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bilbobaginz
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Member since: 06.08.2008

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      26.01.2014 16:47
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      A wonderful city with friendly people and a good attitude to transport.

      A three and a half month nose at the beautiful, dirty and diverse nations of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand has ended. South-East Asia, the setting for my oriental, exploratory experience, is now sitting (as before) nearly 6,000 miles away. Humid, hectic and calming, it takes a fair while to become fully immersed in the varying cultures of the continent, but I feel I gave it a good go. And to start off this little series of reviews about the place and the people, I'd like to talk about my starting point: the big Bangkok, and its transport network.

      // Train //

      Sitting on the plane into Suvarnabhumi Airport, with slight nausea and the weight of the unknown sitting firmly in my stomach, I really had no idea what Bangkok's transport was going to be like. Once landed, I left the comfort of the clean and advanced airport and took the RailLink all the way into near-central bangkok, the Phaya Thai BTS SkyTrain stop. The train was quick, tidy and air-conditioned. It cost around 40 Baht (80p) and took no longer than half an hour. Many tourists were making the same short trip. So transport was looking good, similar to home. But you soon realise the nature of this fact. This is a 'Westernized' line, a newly installed benefit to the city. However you feel about it, the main purpose for installing something efficient and comfortable is not to improve the life of all Bangkok's inhabitants, but to bring a sense of accomplishment and glamour to the business and elitist classes of the city and country. A reinforcement of the part-corrupt capitalist hierarchy. The poverty divide, the dis-proportionality of wealth, is as strong, if not stronger than it's ever been in Thailand. The thin and hungry local lower-classes cling to the sides of the railway in their corrugated tin huts, flooded and unsanitary. And power looks on.

      // Sky Train (BTS) //

      The SkyTrain network is a marvel, but a big grey imposing one at that. The looming concrete pillars and track support beams give the city the look of a kind of 1950's imagined future. Derelict tower blocks climbing from its snaking expanse sat beside shimmering glazed sky-scrapers of commerce, city business. Not forgetting the temples. The SkyTrain system is ever-expanding; north, south, east and west. It covers a large area, predominantly east of the Chao Phraya river. The trains are immaculately kept, and are made supper cool with a dry clear air completely unnatural to the climate (but certainly welcoming). TV's inside bring cringe. Thai advertising, their strange fascination with pure white skin, to show health and wealth. The music, sort of un-explainable. In all though, the SkyTrain is the best way to get around the city, because it goes pretty much everywhere of note. The least you will pay for a single is around 20 Baht, the most, 45 Baht. The further you go the more you pay, and the whole system works off of a neat costing programme that's straight-forward and easy to understand. Cashiers at the stations offer change for notes - simply go up to the desk and place down your money.

      // River Boats //

      Boating about the city is a fantastic way to see the sights, many of which line the river. Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew, the Millenium Bridge, the Royal Palace, they all sit in camera snapping distance of your boat. Look out for the TOURIST TRAPS! There are Express Boats and Tour Boats (or similarly named) and it is the EXPRESS boats you want. All along the river there are drop-off / pick-up points allowing tourists and locals to reach the key areas of the city without the traffic: from Wat Arun to China Town. Long boats carry passengers from one stop to the next, and there is a colour-coded system allowing you to choose the right boat for you - see the boards at the pick-up points for details. Cost: Express, 15 Baht single; Tour, 40 Baht. And for the exact same route. Little scams like this exist all around the city, so be on the look out. Generally speaking though, an boat along the Chao Phraya will be a fun experience. Highly recommended.

      // Tuk Tuks //

      Everyone's heard of them, everyone uses them, many people are scammed by them. Agree a price! Do not accept ridiculous offers, such as 10 Baht for a ride all-day. Bangkok is cheap, but not that cheap. The drivers will take you to a fronted shop, and make you buy. They are very convincing, so keep a level mind. The bottom line is, you are Western, you are probably white skinned, you are rich. And the same goes for the Japanese tourists! Saying all that, Tuk Tuk's certainly are a fun and quick way to get around! If you catch one outside of the main tourist areas (especially the ROYAL PALACE) there's a high chance of getting a good price. 20 Baht to 100 Baht, it really depends on how far you go. The drivers enjoy a chat and will wait outside a place if you want them to.

      // Motorbikes //

      Only go for a motorbike that has a second helmet for you. The drivers are skilled and know the streets extremely well, but whilst in Asia I still saw 3 or 4 motorbike crashes, thankfully non fatal. Motorbikes are usually cheaper than Tuk Tuks. They are also narrower, allowing you to fit in-between waiting traffic, up footpaths and over foot bridges. The drivers can be sporadic, they act kind of like a school of fish, wavering in and out of one-another, clinging to the sides of bigger vehicles, flowing in a seemingly un-controlled manner. But soon you realise it's all controlled, all in order. Hang on and enjoy the cooling winds.

      // Conclusion //

      That's it for my first review on S.E. Asia. Taxi's are another form of transport widely used, however these are expensive and only necessary if you have large amounts of luggage. My main piece of advice about travelling in Bangkok is do what the locals do! Eat where they eat, travel how they travel, and stay where they stay. This way you are more than likely to get good value for money and a good experience in all.

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      • More +
        15.05.2013 15:50
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        a wonderful purchase.

        I have never owned a tablet, and was planning on leaving it a few years longer in order to get something with a little more power for less cash. Eventually, though, I was talked into making the purchase now. I realised that most of the tablets available at the moment offer as much in features and raw ability as I'm ever going to need from an everyday device. Internet connectivity and thousands of apps, all built in to a clean and speedy unit - what more could you want?

        Released last summer, the Nexus 7 was developed by Google in conjunction with hardware producer, Asus. It's a more affordable alternative to the IPad Mini, and runs the much more open and customisable Android OS - the new 4.2 'Jelly Bean' version. Google say they've slashed their profit margins substantially in order to bring the device's RRP more than £100 below the Mini's to 169.99 for the 16gb version and £199.99 for the 32gb. There was an 8gb version but this was discontinued after the hard drive space became obsolete, falling behind today's ever expanding tech frontier . I own the 32 GB version, and both this and the 16gb are powered by a quad-core Tegra 3 processor with 1gb of RAM - that's a lot of umph for a small 7-inch device. The speed at which the thing loads games, videos and web-pages is unmatched by anything I've seen. It has a crystal clear 1280x800 HD display that really brings the vibrancy and sharpness of detailed visuals to light. Watching a film (or trailer) with a varied colour pallet will highlight the devices ability to transmit colours in a smooth, seamless fashion - I advise 'Life of Pie'. The tablet has a 1.2 megapixel front camera, but rather bizarely, no application or triggure installed to take pictures with! - It's easy to find a free app that can optimise your camera as a video recorder or snap shot taker though, and these are generally free. The Nexus has a weight of 347g, about average for a small tablet, though quite a bit heavier than the IPad Mini. The device feels slim and refined in your hand and there is minimal logo-ing on the rear - just the Nexus and Asus names etched into the plastic covering.

        It's worth mentioning that also available is the Nexus 4 and 10: the 4 being a powerful smart phone, and the 10 a large tablet similar in performance and price to the latest large IPad device. Its both easy and convenient to transfer files - whether media or document - between the three products, prompting you to buy two or three from the range and help Google dominate Apple for good.

