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Doha (London, UK)

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Pinzon Everyday Cotton, Light Brown Double Fitted Sheet
Pinzon Everyday Cotton, Light Brown Double Fitted Sheet
Price: £14.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Good fit everyday sheet, 24 Dec. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My general concern with fitted sheets is whether they'll fit deeper mattresses: not to worry. Even on an extra-deep orthopaedic mattress, the fit is generous enough to even tuck a little under so it doesn't slip off or over. The mattress protector, which is a bit heavier, also fits nicely inside it without them interfering with each other.

The sheet itself is light, with a nice compact weave. I got this for family members who tend towards using hospital-grade heavy cotton sheets, so this was a little different to their usual, but their feedback is positive. The colour is nice and neutral -- it's not so much brown as beige. It's machine-washable and doesn't need ironing (does anyone iron their bedsheets?). All in all, it's exactly what it says it is, so it's all good.

Sony MHC-ECL99BT 700W Bluetooth High Power Home Audio System
Sony MHC-ECL99BT 700W Bluetooth High Power Home Audio System
Price: £171.23

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really exceptional, 24 Dec. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This home audio system is, in a word, slick. A thing of beauty, fully boxed it comes in at around 25kg according to the delivery note. It's pretty easy to connect it all together. The downside is that the mains cable isn't that long, so without an extension lead it's difficult to place it too far from it. But that's a very small concern, put against how impressive its design and output is, and its intuitive design.

The system comprises a two speakers, a subwoofer and the control unit. The control unit also houses a CD drive, which plays normal audio CDs as well as MP3 CDs. There is also an aerial attachment for radio, and a remote control (batteries included). If left inactive a while, the machine also automatically switches off.

Its best connectivity feature is the bluetooth: I hook it up to my laptop which lets me play pretty much anything I want that crosses my soundcard. Connected to a projector on one side and speakers on the other, it's almost a home cinema right there. Although its designed with Apple devices in mind (which I worried about, since I don't have any Apple devices), the bluetooth function takes care of everything else.

The sound clarity and performance is exceptional, although I find the subwoofer too much (don't want to disturb the neighbours) so I don't use it day-to-day, although I can see taking it out for special occasions.

Having this has also breathed new life into my (enormous) CD collection (sadly left by the wayside this many a year, since digital downloading's made it practically redundant), and rediscovering old CDs over again has been an experience by itself. (Now if there were a couple of tape decks, THAT would've been absolutely perfect...)

My Heart and Other Black Holes
My Heart and Other Black Holes
by Jasmine Warga
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.10

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to step away from the edge, 9 Dec. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Jasmine Warga tackles the difficult subjects of teen depression and suicidal ideation in this book. It's a hard note to hit right, but she does it, deftly painting the bleak hopelessness of existence that is both their world, but also giving vivid reality to the characters, their struggles, and ultimately, their hopes.

[sort of spoily ahead]

I think the challenge in writing this book is to really make us a) believe that Aysel and Roman don't want to live and are serious about dying, and b) you have to make their realities compellingly dark but also sympathetic. If we can't be with Aysel, look out with her eyes, then the story doesn't work. Similarly, if we can't believe her transition from desperately wanting to be dead to desperately wanting to live, it takes the heart and backbone out of the story.

Making her catalyst another person is a given, but that that other person, instead of being a manic pixie dream-boy, is someone in as much pain and despair as her is the best stroke. It's what gives it its edge and realism. Because they meet as suicide partners - people who help each other achieve their own deaths - it creates a pressure and tension in their relationship that there's no obvious way to defuse. That added layer of conflict is what keeps you on tenterhooks because it's one we understand so well: not letting down the team.

I hesitate to compare it to The Fault In Our Stars, because that's become an unmeaningful and overused comparison for any book that takes on teens and dying - its similarity lies in the tone, and the spare writing that is both fluid and poignant. But more than that, it reminded me of how I felt when I read another suicide book, Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, except rather than leaving you hollowed out, it gives you a bone. And I do bat for happy endings, even if the tragic ones have more genius.

Reading this book reminded me what it is about YA that keeps me reading it, long past my own teens. It's this - because YA is about outsiders, and I've always been an outsider. Reading this took me back to the bleaker, darker places of growing up in an aching, almost visceral way. To be thoroughly present with the narrator is what makes a successful read, to me.

