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Apple iPod shuffle - 1GB Blue
Apple iPod shuffle - 1GB Blue

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, 28 Jun. 2007
At a shade under fifty pounds the player is one of the least expensive on the market, but unlike many of it's competitors, Apple have not made a product which looks or feels "cheap." The controls are well laid-out and the interface, even without a screen, is completely intuitive and essentially foolproof, and can be operated one-handed without looking, and therefore seems squarely aimed at the runner / gym-goer / mountain biker market, and it is perfectly suited to this role - the relatively low cost, simple, tough construction and low weight make the Shuffle attractive to the sort who might be afraid of smashing the much larger and more expensive iPod Video to bits - the Shuffle's integrated clip keeps it firmly attatched to your jacket whilst bouncing over rocks on your bike, and unlike its larger sibling, the shuffle won't slowly work its way out of your pocket during an energetic run, so you'll be spared the tragedy of becoming suddenly acquinted with your iPod's innards, and worse, being obliged to gather them up from all over the pavement...

The software allows the player to fill itself with randomly selected songs from your iTunes library, but also has a command to choose higher rated tracks, mixing personal favourites with tracks you probably don't listen to as much, which is an interesting way of being introduced to the many hundreds of tracks we all have stored on our computers which we've unfairly overlooked. Furthermore, the software can automatically convert higher bit-rate mp3s and AACs from your library into 160 kbps files for storage on the Shuffle without affecting the original files. This saves a surprising amount of space on the player, particularly if you, like me, are a little fadddy when it comes to sound quality, and use larger 256 kbps files or larger wherever possible - the higher quality will mean nothing at all blasting out of the tinny, almost entirely bass-free earphones Apple supplies with its players, so quantity rather than quality will be of higher importance.

The earphones are probably the first thing to be replaced whenever a new player is bought - although apples signature white earphones are nice enough to look at, they are brash, bright, have no bass at all, and are catastrophically leaky. Don't be tempted, though, to buy Apples own sound isolating earphones, opt instead for Shure E2c or E3c earphones, which are availible from Amazon.co.uk.

But importantly, the shuffle is fun. It's inexpensive, it doesn't take itself seriously - it's a great little player which seems to make weirldy artistic choices about the order in which it plays your songs. Just don't leave it clipped to your jeans when you wash them.

Canon EOS 30D Digital SLR Camera (incl. EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens Kit) - (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Canon EOS 30D Digital SLR Camera (incl. EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens Kit) - (Discontinued by Manufacturer)

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Canon 30D 18-55 kit, 1 Nov. 2006
This camera is superb, I cannot fault it. There are a good many reviews on the web more thorough and more expert than any I would be able to provide, but I'll say a few words, if I may, on this particular body/kit lens deal. The 30D comes with an 18-55 cheapie lens to get you started, and this is a bit of a gripe.

It pays not to be snobbish about lenses. The manufacturing processes involved in making lenses have improved dramatically in the last couple of decades, putting inexpensive, practical lenses into the hands of almost everyone who has an interest. Of course, some are still better than others, but better lenses take sharper photographs, not better photographs, and some of the best images ever made were made using equipment which, by today's standards, would be thought distinctly crude. A better lens gives you a wider margin for error - it will not make you a better photographer. A Canon L-lens costing a thousand pounds will not improve anyone's unimaginative holiday snaps.

However, this is not to say that the 18-55 lens has a great deal to recommend it. The lens works well enough, but if - like me - you prefer to work candidly and spontaneously, often in low-light situations without using a flash to bleach your subject into featurelessness, this lens will annoy you. The maximum aperture is quite narrow, and will not admit enough light to make a sharp, well-lit image in any number of critical situations. There's no full-time manual control. It's rattly, plasticky and cheaply made. On the plus side, it's light, and you won't break your heart over it if it gets damaged.

If this beautiful camera has a flaw, it's the fact that the sensor isn't full frame. It is slightly smaller than a 35mm negative would be. Long story short, the image is ends up cropped.