        There are now more than half a million Apps available for Android devices, the vast majority compatible with both tablets and phones. Nexus users use 'Google Play' to access free and payable applications. Play is a good basis for downloading games, films, music and books as well. There is the looming danger that the Nexus is too heavily burdened by Play and that this gives users too little freedom in comparison with other android tablets. After using the device, I don't really agree, I think the balance is quite good - the barrage of free stuff available tends to numb your opinion of Google's controlling nature.

        As for the use-ability of this wonderfully powered and fantastically connected device, I have nothing but good words to type. In fact, typing is a good place to start. The keyboard on the Nexus is excellent - it responds instantly and intelligently (as does the entire touch system) bringing up predictions of words and allowing you to select them or ignore them. The device has multi-touch for zooming and spinning screens (like when swivelling maps) which works smoothly in all areas. The layout of the programs and apps installed is partially customisable - as you can move round / resize elements on your home screen - which means a more familiar layout and therefore better useability. Drop down menus at the top of the screen allow you to change the brightness and wireless options easily among other things. The battery icon brings up an in depth account of your battery usage for the duration of the tablets use, you can then adjust apps and brightness settings to prolong the usage of your tablet. The battery will last around 10-12 hours playing games / watching videos, and more than 3 times that listening to music or reading an e-book on low brightness. This time-frame is not dissimilar to the other competing small tablets.

        There's so much to this tablet. I've only scraped the surface here, giving you the basics so that you can make your own decision on the tablet that's right for you. Kindle Fire HD, Mini, Surface, or Nexus. Go for the latter, it far surpasses the rest in quality and price.

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        • Vans 106 Vulcanized / Sports Shoes / 124 Readings / 122 Ratings
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          25.03.2013 19:47
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          The student norm.

          Three days ago I set myself a challenge: Find a pair of shoes suitable for work and casual wear, which are comfortable and durable, and don't carry a hefty price-tag. Naturally I looked to Vans early on in my search, as I've been wearing 'Era' shoes for the past 6-12 months. The Era costs around £40-50, and I wanted something cheaper. It wasn't long till I discovered Vans '106 Vulcanized', which are like the Era but with a thicker sole, and a slightly different thread pattern / shape. Only on close inspection can you actually see the pattern on my shoes though, as I got them in 100% black - black sole, canvas, thread, laces and plastic lace hoops - so that they're acceptable for work. The Dooyoo picture above shows the thread pattern clearly enough. I bought my 106's for £33.99 from Amazon.co.uk and they arrived (with free delivery) in 3-days to UK mainland.

          PACKAGING:
          Vans "Off The Wall" is sticker-ed across the top of the rectangular red / black shoe box the Vans arrive in - some sort of slogan I don't quite understand. The front side says, "Since 1966" - Vans have a long history linking back to the streets of California when early skaters gave the brand its now internationally recognized 'street cred'. The reasoning behind their decision to wear the shoes was 'solely' functional - yes, I punned. In other words, there was little, 'let's get these 'cus they're cool' going on - because it was before they were considered cool. The shoes come loosely wrapped in filmy paper, there are an extra set of laces (white) and one of those salt pack things to combat moisture during shipping.

          (Box dimensions: 335 x 135 x 120)

          DESIGN:
          The general design is very similar to other Van 'Spring range' shoes. The sole is deep, with little pimples across the sides. Its rubber is formed into a diamond hatch on the base, with little ridges of material giving grip, creating friction with the ground surface. At the part of the sole beneath the ball of your foot, the hatching is made more rigid, with a further set of rubber ridges running length ways (bisecting the initial diamond shapes). Does this increase durability? I think it probably does, but only slightly. In general, grip levels are very good for such a flat shoe design, befitting of the skater function. The rubber performs well in cold and warm weather, but it does tend to squeak a bit on unsavory (usually indoor) floors - that probably only happens during the first week. The inside base where your foot rests is a soft, semi-spongy material almost perfectly level from heel to toe - within 5-10 hours of wear however, and the base has already molded its self to the shape of your foot (or where you plant most of your weight - which for me is at the heel). The tongue is relatively short and extends from a flat area of canvas above the toes. This part of the shoe is functional and aesthetically pleasing - where the side canvas parts (which hold the laces) connect they sort of curve away to the sole (where they are fastened), creating that 'iconic' Vans shape. The lip or rim where your foot slides in is relatively soft and compromising to your ankles, as it curves away slightly to stop it digging in. As for logo-ing - Van's "Off The Wall' is tagged at the back / bottom, and there's a little 'Vans' tag at the rim too. A trendy looking 'Vans' logo is also evident inside the shoe beneath your heel - which can only be admired when the shoe is off, rather counter-bothersomely.

          What ever way you look at these Vans, from what ever angle, they appear both original and fresh. They make sense as a workable, walk-able shoe, and speak 'cool' in the name of fashion and identity - especially in today's student population. Everyone wears them, and not just for their apparent 'style', but also for their functionality and quality - as outlined. The design is a winner. These shoes really are very comfortable, there's no 'breaking them in' and there's no 'running them down' - they last.

          QUALITY:
          Each section of the shoe is put together with due care, attention and skill. I'm not sure what percentage of the product is hand / machine manufactured, but they certainly feel well-crafted, and seem to hold together well as a solid piece. My Era's lasted well up to a point (when the canvas - at the exact same point on each shoe - started to tear, revealing a white under-canvas) so it will be interesting to see the variation with these ones! The laces are a standard quality and the plastic loops are well connected to the canvas so there shouldn't be any tearing over time there. In general, the quality is excellent.

          VARIETY:
          On Amazon.co.uk (where I bought my pair) there are a grand total of 36 types of 106 Vulcanized - Yes, 36! However, currently only 21 are available (as of 25.03.13). They range in colour (with laces, canvas and soles alternating) - red's, pink's, blue's and green's are common, and all the varieties have a white sole edging apart from my black ones. They range in price from £28.49 - £65.00.

          In conclusion, I am (so far) happy with these 106 Vulcanized Vans, they work! They are a 'cool', comfortable, durable design with a simple construction which speaks originality befitting of the Vans brand. They have excellent grip and water-resistance, and mold to the shape of your foot in quick time. I really cannot find anything of any considerable substance with which to 'dis' this rather remarkable little product with. A thoroughly recommendable pair of shoes!

          RATING: 4.7/5
          PRICE: £33.99
          AVAILABILITY: Amazon.co.uk

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          • More +
            20.03.2013 19:56
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            Have you found the product for your scalps harvest?

            Hair! What a kerfuffle. Companies spend millions, and people spend years; all trying to find the best product for the collective and individual scalp harvest. We are all different, so it doesn't matter how many fancy 'scientific' terms you casually throw into a TV advertisement, it won't necessarily work for everyone. I had to try a few different brands and varieties before I settled on this one. I tried gels, waxes, sprays and mouses, but for the effect I wanted, I found clay (and more specifically, matt clay) worked best all-round. I'd say this particular type of hair product works best on short to medium length hair, where the matt effect is most appealing.

            FORM:
            The product comes in a metal pot with a simple screw-top lid. The packaging is smooth to open, but over time it seems to gain dints and become misshapen. when the lid is off it's easily bendable which can make it difficult to screw back on thereafter. The pot is filled to the brim with the product, which is a pure white colour. You can tell a factory machine has filled the pot, because the creamy (yet) hard substance has a trail from the centre where it has left the nozzle of a device. It is smooth to touch, but you really have to scrape it from the pot to get a decent amount of your fingers. If left outside in the cold it will go even harder. The substance is surprisingly perceptive to heat. I'd say there was enough in one tub to last between 6 and 12 months if used daily - at the recommended amount. It really is packed full, and is therefore really good value, at just £3.69 at Boots (in-store and on-line) for a 75 ml capacity container.