I found one thing majorly problematic, but I want to keep it separate from the suicidey parts of the book. Aysel's dad's crime...I don't get why he's branded a cold-blooded psycho murderer, when he clearly snapped under provocation. By the descriptions, he seems to suffer a mixture of bipolar disorder and bouts of paranoia, and the kids in his shop clearly, CLEARLY went out of their way to provoke him. Why aren't they held responsible? This happens too much in real life for me to be okay with this kind of representation.

The lack of accountability for their role in inciting his breakdown makes me angry because it's just so typical, and ethnic minorities are easy pickings. I agree, the fact that a boy ended up dying because of his actions is something he needs to be accountable for, but it's also clear that he was mentally ill, needed help, and that he was goaded into losing it. They weren't angels, they were stupid boys who pushed a mentally unstable man too far, and ended up coming to harm because of it.

Whew. Just getting that out there.

Braun Thermoscan IRT 3020 Compact Ear Thermometer
Braun Thermoscan IRT 3020 Compact Ear Thermometer
Price: £27.08

5.0 out of 5 stars High quality from Braun, 11 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Very pleased with this compact and easy thermometer. It's ready to use straight out of the box, with a lens filter already fitted. A box of lens filter refills has you ready to go for a while, too. While it's very lightweight, it is sturdy with all the expected production quality of Braun products. It is programmed to celsius by default, but you can toggle between it and fahrenheit -- I don't, because I use the former, but it can be done for anyone who prefers the latter. While it comes out a little dear for irregular, personal home use, this is certainly an excellent addition to the first aid box for people working with kids, as one of my family members do. Knowing these have been clinically tested and calibrated for accuracy also gives you extra peace of mind.

I personally use this daily for bbt readings in fertility monitoring, and I find it excellently convenient. I keep it right beside my bed so I can take my temps the moment I wake up, and since I am the only user, I reuse the same filter several times. I haven't found this to be problematic, although the instruction book does advise using a new one every time (but they would - they want you to buy more!). In any case, there is a middle ground: I don't see any harm in reusing one on the same person and same ear a few times.

The instruction book is also very clear, and it's super intuitive to use: you ease it into your ear, give yourself an ear-tug to settle the probe (see instruction book), press the button for a long beep when you're ready, and wait a few seconds for the short double-beep which signals that it's done. Wipe off, put away. Easy.

Oral-B CrossAction Electric Toothbrush Replacement Heads - 8 Counts
Oral-B CrossAction Electric Toothbrush Replacement Heads - 8 Counts
Price: £22.77

4.0 out of 5 stars Cross-action heads give a deep clean, 22 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Got this for family members using the TriZone SmartSeries 5000. The cross-action heads are actually a step-up from the fairly ordinary heads the brushes originally came with, and provide a thorough clean and really get into the gaps and corners from all sides. My folks are very pleased with them.

As mentioned on the packaging, these are compatible with the Pro, Tri-zone and Vitality series.

Boompods Earpods In Ear Headphones for iPod/iPhone/iPad - Blue
Boompods Earpods In Ear Headphones for iPod/iPhone/iPad - Blue
Price: £25.58

4.0 out of 5 stars Boompods, 22 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Love these little blue things - the colour would be the best part if the 'phones themselves weren't such a great fit. I have weird ears which means I have ALWAYS had problems with in-ear headphones - they just don't stay in, and if I can find a way to wedge them in, they they hurt. Admittedly, this is what has made me avoid them for years, but I found myself needing a pair recently and these came at exactly the right time.

The no-tangle cords don't tangle, but to be honest, I'm not sure how they're *really* more special than the apple-type phones, whose cords have that special plasticisation that also resists tangling. They feel nicer, and maybe the wiring is more protected, so I'm not complaining. The phone comes with extra ear-cups of different sizes, so once I switched over to the smaller ones, it was perfect. They're high-fidelity and noise-blocking, which makes them good to use out. The bass *is* noticeably stronger, although since I don't use them for music, that's not an issue to me. The flexi-pod carrycase is probably my favourite part - it pops up to open and you twine the cord around the core and snap it shut. I just love the smooth feel of the case.

The downside is that the mic and in-line controls are designed to only be compatible with Apple devices, none of which I own, so for me, these become your standard 3mm earphones and no more, but that's more than enough for me!

Emjoi MICRO Pedi Power Pedicure Device
Emjoi MICRO Pedi Power Pedicure Device
Price: £40.46

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smooth feet in no time, 22 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This has been a bit of a treat for the family after a summer of sandal-feet. The device works a treat - plugging in at the mains, you're ready to go straight away. It has a protective pressure sensor that makes it stop rotating if you press too hard so no need to give it any manual lift at all: the rollers are doing the work. Of course, the better part of this is that you don't slough off too much but instead just give yourself a nice buff. It sends up little clouds of...foot-dust? so best to lay out some newspaper or use it on a wooden floor so it's easy to clean.