If you're used to a 45 or 50 mm lens on a manual camera, this means that in practice the standard prime lenses you have already will effectively draw the subject in, as though you had an 80mm lens fitted. Your dependable, sturdy 50mm will act just like a telephoto, so you'll need a 28mm wide angle to achieve the same effect as a standard prime, which will bother some people, and will affect any choice you make about lenses.

Other than that, I love this camera. I love the five FPS burst, the customisable shooting modes, the customisable white balance. It has a large, bright screen, the controls are intuitive and friendly. It FEELS solid and dependable, like a Jeep - it's very well made, no rattles or creaks. It's designed to be carried often and everywhere, a real, solid workhorse for daily use by people who are passionate about photography, the sort of people who'll take it out in the rain to try to get an image of a raindrop hitting a puddle, or who'll stand out in a field in the dark, trying to get an image of leaves blowing in the wind, not those who'll take it out twice a year for weddings or family group photos. So get one, and go and do it!

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again
Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again
by Frank Miller
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars DKSA, 19 July 2006
"Dark Knight Strikes Again" is a continuation of Miller's seminal "Dark Knight Returns," and runs with many of the latter's themes, particularly the mutual emnity of Superman and Batman. One can read "Dark knight Returns" as an analogy of the way in which power is willingly given to a Government or resentfully refused it by the People - the characters of Superman and Batman provide voices for two points of view and two actions - Superman gave his power away and immediately compromised, put his shoulder to the wheel in support of Authority, as most people eventually do, whereas Batman's mindset would never allow him to do so - it was not Authority he served but Revenge (although he would call it Justice,) and is representative of the quietest but most insistent voice in all of us that will neither apologise nor compromise, and will never stop resisting, railing against everything it sees as flawed.

The dialogue between these two voices continues in DKSA, but the struggle is gone from it, as if Bruce has thrown aside the last shreds of restraint and ordinary morality. The problem is that a fair chunk of characterisation and believability went out along with it.

Where DKR took pains to present Batman's case, involving the reader with his struggle and its consequences, DKSA forces the reader to take a back seat as a slightly bewildering story is unfurled at breakneck speed. No decisions are taken, no consequences dealt with - the entire story is a straight dramatisation of the way in which Batman's plan comes to fruition, and the reader arrives in the opening chapter with that plan already underway. The character should always take precedence over the plot, and this, too, is lost - in DKSA the plot revealed the character's nature in the way of the best literature, but in this sequel it continues in spite of the character, and reveals little if anything about him. In fact, Batman is almost a support character - the only real characterisation is presented in Catgirl, formerly Robin, and through Superman's moral dilemma.

Another problem is that the sense of pace, the rhythm established in Dark knight Returns is lost, or at least misplaced. Miller rattles through the book at speed, and although the book is by no means short, the increase in pace, in which many elements are not explicitly presented, causes the reader to feel rather lost. The art, too, is instrumental in this - there are almost no backgrounds, no places to which the reader can relate. Virtually the entire book is composed of figure drawings and talking heads, without backgrounds to give them context. The talking heads apparently representing newsreaders or chat-show guests are presented alongside those apparently representing people on the streets, and nothing is done to separate them - perhaps Miller is making a point about Mass Consciousness, but it makes for uncomfortable reading.

It seems likely that Miller had lost his temper. It is always tempting, whilst writing anything, to describe a personal fantasy, especially where Superheroes are involved: "If I was Superman I would set everything right" or "If I was Batman I would beat the daylights out of all the evil people," but a fantasy doesn't necessarily make a good story. DKSA is a fantasy in which the implacable, remorseless Batman unites the People to rise up against Tyranny and destroy it - Miller is a true Anarchist, and shows his colours here, and I salute him for it, but good stories are tales of struggle, as DKR was, and the sequel is just a tale of action.

Maybe I ought to read it a few more times, and revise this review.