            USE:
            Take a pea / 5p coin sized lump in your index finger and slowly rub between the first three fingers of both hands. You will feel the substance get warmer and looser, and the friction between your hands lessen. At this point, spread the clay through your hair top to back. Don't start at the ends, start in the middle, otherwise you risk building up greasy areas of dense clay. Your hair should start to thicken and feel as though it can be molded (ever so slightly) to the shape you're after. If your hair still seems dry and fluffy (especially if it's recently been dried) then add a bit more. Create the style you want - any style will work, but the more extreme, the more substance you'll need. The Clay collects individual strands together into a slightly reflective mass, which sits solid to your head. The effect is one of dry crispness, a non-greasy, slightly graying (but not colour altering) effect. Heavier hair may droop slightly under its own weight (even with the product applied), and for this you need some spray. In fact, in general, the Clay works best in conjunction with a strong hair spray for medium to long hair, and a medium strength spray for shorter hair. You will keep the pasty matt effect, but add strength - so wind, rain and heat have less effect on your style.

            In all, I have found hair-home with this V05 Extreme Style Matt Clay product. It is produced by a respected brand that does a lot of advertising and has a wide range of products available. If you don't find success in this particular type, try a few more. They also do sprays, though I haven't tried any. The stuff lasts in your hair all day and night, I'd say up to 12-hours. If it starts to weaken during the evening, re-spray, or dampen your hair very slightly to bring back the positive properties of the clay. A thoroughly recommendable item!

            RATING: 4.5/5
            PRICE: £3.69
            AVAILABILITY: Boots (in-store and on-line).

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            • Zip Firelighters / Homeware / 43 Readings / 43 Ratings
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              19.03.2013 23:26
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              Bring some 'natural' warmth to your home.

              We recently moved into a home with a wood / coal burner in the front living room. I've always fancied one, they make the home seem a lot cosier - due to both the added heat of the fire, and the smokey, woody fragrance of the fuel, which resonates through the air vent. The whole image of a wood burner blazing beneath the chimney stack, with the cold of winter rattling against the windows, and all the family huddled by the flames, is a very pleasant one. There's a little bit of skill involved of course, when trying to get the fire going. Without a chunk of firelighter I think I'd find it near impossible to get mine lit, even with crisp, dry wood and kindling.

              FORM:
              The packaging is essentially a thin cardboard box (complete with 'safety information' [flammable, etc] and 'usage instructions' - a 3 step guide to lighting your fire), and a tear-able plastic bag within - containing the firelighters. It is a ZIP product, and scribed beneath the company name is their motto -'the heart of a fire': not the catchiest of statements. These are the 'original firelighter' variety, and the product its self is a grey colour with specks of black embedded inside. Holding the firelighter, you get a fine, gritty substance on your fingers. The smell of the product is strong and petrol-y. It crumbles easily in your hands, so one tablet can be ripped in two. At the end of a bag, crumbled bits will be left that you can chuck into the flame to give your blaze an extra kick.

              USE:
              Place one or two chunks of the firelighter at the base of your wood burner. Add easy burning kindling on top, whilst leaving an alcove for your hand and lighter to fit through. Light the firelighter - 3 seconds of a match or lighter held to the material will light it, and the flame will gradually spread across the firelighters surface. Once the kindling has caught, add small logs and then larger logs until a substantial amount is present. Shut the door and put the vent fully open until the flames grow large, then bring the vent half / fully shut until the flames reach a pleasant level. You should only need to use one firelighter a night, there are packs of 15 and 30 - so depending on how much you use, that's up to a months worth of material. This product is extremely easy to use. It can also be used to start barbaques and coal fires, using similar technique.

              Essentially, this product does the trick, it does what it says on the front. As the packaging tells us, the firelighters are: Powerful, Reliable, and Long Burning. I'm not too sure on the long-burning side of things, they seem to last for a few minutes but this is enough to catch the wood / coal within - maybe it's that I'm burying my firelighter early on in the process and not realizing it's continued to burn. They are certainly powerful and reliable, and that's what counts. A recommendable product.

              RATING: 4.1/5
              PRICE: £2.50 for a pack of 30.
              AVAILABILITY: Tesco stores and online. 18+

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              19.03.2013 17:21
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              Kitchen cabinets are stocking up with these, get yourself some!

              Tupperware has come a long, long way in the last couple of decades. Made from the cheapest, most flexible, least toxic / erodible, most easily formed material available today - plastic - containers like this Lock & Lock Airtight product are now common place in kitchen cabinets across the UK. Back when I was a kid, you just didn't get anywhere near the same level of quality, nor the same physical features as these modern varieties procure. They are strong, secure, reliable and long-lasting. But most of all, they're reasonably priced. You can pick up one of these stack-able containers from Amazon.co.uk for £4.50.

              FORM:
              The container has a capacity of 1 litre and is a rectangular shape (to suit storage and packaged items which need to be kept within). The edges are rounded to increase safety, and the lid bulges slightly outwards to maximise the space inside. The most interesting aspects of the design are the containers air / water-tight seal and innovative 4 x locking mechanism, which clamps the lid securely down on each side. Made from a rugged plastic, the locks contain small slits which clip to lips on the bases sides. They clip down with a fair bit of pressure applied, and un-clip with slightly more finger-power. The whole lid is removable and there are no hinging elements. The entire container is transparent (allowing you to see what is within) besides the seal which is coloured blue and highlights the outline of the opening.

              USE:
              Due to their accurate, yet basic design, these containers will fit into tight spaces, saving on room. They are especially effective for use in fridges, where the plastic remains completely safe. According to the manufacturer, stacking these in fridges can save up to 40% on space (reiterated by Amazon).

              I tend to use my Lock & Lock's for storing raw or cooked meats, and fresh fish. Due to their innovative seal and lock mechanism, no moisture, smell (air) can cross the material - they are 100% tight. Any strong smelling substance can be locked away securely - cheeses, vegetables, sweet snacks, etc. They also make excellent lunch boxes, extremely rarely coming open unnecessarily - if you secure it properly to begin with you'll have no trouble. It might well be difficult for children to open and close the box however, due to the locks - but I'm sure parents and teachers can lend a hand at lunch time.

              You can even use them in microwaves and dishwashers, so the material and the design is truly multi-functional - a friend of the kitchen and of the house-wife/husband. The container won't scratch or gradually wear down at the bends, it can be used thousands of time with little to no visible detraction.

              Overall, I've had some good use out of my containers and thoroughly recommend them. Sure they may be a bit expensive for some, but the design has been perfected for the function, and the functions / uses are endless. If you're after a multi-use container that can be used everywhere in the kitchen, is safe, secure and long-lasting, pick this.

              DIMENSIONS: 20.6 x 13.5 x 6.9 cm
              WEIGHT: 454g (boxed)

              RATING: 4.5/5
              PRICE: £4.50 per 1 litre container.
              AVAILABILITY: Amazon.co.uk, and in some super-markets (other varieties / brands exist).

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              • Stabilo Boss Highlighter / Homeware / 49 Readings / 49 Ratings
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                14.03.2013 23:08
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                The King.

