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M. Appleton

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by Stephen Baxter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow to get going, but as "hard" a sci-fi as you could ever want, 6 Jun. 2009
This review is from: Time (Paperback)
I'm a proper nerd when it comes to sci-fi - I'll take obscure and esoteric theories over plodding character development every time. Time, therefore, was very appealing.

A strange artifact is discovered on an asteroid near Earth, and is found by a remote probe to be a portal that allows jumps of billions of years into the future. Soon after, a kind of super-intelligence begins to manifest itself in a handful of children, who proceed to make astonishing scientific breakthroughs in the field of energy production. The two apparently unrelated stories close in on each other at the climax (far too mild a word for it).

It does take a while to get going, with a lot of the first half being something of a cookie-cutter will they/won't they space launch saga, but there are sprinklings of some truly visionary science (particularly the breathtaking sequence where the probe is repeatedly pushed into the distant future - worth getting from the library on its own). The rapidly switching point of view character took me some getting used to, but it does offer a more rounded insight into the goings on. And the ENDING... ye gods, Baxter went all-out!

So good was this book that it induced me to read Flood; if I'd read Flood first, though...

by Stephen Baxter
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Slow, but an interesting and well thought-out premise, 31 May 2009
This review is from: Flood (Paperback)
After reading "Time" I was quite impressed with Baxter, so I decided to give F a whirl.

It isn't as "hard" a sci-fi as I was expecting, focussing much more on human elements (such as the evolving politics of the rapidly-diminishing landmasses). It was very logical, though, to focus on a small group of characters, since such a large-scale and long-term disaster as the whole Earth flooding might not resonate with the reader if written in a factual "god's eye" POV. Interestingly, Baxter eschews the obvious global-warming as a cause for the flooding, which I liked.

For me, though, there was precious little actual science on offer; many a time a ten-page exposition of, for example, the search for a former kidnapee's daughter had me putting the book down in sheer frustration - get back to the flood!

Perhaps I shouldn't have compared it to "Time", as it's a completely different animal, but for me "Time" set a precident that F just couldn't follow.

Star Trek: Nemesis [DVD] [2003]
Star Trek: Nemesis [DVD] [2003]
Dvd ~ Patrick Stewart
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £3.58

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good bits, but mostly average, 20 May 2009
Nemesis is, in principle, very similar to Wrath of Khan, with themes of revenge and sacrifice, but nowhere near as good. While WoK had plenty of action, Nemesis is more of a character piece. In my view, these characters have had 15 years of exposure and just don't need the plodding examination that comprises most of the first two thirds of the film.

Tom Hardy's sneering and supercillious anti-Picard was a masterstroke of casting, though, and he holds his own nicely against Stewart. The closing space battle is also good, one of the few glimmers of real ST (but it loses some impact when watched at home).

I've seen all the ST films from 6 onwards at the cinema (and every episode of every series), and Nemesis (and Insurrection) required conscious effort on my part to remain interested.

Angels & Demons [DVD] [2009]
Angels & Demons [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Tom Hanks
Price: £2.97

2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit disappointing with respect to the book (beware - spoilers), 16 May 2009
This review is from: Angels & Demons [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
After reading A&D I thought it was by some margin the best of Brown's novels, so I had high expectations for the film. However, there's too much material missing for me to recommend it to those who've also read the book.

A&D is particularly well cast (except for McGregor - couldn't they find an Italian actor to play the REAL Camerlengo?) and has plenty of pace. The setting is fully exploited by Ron Howard, who apparently revelled in the surroundings.

Unfortunately, the screenwriters couldn't assume readership, so Langdon frequently resorts to painfully contrived explanations of what's going on, which disrupts the otherwise smooth flow. Also, the aforementioned plot changes (the ending in particular) and omissions (the Assassin's motives seem purely finiancial; the entire Janus subplot is missing; Langdon and Vetra's burgeoning romance is completely absent) made me feel a bit cheated - surely the Brown/Howard partnership has enough clout to make a film long enough to get EVERYTHING in...

If you haven't read the novel you might give this four stars, but the cognescenti may be left a bit empty.

Valkyrie [DVD]
Valkyrie [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tom Cruise
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £3.96

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lean, tense, and accurate, 28 April 2009
This review is from: Valkyrie [DVD] (DVD)
I watched this expecting another "U-571" - Hollywood history re-write, in other words - but I was pleasantly surprised; V is a well-cast and largely accurate depiction of the lead-up to July 20th, 1944.

Cruise, of course, commands most of the attention, but his previous action pedigree only leaks through slightly, and most of his scenes are nicely underplayed. The rest of the cast consists of some pretty big hitters - Brannagh (an officer who had tried to kill Hitler previously), Nighy (an initially indecisive participant), Wilkinson (probably the standout as Fromm, the turncoat who tried to save his own neck), Stamp (the altruistic Field Marshall who masterminds the plot) and, in a nice surprise, Eddie Izzard (a weasley but ultimately loyal conspirator). Thomas Kretschman is always welcome, too.

Singer's direction is very tight, and once the plot gets going there's very little flab, which is perfect for this material. You can tell he and the writing staff did their homework a long time ago.

Despite knowing they would fail, I did find myself willing them to pull it off :).

