which I have no doubt will make you chuckle.

This is a great film to keep kids (and indeed adults) quiet for a while, and it will definitely not embarrass you if you use it to show off your 3D television.

Profoot Softgel 360 Foot File
Profoot Softgel 360 Foot File
Offered by Direct Pharmacy
Price: £4.65

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Product, 9 Aug. 2012
The utter weirdness of this product should not under any circumstances put you off trying it - I found it to be excellent at what it does, and it's one of those rare items that is utterly fit for purpose.

The 360 Foot File is a strange little beast. It's made from a soft foam or gel with an outer coating of sharp crystals. The shape is sort of a tapered cylinder that bulges in the middle and gets narrower towards the ends. If you give it a squeeze it compresses slightly, and overall it gives the impression of being some kind of sadistic sex toy. I suppose it could be used as such, but I can't say I recommend it because its job is to be abrasive, and it certainly delivers on that count.

Immediately on first use I found that the 360 shaved tough dead skin cells off my feet with ease, grating away hungrily at calloused areas while trimming off stray bits of foot without unduly damaging healthy skin. After use all I had to do was rinse it under a hot tap and leave it standing in a glass tumbler to air dry, and it appeared new.

The only way this could be improved for my purposes is if one end was tapered even thinner, so that it could go between toes. Other than that it's pretty much perfect, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone with unruly feet.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 25, 2013 11:23 AM BST

AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable 2 m / 6.5 Feet Supports Ethernet, 3D, Audio Return
AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable 2 m / 6.5 Feet Supports Ethernet, 3D, Audio Return

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Value, 30 July 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This cable is exactly as specified on the Amazon page. I found it to be very well made indeed and it works just as it should.

The cable is HDMI with Ethernet, which means that it supports the HDMI Ethernet Channel (HEC) rather than having both HDMI and RJ45 connectors. It fully supports the HDMI 1.4 specification. If you have a device such as a PS3 and want to play 3D movies on your television, you will almost certainly need this cable since lesser specifications simply won't support that kind of data transfer. If you're just looking for a standard HDMI cable, at this price you might as well buy one of these in case your setup gets upgraded in the next few years.

Great product, great value, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone. There is no point spending £100+ on a "pro quality" product that does exactly the same thing!

Sony BR250 3D Glasses (Pack of 2 Pairs)
Sony BR250 3D Glasses (Pack of 2 Pairs)

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Work great but I have reservations, 30 July 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
These glasses work great with Sony 3D televisions, as you'd rightly hope, although I have a new Bravia (believe it was released Spring 2012) so I guess older versions might have issues that are fixed on my model. A couple of bad points I've noticed:

1) The hinges on the arms seem like they're designed to be as weak as possible, and I wouldn't trust a child with them. For the amount of money these cost frankly that's not on at all! Similarly, the little plastic cover that hides the USB port seems like it is designed to fail. Although it wouldn't be a world-shattering event if it did break off;

2) The 3D effect relies on your head being level when you face the television. Tilt your head one way and the image turns magenta, tilt it the other and it goes yellow. Lie on the sofa with your head at 90 degrees to the picture, and the colours are totally wrong. I realise this is just a consequence of the active shutter system but it makes watching 3D films feel regimented and not relaxed.

All in all these glasses do the job, and while I do have the above gripes I generally take care of my stuff so I don't expect to smash them to bits any time soon. Just feels like they could be better for this price, especially since they're a mandatory purchase! But still, only worth knocking one star over due to the joy they bring.

Microsoft Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000 Keyboard and Mouse Set - UK Layout
Microsoft Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000 Keyboard and Mouse Set - UK Layout

5.0 out of 5 stars No problems at all after 6 months, 7 Jun. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've had this keyboard and mouse set for six months now, and held off reviewing it in case problems emerged. I'm glad to say none have.

The shape of the keyboard allows a comfortable typing experience and the mouse is quite well designed. Being able to program buttons on the mouse is great, since I use quite a few specialised applications for image and video editing. Little things like being able to click the middle scroll wheel left or right to scrub through footage or change brush sizes make all the difference!

I've not experienced the "you have to take the dongle out and put it in the mouse to turn the mouse off" problem mentioned by much earlier reviews, so this may have been quietly fixed by Microsoft. As far as I can see, the mouse deactivates when the computer turns off. I have not yet had to change the batteries in the mouse (six months on remember) and only this week changed the batteries in the keyboard for the first time when it started to drop keystrokes. The batteries I have been using since January were Duracells, so the keyboard apparently gets a lot of mileage out of bog-standard alkaline batteries.

I have found that to get the most out of the ergonomic mouse shape and the wrist rest on the keyboard, they need to be fairly high up compared to the keyboard shelf position of most office furniture. My computer desk places the keyboard at about abdominal height, but the design of the set seems like it would be more comfortable when positioned opposite the sternum.

The keys on the keyboard are great; not too clunky, but not insubstantial either. The only criticisms I would have are the small function keys, and the way that Microsoft seem to assume you'll be more interested in their chosen short-cut functions rather than actually using F1 etc. All of this is easily fixed using the supplied software though.

There are no Capslock / Number Lock / Scroll Lock lights on the keyboard itself, but an indicator does appear above the system tray when you toggle any of those keys.

Lastly, the BlueTrack system used by the mouse really does appear to be more accurate and less jittery than the laser or optical mice I've used previously.