                I'll admit to being a bit of a pencil case dork back in the school days - there's definitely something appealing about having a good collection of pens and pencils for all your daily needs. Highlighters were by far the most interesting of the lot, as not only did they come in lots of different colours and sizes, but some were even fluorescent. There was only ever one make of highlighter in my case though: Stabilo Boss. With its unique shape and thorough variety of colours, the Stabilo was the daddy, the one all my friends rested their jealous eyes over during English class.

                The pen that I'm reviewing is the original variety - the one featured in Dooyoo's picture. But it's worth noting that Stabilo now produce a new style which features a cylindrical design, textured grip, and extra long nib. I have no idea how these pens perform, but as for the original, they perform well enough not to warrant a complete re-design... perhaps this is just a marketing tactic to try and refresh buyers opinion rather than bring out a more advanced product.

                FORM:
                The pen is a curved rectangular shape with an equally angular lid protecting a somewhat angular nib. The form speaks of design, it speaks of structure and of rigidity - almost willing you to draw a straight line, or some sort of unified shape (like a rectangle!). Made from a hard (correspondingly) coloured plastic, and grey lid, the pen looks excellent on a designers desk, sitting comfortably amongst the protractors. STABILO BOSS is plastered across one side (so you don't forget the brand). Within the pen is a large store of ink, a store which is easily refillable. The dimensions of the pen are as follows: 10.5 x 1.8 x 11 cm. It weighs quite a bit for pen, at 82 g.

                USE:
                When you first grip the pen it feels unnaturally bulky and awkward, but before long your stroke adjusts, and the pens large ink capacity can be utilized effectively. I firmly believe that you can be just as accurate with one of these as with a Biro - though some may disagree. Due to its relatively short length, the pen won't hit stray pages or other obstacles as much, ensuring a clear and clean line of ink on page. And the ink really does come out clean and crisp, producing a solid, unbroken line of slightly reflective substance - which dries quickly. Sometimes you have to give the pen a bit of a shake to get it going properly, but only when it is low on ink. The pens lid can be off for up to 4 hours without the nib drying out as well, which is an excellent amount of time - more to safeguard a forgetful, sleepy workforce from wasting away resources.

                PRICE & AVAILABILITY: Amazon.co.uk sell all the varieties, but the 'original' pens can be bought in packs of 4 for £2.00 (includes: yellow, green, pink, orange), 8 for £4.20 (yellow, green, lime green, pink, orange, red, purple). A pack of 10 yellow highlighters will set you back £6.24.

                RATING: 4.5/5

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                • More +
                  14.03.2013 15:35
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                  A nice idea not so well executed - expensive alternatives do exist.

                  Tealights have been a common household item in my family home since early childhood. There would always be a big pack of IKEA ones under the kitchen sink, or (for some strange reason) in the shed. As trips to IKEA became more and more infrequent, however, we switched to the Sainsbury's variety, and though a little more expensive, we found them to be of exactly the same quality and size. In fact, they're probably manufactured in the same factory. On first sight, these tealights seem rather unimpressive, but if used artistically and numerously, they can create a warm, romantic, and inviting atmosphere in any room of the house.

                  FORM:
                  The design and construction of the product(s) can only be described as poor to average. The tealights are ruggedly put together with little care or attention. Some will fall apart in the packaging and others might bend or twist whilst being transported - all due to the fact they come in a transparent plastic bag that won't protect the tealights against scratching or dinting. Subject to pressure, they will crumple relatively easily - the metal casing, that is. They are each made from a white paraffin wax of reasonable quality. The wax won't overflow the silver metal, unless it has been punctured. Manufactured in China, the tealights each measure 1.5 (depth) x 3.8 cm (diameter), though I found this can fluctuate slightly because of their poor build quality.

                  USE:
                  As I said before, you can use this product (on mass) in any room of the house, but they seem to resonate best in the bathroom, set round a steaming bath. In the living room you might like to line the mantelpiece with a row, or decorate the coffee table. just remember to keep the little tealights away from plastics (especially bags) and electrical equipment. They seem to last for about 2-3 hours depending on the condition of the wick and wax. They do have quite a long wick (allowing for easy lighting with a standard lighter or short match), but this can sometimes be severed, or buried within the paraffin. For their size, I have to say they burn very well indeed - though the variation

                  Generally speaking, I don't have much to complain about besides the products build quality. They're a tacky product, but that is justified by the price you pay, and the amount you get. You can get a pack of 50 for under £3.00, that's under 6 pence per candle. Averaged, they burn delightfully, and in an otherwise darkened room you care little for their physical make-up and more for their orange flame. If you're in IKEA is suggest buying theirs, but these variety are just as good.

                  RATING: 3.2/5

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                • More +
                  12.03.2013 13:28
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                  If you're working your way through Banks' sci-fi collection, don't skip this, but don't expect much.

                  Lady Sharrow wanders with intent along the long glass shores of some distant, course continent. She sings softly, a song from her past, as she drifts sadly over the artificial dunes, spotting in the distance a beachcomber at odds with the landscape. On the horizon a saddled beast appears, and strapped to its back, a rather unstable figure struggling to direct the mid-tamed creatures mass. It's Geis, Sharrow's cousin, come with news of her current predicament, news too important to be exchanged over the phone - though Sharrow suspects a more personal reason for her cousins unorthodox arrival. The two's history is a complicated one, as the tale will inevitably address, but it's not a patch on the perplexing society they belong to. The system of planets our two characters find themselves contains a single ancient society constantly at ill-ease with its self. It's made up of a complex network of governments, companies, funds, trusts, religious factions and noble families all yearning for success. Just like on Earth (but on a far more rigorous scale), the greater the hold over the masses and the wealth of the system the better. There is a constant barrage of claims to legality chipping away at the defences of each financial 'sanctuary', numerous filings of law-suits; attempts to sniff out the loop-holes. The whole place swarms with business minds, sifting through the dirt (the debris' left behind by former rules, regulations, and agreements long since reinforced or fallen), attempting to decipher gain from decay. Evidently, this is NOT a Culture place.

                  The Huhsz are a particularly powerful religious cult that have taken a particularly nasty turn to Sharrow - believing that, unless her bloodline is ended, their Messiah cannot be born. You see, in Sharrow's past she has made a few critical errors, one of which resulted in the death of several million people (20% of Lip City), when the dismantling of a powerful Lazy Gun went horribly wrong. The Huhsz are about to acquire legitimate 'hunting passports' that will allow them to lawfully commence the big event which they believe will culminate in the Ladies sacrifice. As an added layer of suspense, they only have one year before the passports expire, and potential safety can be arranged for our main character.

                  Lazy Guns are one of the last remaining mysteries of the system. Eight were discovered, and several were used to drastic effect. When you use a Lazy Gun, the method of destruction it applies varies depending on the size and strength of the object(s) targeted. A human target might take a laser beam, bullet, or a heavy weight to the head for instance, whilst a ship might hit an ice-berg or face the wrath of a ferocious tidal wave. The Lazy Gun works in bizarre and unexplainable ways. In the case of cities, thermo-nuclear explosions are the norm, though in one instance a comet struck, causing similar levels of devastation. In the wrong hands, a Lazy Gun is the most deadly tool in the entire system.