However, none of the above is any reason not to buy and enjoy this book. It is a fine comic by a great writer. As a bellowing fountain of anti-authoritarian rage, it is wonderful - Miller's theme seems to be, "If only they were real, these heroes, and not simple drawings... then we'd see."
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Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Steve Burton
Price: £3.74

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Huh?, 23 Jun. 2006
I paid careful attention, and still couldn't follow this movie. I played FF7 to death, but still found this incomprehensible. I was genuinely sorry to find that this movie makes absolutely no sense whatsoever - truly, truly dreadful. However, there are a couple of nice touches - the appearence of FF battle music as mobile phone ringtones, for example, and scenes from the game including the ruined cathedral. The animation, it must be said, is beautiful, but I wonder whether there's any point in rendering something so realistically - when animation is barely distinguisable from live action, where's the sense in it?

In short, I don't think true fans will like this particularly. Final Fantasy games are plot and character-driven, and this film, frankly, has neither of the above.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide: Five Complete Novels and One Story (Literary Classics - Gramercy Books)
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide: Five Complete Novels and One Story (Literary Classics - Gramercy Books)
by Douglas Adams
Edition: Leather Bound

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!, 1 Jun. 2006
This is a fairly nice edition: a tough padded hardback, printed on gilt-egded paper which one might normally expect to see on a bible. This is quite thin, however, and the print shows through slightly from behind each page which is not an altogether bad thing, since the five novels are comprising the hitch-hiker "trilogy" form a volume about two-and-a-half inches thick. Good travel reading, in other words.

(The "story," by the way, is a tale about Zaphod's youth, and is also printed in the sadly unfinished Dirk Gently novel " The Salmon of Doubt.")

The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is an undisputed classic of modern literature, and this is its definative edition, wrapping up the many incarnations of the Guide. Adams himself states that it is the purpose of the book to "set the record straight, or at least, firmly crooked." This is an excellent book, and and printed in a very nice edition. At the price it's an absolute steal.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Volume 1 (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Volume 1 (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind)
by Hayao Miyazaki
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible!, 11 May 2006
For those new to Manga, "Nausicaa" is an excellent place to begin reading, and for the committed fan or for one who has been introduced to the genre the Nausicaa epic is an indispensable addition to a growing library. From any standpoint, there is no reason not to read these books, particularly as they are neither rare nor expensive.

The story and art have been documented well enough to make much further comment on it unnecessary, but I'll make a comment on the edition itself: the series is presented in manga-format, which is read right to left, but sticks to the A4 ish graphic novel standard rather than the smaller "Tokyopop" format, but the paper is that dry, cheap grainy paper often used in inexpensive softbacks, rather than the smooth, dense paper used in Western graphics - for this reason, and only for this reason, I give out four stars instead of five.

(But then the books are pretty cheap, so one can hardly expect a glossy hardcover. On the plus side, the printing is in sepia (a nice touch)and comes with a fold-out map on the inside cover. All sound-effects are in the original katakana, (referenced on the back page) so the art hasn't been retouched at all, and the translation is good with believable dialogue and clear progression of panels.)

Along with "Akira" and "Lone Wolf and Cub," "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" is essential reading for first-timers, die-hard fans, the curious, and anyone interested in expanding his or her field of literary reference, although it is not "literature" in the same way as "Watchmen," for example, "Nausicaa" serves a different purpose, and stems from a different cultural tradition, but as always the cultural distance between Japanese and European storytelling make for observations as interesting as the work itself, and all this aside, "Nausicaa" is a gripping story with fine characterisation, is well-paced and defined by periods of silence and excellent draughtsmanship. I just wish there was a "complete" oversized version with nice binding...

Runaways Volume 1 HC: v. 1 (Runaways Digest)
Runaways Volume 1 HC: v. 1 (Runaways Digest)
by Brian K. Vaughan
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 12 April 2006
I love comics... I am quite self-conscious about this though, as if there were a stigma attatched to it, as if somehow, by reaching the conclusion that most modern fiction is toilet paper and that most classic fiction is tedious and only semi-relevant I have somehow embraced ignorance, and set up an elaborate self-justification that it would be quite acceptable to enjoy comics as long as I restricted myself the the "grown up" sort.