I have really struggled to find a user-friendly, good quality wireless desktop, and I am really glad I paid a bit more for this Microsoft offering. It's one of those products where they have applied their market experience well, and I would heartily recommend this set to anyone without reservation.

[edit] I have noticed a lot of reviews from people having hardware issues or finding that their keyboard is not designed for UK users. I suspect marketplace sellers may be involved in many of these cases; I bought my set direct from Amazon and had no issues at all - got the latest model revision and the correct region (UK layout). Verbum sapienta sat est, as they might have said in Rome had they any use for keyboards.

Lastolite by Manfrotto Ezybalance Card - 30 cm/12 inch, Grey/White
Lastolite by Manfrotto Ezybalance Card - 30 cm/12 inch, Grey/White
Price: £19.00

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All Good So Far, 7 Jun. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I use Canon EOS cameras, and unfortunately as much as I like them I have to admit the metering can vary sometimes from shot to shot, sequence to sequence, even when conditions don't appear to have changed.

To tackle this I have combined the EzyBalance with the X-Rite ColourChecker Passport, for correct white balance, colour precision, and exposures. The combination is ideal. Both products are compact (the EzyBalance collapses to about 1/3 of its unfolded size), so it's basically a super-portable exposure enhancement kit.

The EzyBalance has a metal ring around it which can be twisted so that it folds in on itself for storage, which is quite clever: you sort of twist it into a figure-of-eight shape and it then goes into a storage pouch. Once unfolded it provides a neutral grey target on one side, and a white target on the other, so you can provide known 18% grey or white points under any lighting, in any environment.

Yes there is the "use a sheet of paper" argument, but I find this item is more durable, waterproof, and it provides neutral grey as well as white. Loses one star only because the price is a bit of a gouge!

GTMax Canon CP-E4 Flash Battery Pack For Canon 580 EX II, 580 EX, 550 EX, MR-14EX, MT-24EX Camera Flash
GTMax Canon CP-E4 Flash Battery Pack For Canon 580 EX II, 580 EX, 550 EX, MR-14EX, MT-24EX Camera Flash

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's cheap but it does work, 7 Jun. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This product is about as third party as they come; the one I received is branded as "Shoot" rather than GTMax. Very little planning and design has gone into it and it is really cheaply made. However, it does the job.

In brief, the unit is basically a battery pack which has a sliding end that allows access to a tray which can accommodate 8x AA batteries, giving you 12 if you include the ones in your flash (I use this with a 580EX II). The unit connects to the flash by a 22" (56cm) curly cable which can stretch to over 60" (152cm). It has a sticker on it warning not to fire more than 20 consecutive flashes.

It comes with an odd little case which has a press-stud closure at one end, a velcro closure at the other, an adjustable velcro loop on one side, and a fixed belt loop on the other. Also packaged in the plain white box was a set of gibberish instructions (wouldn't be the same without them), and a long thumb screw for connecting the battery pack to the base of your camera via the tripod mount.

The end of the unit has a "press and slide" action which allows you to remove the battery tray. This feels like it will break under normal conditions, but also I found that when the battery tray was full of batteries and inserted back into the battery pack, the sliding door would not happily click back into place. I then also noticed that the plastic lip that keeps it in place is not correctly shaped. I basically had to force the door down and across to close it.

When the screw is used to connect the pack to the base of your camera, it turns out it's quite a bit longer than the width of the camera so part of it protrudes on the hand grip side. I found it easier to shoot with the battery pack rotated to an angle so that its bulk was out of the way. Also, there is no provision for through-threading, so you cannot have the pack between the camera and a tripod head. If the camera is on a tripod, then the pack should be hanging on the tripod in its carry case.

So the all-important part: tests.
- I used a 580EX II mounted on a Canon EOS 7D in gloomy but not dark conditions, high speed shooting, 2.0 aperture and 1/6400 shutter speed at 35mm, ISO 100.
- The fast shutter speed was chosen so that any frame not supplied enough light by the flash would be noticeably under-exposed or completely black.
- I allowed the flash to use full ETTL-II because this is how I am most likely to use it in any circumstances where I want to use high speed shooting with flash (kind of implies I won't be metering and setting manual power levels between shots).

Using just the batteries in the 580EX II, the flash was able to provide light for three frames with the third noticeably underexposed. There were then three black frames, one underexposed, another three black frames, and one normally exposed frame. It was obviously struggling to provide power.

Adding in the battery pack, the flash was able to provide light for five exposed frames, then one black frame, then two exposed frames, one black, another two exposed frames, another black, another two exposed frames... I think it would have continued like that.

(E=Exposed, U=Underexposed, B=Black)

580EX II Only: E E U B B B U B B B E
With the pack: E E E E E B E E B E E B E E

Using the battery pack, the exposed frames were more or less exposed correctly; slight variations were visible on the 7D's LCD screen and using the histogram but these were not anywhere near as obvious as the variations seen when using just the four 580EX batteries. Clearly, having 12 batteries instead of 4 allows the flash unit to supply more power per flash and to shorten the period between flashes ('recycling' time).

If you want to capture rapid-fire sequences lit by flash in dynamic conditions, this is a cheap way to increase the number of keepers you'll get. Although I'd obviously prefer the more expensive original Canon version, I've found this cheaper brand adequate for non-professional purposes.

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