                  With the Huhsz and the Lazy Gun as continual themes, 'Against a Dark Background' indulges its' reader the life and times of lady Sharrow, a level headed, army-trained, kind-hearted (but ruthless), strong-willed, resistant woman from Golter, a planet lit by the sun, Thrial, the only star for a million light years. It's understandable then, that after 7,000 years of space travel, the systems inhabitants have never managed interstellar activity - they're all alone. The only way Sharrow can stop the Huhsz is by acquiring the only artefact they see greater in value than Sharrow's sacred suffering, the Universal Principles. This ancient book is said, by Sharrow's dead relative Gorko (the former head of her formerly rich and powerful family), to contain the where-abouts of the last remaining Lazy Gun. However, it is in fact Breyguhn (Sharrow's half-sister) that sheds this information to her. Breyguhn is being held captive by the Sad Brothers (another cult) in the Sea House, and on visiting her sister early on in the novel, a picture of the two's past is quickly revealed. It is fraught with sibling squabbles on the highest level. From the day they first met, a rivalry has existed, and Banks takes great pleasure in exhibiting this relationship to his reader in flash backs, and in great detail.

                  The flash-backs attempt to build suspense and detail between Breyguhn and Sharrow, though certain episodes delve into unrelated areas of Sharrow's life. They mainly feature rivalry over men, the back-stabbing competition they had for a certain cousin back when the two were still in their teens. Perhaps the most interesting flash-back however, doesn't feature this, it features an android named Skave. In an effort to impress Breyguhn, Sharrow hacks into the 7,000 year old family android and alters its sleep, giving it a nightmare that will seem to the sentient machine to last 1,000 nights - and in which there is no escape. This vicious act reveals a lot about Sharrow's darker side, and might well be a hint of things to come.

                  In true Banks fashion, there are a host of other main characters (which perhaps I should have mentioned earlier). Clearly, Sharrow cannot complete her dangerous quest to rediscover the UP and LG alone, so she has to reunite with her previous companions, her previous Combat Company which she led during the 5% Tax Wars several decades prior. Sharrow reacquaints herself with the team: Cenuij, a disgruntled man contented with his life in the city and reluctant to join Sharrow's crusade; Miz, Sharrow's former lover and a rich entrepreneur; Zefla and her brother Dloan - the former a tall and slender, upbeat figure with an optimistic approach to life, and the latter a strong, stubby and quiet man with a protective outlook on life. Sharrow also acquires the help and guidance of a few other intriguing characters: Travapath the wizard-like philosopher and Feril the adventurous android (who assists Sharrow to the bitter end).

                  Along the way to the Universal Principles, the team first find themselves attempting to attain an Antiquity; the Log-Jam's prized, Crownstar Addendum, one of the most valuable items in the system. The Log-jam is a fascinating location, inventive and unique. Banks has created a floating city made from thousands of permanently docked ships, each catering to different urban function - shops, bars, homes, an airport, banks and vaults, etc. It is within the most highly secured vault that Sharrow, Miz and the team attempt to steal the Crownstar Addendum, but not all goes to plan...

                  On leaving the vault, Sharrow is struck by an inhumane sensation of pain, a piercing, sickly injustice seeping to the very depths of her nervous system. She falls into a sort of coma of pain. What follows is a meeting with two identical twins (who Sharrow suspects to be androids). It is with these twins that a new element is added to the story, because Sharrow discovers that at any moment she can be harmed by use of a mysterious Voodoo doll at their command. Suddenly, nowhere is safe. The twins have only one ambition, to gain control of the last remaining Lazy Gun through manipulation of Sharrow... But who are they working for?

                  The trail eventually leads Sharrow to the thrown of the Useless Kings - a religion vowed to curse and demoralise its own God; a religion based around the utter hatred of the sacred (awesome idea Banks!) - and it is here that the whereabouts of the Universal Principles are realised. As to where that will lead Sharrow next is another thing entirely!

                  THE OPINION:

                  I think the novel is set up really well at the beginning. It has all the right ingredients for a good thriller or tragedy, and there's even some comical dialogue and witty humour thrown in as well. It seems like it's going to be yet another classic Banks adventure, written in the style of his earlier Culture novels, but with a new and intriguing spin. What's bitterly disappointing then, is that Banks, despite all the great ideas put forward in this book, not to mention the resonant characters, doesn't seem to have captured the same page-turning excitement as previous. The book was (largely) a difficult, crawling read for me. This is a re-write (the final re-write) of his earlier works, and it seems (perhaps because of this) that a lot of the soul and attentive detail has been drained from the story - maybe it was never evident. The characters have personality and life, but their activities seem drawn out, and their reasoning cloudy (excluding Sharrow's). I feel like I never truly grasped a full image of the characters. I didn't see their physique, I saw their personalities based on what they had expressed through the dialogue. In other words, I didn't get the full picture when I read Against a Dark Background. The story-line may be an epic quest for the truth, twisted by outside influence - the Huhsz, Sad Brothers, Twins (and their hidden masters), etc - but it didn't read as well as it sounds. The thrill of the moment didn't transcend.

                  A lot of the flash-backs experienced by Sharrow seemed unconnected, unnecessary to the overall story. They were also very long, sometimes exceeding ten or more pages. They often didn't lead the reader to anything conclusive about the characters personality or her relations - they seemed to fill gaps that weren't ever present.

                  I thought ideas such as the Thrown of the Useless Kings, and the android Skave were high on the list of banks' best inventions, but the way they were moulded into the story wasn't up to scratch. Skave brought a much needed machine intelligence into the team, giving them the upper hand in places, and providing interesting analysis of situations. You could tell the android wasn't on the same level as a Culture equivalent which was cool, the balance seemed just right for the story with this character.

                  I might have gone into this a bit too much, almost giving it more credit than it deserves. But as you can tell, the story-line takes a lot of explaining, the ideas behind it are wild, new and complex - which is a good thing. In general though, I just didn't get a good feel from this novel. It came across as slow, with too much filler and not enough grip. The action is enthralling, but the rest (the vast majority) is someway close to a bore. I'll have to settle on 3 stars for Against a Dark Background.

                  RATING: 3.0/5
                  PRICE: £6.89 (paperback)
                  AVAILABILITY: Amazon.co.uk at above price.

                  Thanks for reading!

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                    07.03.2013 16:10
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                    Display your mother's day pictures in pristine quality.

                    When I first heard about LCD photo displays, my immediate response was a negative one. Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind - excuse the pun - but the idea of consuming energy in an effort to back-light digital images about the home seemed highly unnecessary. With a renewable resource behind the concept I can see the market, but as a plugged-in device constantly consuming electricity, it seems very wasteful. What's more, where can you put the thing? It can't distract from a computer or television in a main room, and conversely, it can't be chucked in a corner and forgotten about - the bathroom seems the only logical destination, until you remember water. Despite all this negativity however, I was bought a 'Braun DigiFrame 1500' photo frame (LCD) by a rich aunt a while back. She said it had cost a lot of money, so out of kindness I set the thing up, and here's what I thought...