It's a good idea to clean off the heads after each use as well, which means you're keeping it efficient and extending the roller's life. I also like to have a good foot-soak *after* each use, and then rub in some foot cream to really make it pretty!

Leitz Complete Rotating Desk Stand for iPad/Tablet PCs -  White
Leitz Complete Rotating Desk Stand for iPad/Tablet PCs - White
Price: £16.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Really useful stand, but don't need rotation, 22 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is for my Nexus 7, and I use it as a stand when I'm watching something on it. There are two 'orientations' at which it can be used - lying on the green rubberised ring which gives a flatter angle, or propped up in the slot that makes the back of the tablet rest against the straight edge of the green ring. I prefer the latter position, which is pretty stable (i.e. doesn't really spin) which provides a better angle for watching stuff. I don't really need the rotating function, and it does spin a little more when the tab's on the flat, so it actually can end up being a bit annoying.

I like the product - it's just what I needed. The quality is nice, it's attractive, it's light, which makes it easily portable, but I would probably spend a little less, as long is it gets the job done.

Learn Chinese with Mike Absolute Beginner Coursebook and Activity Book Pack Seasons 1 & 2 (Teach Yourself)
Learn Chinese with Mike Absolute Beginner Coursebook and Activity Book Pack Seasons 1 & 2 (Teach Yourself)
by Mike Hainzinger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £34.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reasonable starter for casual learner, 22 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Review by a family member:

[A little about myself: I enjoy learning languages and have learnt quite a few by attending formal teacher-led classes. I have been interested in learning Chinese for a while and this is the first self-taught course I have embarked upon.]

The "Chinese with Mike" Absolute Beginner Coursebook and Activity Book Seasons 1&2 consists of one coursebook containing 245 pages of study material and two DVDs of thirty video lessons each with a total running time of approximately 11 hours, and one activity book of 128 pages of study material and an audio CD containing 41 minutes of supplementary tracks.

"Chinese with Mike" is primarily a video course; the textbook, activity book and CD strictly support the lesson delivered in the video and cannot be used independently. The coursebook's introduction says: "Each lesson is comprised of a 10-15 minute video; a corresponding lesson in both the Coursebook and Activity Book; lots of activities in a variety of types... No matter what learning style works for you, I've got you covered." I interpreted this to mean I could use the material supplied in any way I felt best supported my learning, and as long as I followed the general lesson plan I was good to go. I am not a visual-heavy learner- to me, working out of a book is more appealing than staring glassy-eyed at my computer screen. Sadly, my illusions were broken: questions in the coursebook followed directly on from the video and information was not supplied anew (eg: what are the marks that show tone? and a video symbol (it could be researched of course, but I don't expect to in lesson 1 of an absolute beginner). Despite what I see as a drawback all the elements provided combine for a slightly more dynamic and interactive experience which some might see as essential as this is a self-teaching course, and resource-hopping allows one to retain a fresh feeling and motivation.

Mike Hainzinger is a professor who teaches Mandarin Chinese at his local college in Chicago. He undertook teaching from his garage as a sort of side hobby to aid his attempts at writing a textbook- which evolved into this course. The videos which form the core of the course are supplied on the two DVDs provided. The video quality is adequate for my 15 inch laptop, but very poor on any average televison screen (on which I initially tried to play it). A google and youtube search showed that the videos are not available by any other means except the DVDs; there are no options to stream or obtain via smartphone app which these days is very inconvenient. An improvement (which does not exist at the time of this review) would be to sell secure codes with the book pack to access the content online and on the move- as it is, the course must be accessed at a DVD playing device, which more modern livers might find clunky and outdated.