"Runaways" is not of that sort - it's about teenagers, and for teenagers, and surely I ought to have found that boring or cringable but... it isn't. Neither is it deep, or expansive, but it is an absolutely cracking superpowered jaunt through the Marvelverse, and whilst it won't win awards for the anatomical dissection of the human condition Adrian Tomine employs or for the demented magickal realism of Moore or Gaiman, Runaways is a fun and oddly moving book. The art gets better as it goes, so don't be put off by the slightly GCSE look of the first few chapters.

Remembering the Kana: Hiragana and Katakana
Remembering the Kana: Hiragana and Katakana
by James W. Heisig
Edition: Paperback

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars essential!, 12 April 2006
Committing almost fifty hiragana to memory by "brute force" is difficult, never mind the Katakana, and (gasp!) the dreaded Kanji... To accomplish this feat of memory, a person must use a system of mnemonics, and hers is such a system pre-packaged and awaiting use. This book can teach anyone with the inclination to read the Hiragana and Katakana systems, and I cannot express enough how useful this book has been in helping me.

The author's boast that the Hiragana can be learnt in just six hours is not an idle one - I did in less, and I have a brain like a sieve! The inspired element is that of breaking the hiragana down into construct of symbols, and creating for each a zany story, usually relating to the character's phonetic value. It works! The process is only slightly hindered by the fact that the author is American - relating the Hiragana character for the sound "A" to the word "otter" and the character "Sa" to the word "Sock" are telling examples, but there aren't many of these, and the affected characters are some of the most memorable in the Hiragana system.

This is a great book - the system is explained and undertaken with simplicity and straight-forwardness, without any confusing asides. It shows Hiragana and Katakana for the immensely logical and beautiful systems they are. Usefully, the page for each character has additional information which may be ignored or picked up later at the student's leisure on different type faces (which is not unimportant - the type face can radically alter the appearance of the character,) but the pages are laid out as logically and as clearly as the argument, and there is no room for confusion. On each page there is a small section testing you on the characters you have learned, and the cover of the book is designed so it can fold over the answers until you're ready for them! Little touches.

Price: £14.77

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great!, 23 Mar. 2006
This review is from: Cell-Scape (Audio CD)
"...sounds like drugged up squirrels attacking a drum kit." Hmmm.... "Add to basket." So contrary.
It's great, it really is - it DOES sound remarkably like furry tree-dwelling rodents savaging musical equipment, and this is something I like - I love her voice, which is kinda cute bubbly-gum squeeking over multi-layered guitar-driven thrashings... The first few tracks are the most immediate, and the rest grow on you with a few listens. If you feel the need to snobbishly withdraw into ever smaller musical categories, or want to experiment with fun, dynamic and socially unnaceptable noise, then listen to MxBx... at the very least it'll give you something to discuss with the guy with the nose-ring behind the counter at your local record store.

Robot Hive/Exodus
Robot Hive/Exodus
Price: £19.00

4.0 out of 5 stars The Robot Overlords of Tokyo RISE AGAIN!, 10 Feb. 2006
This review is from: Robot Hive/Exodus (Audio CD)
Another jump-round-your-house-with-headphones-on record from American Psycho Band "Clutch," who market themselves as "stoner," but who do themselves as diservice by associating with a movement apparently incable of producing likable music. Of the stoner scene, only Clutch, the sadly dispersed Kyuss and Fu Manchu have successfully made vibrant and dynamic sounds - Robot Hive is polished, practiced and tight, with lots of different textures but which coheres well. It is a little overlong, and much tighter than looser and jammier earlier efforts, or the worrying hardcore of their first records, but it's great, especially now there's an element of real blues creeping in from the edges. Best noise album of the year, I predict.

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