                    Technical Specification and How It Works:
                    The device has a large 15 inch LCD screen with 'authentic' wooden frame edge, alluding to the fact that this is a digital / electrical displayer. The first thing to mention is that the device is PC-independent, meaning you don't require a computer to upload images to the in-built software. The Digiframe comes with an external USB cable (USB 2.0 and 1.1 supported) which can be used to connect any compatible device. So you can take images from your MP3 player, phone, tablet, etc with ease. You can also plug in a memory stick (leaving this plugged in or extracting images from it) - Memory Stick PRO's, Multi-Media Card's, SD Memory Card's, Memory Stick Duo's, and Compact Flash Card's are accepted too. The only supported file type is JPEG which can be irritating if this means you need to convert a bunch of photographs to this format, but the quality achieved can be sensational - 1024 x 768 is the highest resolution available. The menu system you use to moves files back and forth is simple, and consists of a series of lists allowing you to select individual images or groups of images for display. The device has a tiny in-built memory of 128mb, very out-dated by today's standards, so this means it's probably best to leave a USB plugged in unless you don't need any more than 100 or so images flicked through at any one time. The software's slide-show function allows you to display one image and then the next at different rates, zoomed in, zoomed out, and at varying rotations. I think overall, the way you operate the displayer, the way you move over images, and the technical potential of the product is good to average. Not all the features you might require are available, but all the basics are covered. Power is supplied through a standard grade AC adapter (included).

                    Packaging and Build Quality:
                    The Digiframe 1500 comes in a standard box showing the device on the front along with all the relevant technical information and safety warnings. Inside the screen is well secured, with separate compartments for the AC adapter and USB cable. A thin plastic film coated the screen for added protection (which I removed straight away). On first inspection, the build quality of the device seemed very good. The frame is real wood, slightly grooved, and fitted to the plastic of the screen within neatly. The power button and connections at the back are well integrated, and a stand gives good support - although this can slip on certain surfaces, so you have to careful. Nothing rattles and the whole piece feels firm and secure. I suppose the only problem with the design is the fact you have to have a cable (or two) sticking out the back, taking away from the delusion of the device - these are black and blend in well with furniture however.

                    Reliability and Performance:
                    Technicalities out the way, I think the image quality of the Digiframe 1500 is excellent. A richness in tone and colour is only enhanced by the backdrop of clear light shining through. In a darkened room with no other screens about, the backlit image appears vibrant and strong. It doesn't really matter what the image is, as long as it's clear - and the stronger the colours the better. The device doesn't seem to make much noise (only if you put your ear right up to it will you here a light rumble), but it does produce a more noticeable level of heat. What's good about the Digiframe though, is that you can leave it on all day and it won't run down, or damage in any way - the longevity of the product is good. Similarly, never once has it stopped working, frozen, or missed out certain images. It seems very reliable, but not so efficient.

                    I still don't really see the point in powering one of these frames, unless maybe during a dinner party or if the TV's broken. The idea of them still seems silly, but after trying one out, I have to give in to the devices ease of use, good connectivity, and exceptional picture quality. It has its faults: a poor memory unit, lots of power consumption, release of heat and slight sound, and where the hell do you put it?! In all though, I am impressed and can't give any less than 4-stars. Recommendable to anyone who has a need for something like this.

                    SIZE: 41.5 cm x 5.5 cm x 34 cm
                    WEIGHT: 3kg

                    RATING: 3.6/5
                    AVAILABILITY: It seems to have stopped selling everywhere I look, but you can pick up a newer Braun Digiframe from Amazon for £50 - with an 8-inch screen.

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                      26.02.2013 20:44
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                      Golly, what a lot of fun!

                      It was last December that I took a stroll down 'internet way', self-tasked with finding a fun and innovative gadget/toy to be gifted to my 10 year old brother for Christmas. Model cars, planes, tanks, helicopters and the like were always there, playing on my mind, as potential gifts. But I didn't think I'd find anything of that sort (of any quality) within the price range I had envisaged. That was until I stumbled across a YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_IUQcmeyMU) demonstrating a small remote controlled 'micro' helicopter called the Syma S107. The video showed a rather spindly, but nevertheless intricately constructed, and accurately flown little electronic helicopter that moved forward / backward / left / right / up & down in a robotic fashion, and had mounted to the front a blue/red flashing LED light. I was impressed, and after researching the product online and deciphering its lowest end price - £19.99 (still the current price on Amazon.co.uk with FREE delivery) - I decided that this was the toy I'd be buying for my brother.

                      Packaging & Build Quality:
                      The helicopter comes in a partially transparent cardboard box, allowing you to inspect the design features and general build of the device before purchasing. All components are visible, and on first sight, the helicopter seems impressive. The metal frame at the centre is crisply cut and formed, and the motorized plastic cogs within that frame are fitted well, seamlessly coinciding with other moving parts and the coloured plastic outer-shell. You can tell they've really thought about the design; how the helicopter can be made to look sleek, stylish and (most importantly to some) realistic, whilst maintaining complete functionality - after all, this is a very functional toy that you hope will be reliable and long-lasting. The build quality of the helicopter certainly screams longevity, but the fiddly nature of its parts and their complexity places the toy in ornament territory... will the device be long-lasting if flown regularly, and crash landed just as frequently? I think the quality of materials used and their positioning certainly gives the device a good fighting chance of survival. The tail for instance, is mounted rigidly to the metal body (frame) by a central metal beam (supporting the tail blades and fin), with two supporting beams helping to disperse shock-waves to more of the structure, on impact. The helicopter is finished off with some basic logo stickers on the plastic shell, blades and tail-wing. The overall build quality is excellent, and well demonstrated by the packaging.

                      Design & Performance:
                      The controllers design is simple, but effective. Constructed of a moderate quality plastic, the controller has an on/off switch, a left lever for upward and downward motion (throttle control), a right joystick (of similar size) for swaying left/right and moving forward/back, and a mini-USB charge cable plumbed into the controllers batteries (so that the device can be charged from the controller). It runs on AA batteries.

                      Charging the aircraft can be done in two ways. I've already mentioned the cable connected to the controller, which is hidden from behind a trap door in the rear of the hand-held remote. This method of charge takes no longer than 1 hour, but there is also another way, a USB cable with an end for your helicopter and an end for your PC/laptop. Charging this way takes a lot less time! Once fully charged, the plane will fly for between 3 and 7 minutes, depending on the ruggedness of your flight - a steady hover could give you the full 7 minute flight time, whilst applying full throttle for the majority of the flight and/or moving from one area to another will shorten the time by a half.

                      The helicopter has two sets of thin plastic blade which rotate in an opposite direction from one another, maintaining aerodynamic balance. The blades are free-supporting, and are mounted on flexible joints. This acts to reduce damage taken when the inevitable crashes occur. But the stability of the craft also relies on a third element: a double-weighted rotating arm above the blades, which acts to dissipate the lateral loads presented by low winds and any turning motion. In order to make the helicopter go forward and back, a tiny (fragile) blade, vertically mounted to the tail, can be powered up or down by pushing up or down on the left control trigger of the controller.

                      When you finally fire up the electric motor (by thumbing a switch both on the helicopter and controller), after charging, you have to reach a certain throttle level (about 1/4 of the way up) before the helicopter generates enough lift to set off. At the point where the lift surpasses the mass the craft raises gingerly, then all additional power supplied after that (levering up further) raises the craft much more sharply. The low-weight components come into their own, allowing the helicopter to move nimbly through the air - and the same is said of turning. Moving forward and backward however, is a slower process, a more gradual increase in velocity than going up and down - especially down, of course. It's all good fun!

                      The Syma s107 has a 3-channel frequency, meaning up to three craft can be flown at any one time (by separate controllers). This is where the fun begins! Air to air duels, races and time-trials can ensue, adding countless hours of addictive competition.

                      There is an LED flashing or strobing (red/blue) light on the nose of the aircraft. This doesn't produce enough luminance to help you see where you're going in total darkness, but in semi-darkness and even daylight the light is acts as an aesthetically pleasing addition to the design. I'm not sure what percentage of battery consumption it uses, but I doubt it's much.