The lessons themselves are from 10 to 15 minutes each, the short format introducing one or a few ideas at a time. The concepts are explained clearly and furnished with examples. Mike Laoshi (Teacher Mike!! as explained in the first lesson) repeats new words a few times encouraging the learner to repeat along with him. It allows easy absorption of new material and the shortness prevents learners from feeling overwhelmed. The presentation is good enough that playing a video once should be enough to grasp the key learning objectives. If the suggested pace of one video a week is too slow, feel free to do as many videos in one sitting as you want. Mike Laoshi presents with a characteristic humour, easing the learner into his Chinese class with jokes and oddments. I found his humour, along with the jangly introductory music, timewasting and annoying, but not intolerable and in time I was able to ignore it and even appreciate it occasionally. Another con for me was a persistant assumption of reluctance to learn- as such he emphasises the "revolutionary" style and how he puts the fun and ease into Chinese; I think, I've bought the set, I'm here to learn so just get on with teaching me. Additionally, during the course of his lectures he mentions online resources which no longer exist. Finally, I have had the pleasure of being exposed to spoken Mandarin, in contrast Mike Laoshi's Chinese sounds flat and stilted, although no doubt its excellent for a mouth used to speaking American English.

The coursebook and activity book are printed black-and-white on glossy paper with good quality binding. Pictures are not so common but where they appear are clear and add value to the lesson. There is more empty space than I expected which gives a clean look but also leaves me wishing it had been filled with more work. Some activity instructions were confusing even after I had read them over several times, especially in the activity book. The CD has short tracks spoken by native chinese speakers which form listening exercises from the activity book. The pronounciation is easy to follow and repeat and words can be easily deciphered.

On the whole the two books and CD supplement the videos well, but instructions to look in a dictionary or research are a little too early, appearing from lesson 2. If you need jollying along this set is ideal, however if you are a more experienced language learner you may find yourself wishing Mike Laoshi would just teach. This set would be excellent used as a primer or alongside other text books, or for busy people hoping to learn a new language in short doses, but not on the go unfortunately.

3.6 stars

Philips SC2006/11 Lumea Precision Plus IPL Hair Removal System for Face and Body
Philips SC2006/11 Lumea Precision Plus IPL Hair Removal System for Face and Body
Price: £339.99

12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love it, 22 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm a first-time user of IPL treatment and I'm totally sold.

The unit has a solid build and a lightly rubberised grip. It comes fully charged and ready to use so you can literally start straight away. I strongly recommend *reading the full instructions* before use, not just the quick-start guide, so that you have a proper understanding of how to prep your treatment areas, and also understand the science and the risks. For example, if you use it on an area with hair, the hair will *burn* right off, not only stinking, but also possibly causing damage to the lens filters.

Personally, I found it a little difficult to wrap my hand properly around the barrel and reach the buttons, I don't know if that is because my hand is too small or something. Thus, in slide-and-flash mode, keeping the button on took effort. But that's a minor useability issue that I'm just putting out there.

I used it on my face, underarm and legs but my main concern is the face. I usually wax, and the instructions recommend pre-treatment shaving -- sorry but a razor is NEVER EVER going near my face! So instead, I waxed and then used the unit 2-3 days later. On my face, the results were as good as instant - one week after the first treatment, I waxed off sparser hairs which came out very easily and was much less painful than usual. After the second treatment two weeks later (it recommends using it fortnightly the first few times), I was able to go two weeks without waxing, where I usually need to every week. I was actually shocked and amazed. I'm sure by the third treatment, that will stretch out even further.

The pleasant side effect of not having to use warm wax on my face is that my skin is enjoying some kind of rejuvenation. Wax can be harsh, and there's always the problem of deep ingrown hairs which can leave a dark shadow on the surface that you can't do anything about. It also just doesn't catch those stubborn few or in a particularly tough area, and the IPL deals with both of those problems. For the first time in years, I don't have that lurking shadow of ingrown hairs in one tough area! In the beginning, I put IPL down as a gimmick to make people part with their money, but I take it all back, because I would pay the x-times-greater cost than waxing for the results IPL gives.

Underarms: I usually epilate here, but I wanted to follow the instructions so I dug out my old (clean! very clean!) razor, shaved, and then IPLed it. A couple of points:
1) it hurt -- on my face, it was just a quick burst of warmth, but it actually hurt to the extent that I had to force myself to finish. I used the correct setting, and a family member who also used it reported the same.
2) I developed an itchy rash, which I don't know if it's due to shaving, or to IPL. As noted, the razor was clean and well-kept, but nevertheless, the mad itching discomfort dogged me for days, although I used salves to cool it down.
3) Definitely less growth, but have to use it a few more cycles - I think I can predict it working just as well as on my face.

Legs: Fine, no pain, rash or itching - I didn't notice, as other reviwers have reported, that any hair fell out after IPL. Just that when I went back to epilate it, it came out more easily and came back much more slowly.

Altogether, I was able to use it for 4 face treatments, 3 underarms treatments and 1 leg treatment on a single charge.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 24, 2014 3:57 PM GMT

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