Fermat's Last Theorem: The Story of a Riddle That Confounded the World's Greatest Minds for 358 Years
Fermat's Last Theorem: The Story of a Riddle That Confounded the World's Greatest Minds for 358 Years
by Simon Singh
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating survey of maths past and present, 23 April 2009
Don't let the title fool you; this book doesn't just deal with FLT but ranges over a great many mathematical fields, some pivotal to FLT, some tenuously linked, but is never dull.

Proceeding chronologically from the beginnings of "serious" maths (i.e. the Greeks) to Wiles's utterly 20th Century result, all topics are dealt with in a way that conveys the passion and all-consumption (and, on a couple of occasions, madness) that is induced in mathematicians. There are very few actual equations quoted, so the book is accessible to pretty much anybody with at least an O-Level/GCSE - an active interest is far more important.

The mathematical "Elegant Universe" - excellent.

No Title Available

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for the semi-serious player, 18 April 2009
If you routinely carry three or four rackets (or two rackets plus towel, shoes, accessories) there's probably no better bag. The two main compartments will hold three (uncased) rackets each, there's a dedicated shoe compartment in the bottom, and three small zipped pockets that are perfect for keys/phone/watch etc. The fabrics are of excellent quality, and it's just a really well-engineered bag in general (and comortable to carry over one shoulder as well).

For reference, I carry two rackets, a change of clothes, my badminton shoes, a towel, gripping powder and my string cutters, all of which fit in with ease.


52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary value for money, 8 April 2009
Since I began to download DivX rips of US TV episodes I wanted a capable player, so I bagged one of these off eBay and I am VERY impressed.

I was struck by the sheer size of the thing - it's no bigger or heavier a slimline PS2. It's very elegant in black, with a green LED display and the minimum of buttons on the top edge of the fascia. The remote is also pleasingly small but doesn't compromise on features. (I should add for Scott Jones that although there is no eject button on this player's remote, the player does accept an eject "signal" from other Sony DVD remotes, as well as my Sony all-in-one).

There is only the bare minimum of socketry (an RGB SCART and composite phonos), but I have no qualms with that. An S-Video would have been nice but it's unlikely an AV receiver owner would go for an entry level player like this anyway. Picture is outstanding at this price point, with a few preset modes and sharpness adjustment. The player is also pretty quiet in operation (but it's a bit slower to load than some of its stockier cousins - again, no biggie for me). Chapter seeks are incredibly quick and smooth, with barely a quarter of a second's pause; layer changes are equally fast, a huge improvement over my previous player.

The biggest draw for me, though, was DivX capability - my home-burned compilations played as though they were ordinary MPEG-2's, so I can't fault it in this respect either. I just have to add chaptering structure to my comps now! I have also just discovered that it also plays Xvid (apparently far more popular), so there's every chance it could play ANYTHING in a .avi container.

The rise of Blu-ray is apparently doubly good because players like this are now going for ridiculous (in a good way!) money. DVD players seem to have reached their apex now, so get on the wagon if you haven't converted to HD yet - this is probably the best £17 I've ever spent.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2010 4:39 PM GMT

Sony SLV-SE740 6 Head Nicam Video Recorder (discontinued by manufacturer)
Sony SLV-SE740 6 Head Nicam Video Recorder (discontinued by manufacturer)

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Close to excellent, but not QUITE there, 5 April 2009
I upgraded from a 710, and the 740 is better in most areas, but not all.

Starting with the obvious, the picture is outstanding with the proper tracking, and sound is as good as it can be for a VHS. I will say that a couple of tapes that played with no problems on my previous machine undergo the odd re-tracking episode, but I don't really care too much.

Since I record exclusively via the SCART input (Sky Digibox) I have encountered no set-up probems in this regard, but the recording function itself could be more responsive and communicative - I press record on the remote and recording starts roughly two seconds later with no feedback onscreen. Pausing and resuming under record more are also a bit slow, meaning you have to anticipate by a couple of seconds (which, given the fact the advert breaks usually begin and end with a sponsor's message nowadays, isn't too difficult).

The player is VERY quiet in normal operation (even the flash RW/FF), but tapes can occasionally start to "clack" for no reason I can find.

All in all, better than my outgoing VCR, but definite room for improvement - not that there will be any now ;).

Drive copy one click back up 2009 (PC DVD)
Drive copy one click back up 2009 (PC DVD)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really easy way to save LOADS of time and effort, 21 Mar. 2009
One of my real bugbears is formatting and re-installing, so I avoid it wherever possible. When I found a 200GB hard drive in my father's new computer I resolved to copy my 80GB hard drive onto it and make it my own.

Luckily, I found an issue of Computer Shopper in the library that had this, Drive Wipe 2009 AND Partition Manager 2009 on a free disc, so I went out and bought the magazine.

Drive Copy's interface couldn't really be much simpler. Indeed, the program only allows you to proceed if it senses an appropriate setup (in my case my current hard drive and the intended replacement both connected to the PC). Copying the source drive is done in around three clicks, followed by a restart, after which DC2009 catches the boot before Windows loads and copies the source drive onto the destination. My 80GB volume took around 75 minutes to copy and progress was reported all the way through.

I now have my new 200GB drive in the computer, after using Partition Manager to smash the empty space together with the copied data, and everything I have tried so far has worked. I can't praise the program highly enough and I will most definitely retain it for future upgrades.

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