                      The Opinion:
                      I have had little issue with the Syma S107 whilst using it around the house - I have yet to test it outside though, and I doubt it will be able to stand up to the challenge of varying weather conditions (even small winds will throw the craft off balance). The only major source of negativity came when the helicopter was hit (occasionally) against something hard or at high velocity - The vibrations from the crash would pulse through the chassis to the helicopters internal plastic cogs, disconnecting them from one another. Although this issue could be resolved each time in under 30 seconds (by simply reconnecting the cogs by pushing with the tip of a screw-driver), the problems continual occurrence could get very irritating.

                      I found the helicopter flew very well for such a small, intricate piece of kit, and the general robustness and accuracy of its parts meant landing on (and taking off from) rugged surfaces or uneven slopes was very easy. However, sometimes if the toy took off from an uneven surface it would continue on that wonky trajectory, until either my brother would panic and shut off power (causing the craft to drop as a dead weight to the ground), or the helicopter would strike something and the cogs would come loose.

                      It is certainly a difficult toy to get the hang of. It took me a good 3 or 4 tries before I finally came to terms with the controls and how much throttle / turn I had to apply to achieve a smooth flight. But this is all part of the fun. Once you've mastered the bird, you can start the real fun, racing with your friends, or attempting to pick up objects with the ski-shaped legs. All in all this is a thoroughly recommendable product!

                      RATING: 4.0/5
                      PRICE: £19.99
                      AVAILABILITY: Amazon.co.uk
                      RECOMMENDED: ages 8 - 50

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                        14.02.2013 21:46
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                        Not the best!

                        I've been very wary in the past, trying Irish Cream's that weren't Bailey's, because they never seem to get it right. None of the 'alternatives' I've tried have lived up to the 'real thing', and this particular Irish Country Cream is no exception. There was good reason for my skepticism! Bailey's excels in taste, texture, smell, and bottle design; everything except price. To be honest, price is the only thing Irish Knights (and all the others) have up on beloved Bailey's, all else lacks. If you feel you can hack lesser quality and don't want to read on, here's the bottom line: Bailey's £20 per litre, Irish Knights £6.49 per litre (mysupermarket.co.uk price comparison). 1/3 of the price...

                        The Bottle:
                        A basic black glass bottle with screw-top plastic lid and yellow label. They have tried to create a medieval theme (i think), but have failed miserably. The label seems tacky and unofficial - it looks like a design that could be easily counter-fitted (as many products like this are). They seem to be milking it a bit with the Irish thing (excuse the pun), as the words 'Ireland' and 'Irish' are plastered all over the bottle numerous times. All the relevant information is on the label. The quality of the bottle isn't good, but I suppose it does its job.

                        The Taste:
                        It just tastes cheap. It still retains the smooth quality of Bailey's, but the cream is sweet and sickly. The ABV is only 14.5% (when usually an Irish cream will range from 15-20%), so the drink doesn't taste particularly alcoholic. The usual glowing heat left simmering in the back of your throat by that alcohol (a positive thing) is, for some reason, lessened in Irish Knights. You can barely taste whiskey's influence, though there is definitely a hint of it in there. It's as though they have over-loaded the Irish cream with dairy, and smothered the alcoholic nature of the substance. The beverages after-taste has hints of the original taste, but is heavier and tangier than before - you feel like you need to brush your teeth. I find it tastes O.K. 'on the rocks', but using it instead of milk in coffee works just as well as with Bailey's for some reason - By the way, this is a great way to drink any Irish cream!

                        To conclude, I found Irish Knights a poor alternative to Bailey's. They are both Irish Creams, but despite the fact they both appear very similar, their taste is far different. The quality lacks in one, and thrives in another. There isn't enough whiskey and the after-taste is shocking. A disappointing drink, besides the price!

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                        • Jack Daniels No 7 / Spirits / 72 Readings / 72 Ratings
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                          12.02.2013 17:14
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                          Beautifully crafted Whiskey from Tennessee.

                          Jack Daniels is one of the most recognisable spirits on sale today, and perhaps the most famous whiskey. That's because of over 100 years of brand identity, the creation and spreading of an old American name that oozes history and authenticity. The delights of the drink were first spread locally, and then made known through a powerful advertising campaign which today sees no country as too far or too large to conquer. Despite this, operations (the distilling and distributing of Jack Daniels) still run from the original home of production, Lynchburg, Tennessee. Everything about the brand seems to point back to that one spot in America, attempting to (in some ways) delude people from the drinks true success and popularity.

                          The Background:
                          The founder (that went by a familiar name) was born in 1846 and came to found the distillery 20 years later in 1866. As with all brands like this one, the recipe remains a complete secret, and is said to be the same as it was during those early years. However, JD's past was not a smooth one, because, at the outset of prohibition in 1910 and then again in 1920, production was disrupted (and moved to another state) and then ceased altogether. It wasn't until 1938 that the distilleries gained momentum once more (many years after Jack's death in 1911). The trust in the brand was still there though, and so a quality Jack Daniel's product was re-distributed to the masses. In 1956 the company was sold to Brown-Forman Corporation who used the title, the logo, the premises, the people, and the passion of Jack Daniels to bring it properly onto the world stage. Now, the net income of the company is said to exceed $120 million.

                          The Bottle:
                          An iconic image. Everything about the bottle points to/focuses your mind on the founding years, the old country hills, the old American way of life. Saying that, I doubt the bottle resembles much of its earliest ancestor, but the authenticity is still maintained either way. It's a square design with intricate, lapping details towards the top, ending at a bulging neck and black cap. There's a plastic sealant and screw-top plastic lid beneath, keeping the spirit air-tight and therefore in top condition prior to opening. The label is black and white, and shows the traditional Jack Daniels 'Old No. 7' logo and iconic text, in that old country font. They cram a lot of information onto the bottle, one edition even lists a series of awards or 'gold medals' the drink has won over the last hundred or so years. The label says the whiskey is 40% ABV, a warning in its self - drink responsibly!

                          The Taste:
                          The taste of Jack Daniels is different to any other whiskey. It tastes a tad sourer than most, but that sourness is layered over a dark and woody backdrop, and slow, deep heat. The whiskey tastes oaky and smooth. Every inch of the spirit is filtered through maple charcoal (it is charcoal mellowed) before barrelling, and this brings forth that earthly taste and richness that makes the drink so unique. This is a sippin' whiskey, meaning it can be drunk straight/neat, or 'on the rocks', relatively easily. A lot of the bitterness from the alcoholic content is subdued by a thick richness of ingredients which (despite it being 40% ABV) levels the taste out and makes it suitable for sippin'. I absolutely adore the taste, and find drinking the whiskey on the rocks a lovely experience. It feels very natural and authentic to drink, and the quality of the bottle only increases this.

                          The Varieties:
                          There are several different types of Jack Daniel's whiskey, but I've only tried 'Old No. 7', which is the original recipe whiskey. There is also 'Single Barrel', which is matured in the upper reaches of the barrelhouse, where temperatures fluctuate more, causing its taste and colour to deepen. Then there's 'Tennessee Honey' which combines the original recipe with a secret honey liqueur formula for increased sweetness, and 'Gentleman Jack' which is charcoal mellowed before the barrel and after, giving it an unrivalled smoothness (unlike any other whiskey in the world).

                          Recommended Mixers:
                          Jack & Coke (1 part JD, 3 part Coke), Jack & Ginger (1 part JD, 3 part Ginger), Jack Daniel's Manhattan (1 part JD, 0.5 part sweet vermouth, dash of bitters), and Jack Julep (2 part JD, 1 tablespoon simple syrup, mint sprig, crushed ice). All taste excellent, but my favourite has to be the sweet and succulent Julep, which brings through the richness of the spirit, and complements its deep flavours with a cool, crisp and refreshing minty sweetness - A summery cocktail.

                          Website:
                          www.jackdaniels.com
                          The website mimics the old-school style of the brand. As usual, you have to enter your D.O.B before entry, but once inside the site has a range of pages describing the drink and its history. There are a series of promotional videos on there as well, and a list of ideal drink mixes.

                          In all, I am very impressed by Jack Daniel's deep history, authentic advertising and bottle, smooth and unique taste, and good range of variations for those of us who require a little bit more smoothness or sweetness or heaviness. They seem to have catered to the needs of all whiskey drinkers well. Combined with the website, and suggestion of interesting mixers/cocktails, there really is nothing to fault here. A top notch brand and whiskey anyone can enjoy.

                          RATING: 4.8/5
                          PRICE: £34.00 per litre bottle.
                          AVAILABILITY: tesco.com (and in store).
                          ABV: 40%

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                            10.02.2013 17:24
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                            A common drug.

                            Paracetamol tablets are one of the most commonly taken tablets in the UK. They belong to the group of medicines known as analgesics or painkillers. The medication is produced by a range of companies; all offering slightly different variations on the formula: size of dose, form (liquid or solid), method of taking, etc. Paracetamol is also a commonly used ingredient in certain compound medications (where there are two or more drugs present), such as compound cold and flu products. One rule remains across all cases: DO NOT EXCEED 4 DOSES OF PARACETAMOL IN ANY 24 HOUR PERIOD. There have been quite a few deaths related to Paracetamol over the years; sometimes by people with suicidal intent, and sometimes by unfortunates who misread information.

                            The Conditions:
                            Paracetamol can be used to treat a range of conditions in the body, commonly called aches and pains: Headaches, toothaches, painful periods, arthritis pains, muscle pains, and fevers - these are some of the main areas Paracetamol can treat successfully, if the proper dose is ingested. Usefully, Paracetamol can also be used to lessen hangover discomfort. Mainly though, I use the drug to treat headaches, which have the potential to grow to migraines, as the tablets seem to cut straight to the pain within the hour. Other symptoms, such as muscle pains, can be treated just as successfully, but fevers seem to require a heavier hit to tackle (in my case). As for period pains, I have no opinion.

                            The Treatment:
                            Paracetamol comes in 500 mg tablets, and there's a limit on how many packs you can buy at a time. The drug can be taken in conjunction with Ibuprofen (in people over 16-years old) to increase the effectiveness of the medication. Remember, you must read the instructions for both drugs before taking them together or separately.
                            If symptoms/conditions do not begin to subside after taking the recommended dosage, the packet will suggest speaking with your doctor or pharmacist. There's not necessarily anything wrong, it may just be that the pain is greater than the ability of the tablets to subside it. Seeking stronger medication might be the right path, in which case, speaking with your doctor is required. Prescription drugs are (generally) stronger, or more precise at targeting the area of pain you have.

                            The Side-effects:
                            More than one in ten people (according to NHS.uk website) get a feeling of dizziness, nausea, and sleepiness. More than one in one-hundred people get the following side-effects:
                            confusion, constipation, diarrhoea, dry mouth, euphoria, feeling anxious, feeling nervous, flatulence, headaches, indigestion, itching, mood changes, sleeping problems, stomach pain, sweating, trembling, vomiting. There are even rarer ones (1/1000), and the list for them is even longer. So it just goes to show that even commonly prescribed (and over-the-counter available) drugs can have more negative effects than a lot of illegal drugs (such as cannabis) - an interesting, and rather shocking, fact. The side-effects are not very clearly out-lined on packaging, which is unjust and unfair to consumers.

                            To conclude, I find Paracetamol a welcome relief to my occasional aches and pains. But the symptoms you are trying to relieve can often be dealt with on your own. I don't like the idea of flushing your body or your child's body with too many un-natural chemicals, but I do see the benefits as well. In all, I think Paracetamol is a good drug, which can really help people to cope with everyday annoyances!

                            RATING: 3.0/5
                            PRICE: 19p (a saving of £1.30 on RRP) for 16 ANADIN 500 mg tablets. Bargain!
                            AVAILABILITY: chemistdirect.co.uk

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                            • More +
                              08.02.2013 17:32
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                              Like a lot of alcoholic beverages, Amaretto is produced by a range of companies occupying different sectors of the market - usually based on price-points, deciphered by the level of quality of produce and packaging. Disaronno is at or near the top, in my book, it's quite expensive (at a whopping £30.00 per litre [half litre bottles sold] at Tesco) and the quality of the bottle and the liquid within matches this. It is exceptional.

                              The Background:
                              The drink is produced in the town of Saronno, close to Milan, in northern Italy. What's so remarkable about the background to this drink is that, according to the company, it has been produced in the town since 1525 - using a 'secret formula' that hasn't been changed since then. It's incredible to think that people were drinking and enjoying the exact same substance nearly 500 years ago as we are today! Back when most people lived in villages, hadn't seen the sea, and had little awareness of the country they lived - they hadn't even played Angry Birds on the Iphone for God sake!

                              The Bottle:
                              The glass of the Disaronno bottle is odd, but brilliant. It's wonky! There are no straight or symmetrically curved surfaces, instead there's a bumpy effect covering the entire bottle. Contrary to my initial observation that this made the bottle seem un-civilized and strange, after picking it up and inspecting it closer, I ended up really liking it! Furthermore, the effect seems to ooze style and finesse. Running your hands across the glass, the cool liquid beneath heightens that sense of quality. A gold label is carefully applied to the front, stating the name 'Disaronno Amaretto Originale', along with the usual information (ABV, ingredients, warnings, etc). Besides the form of the glass, the lid is the real set-piece of this intriguing design. It is a black, wide, rectangular cuboid that spins effortlessly onto the glass rim of the bottle, making sure no liquid is let loose (even when the bottle is upside down). The whole bottle feels thick and sturdy and looks excellent on a drinks cabinet!

                              The Taste:
                              Although the taste has distinct connotations with almonds, the product its self contains no almonds or other nuts. The taste is achieved through the careful fusion of dissimilar 'pure' ingredients. According to the company, the drink has "apricot kernel oil... absolute alcohol, burnt sugar, and the pure essence of seventeen selected herbs and fruits". With the 'herbs and fruits' is where the secret formula lies, hidden from highly competitive industry rivals. The taste (mainly because of these herbs and fruits) is strong, sweet, fruity, and has a hint of sourness. Batten-burg cake goes a long way as an adjective. It's hard to describe the taste, but by simply saying it's like no other spirit I've tasted should go a long way. It's warm and Christmasy and seems to blend the right balance of sour and sweet with a general apricot/almond backdrop. What's more, the taste is so smooth and elegant that it can be drunk 'on the rocks' perfectly comfortably - a world away from other high percentage spirits. In fact, I'd even go as far to say it's better drunk neat than with a mixer - though lemonade, coke and fruit-juices seem to go well.

                              The Smell:
                              I have to write about the smell separately because it's just so good! Combine that strong apricot/almond taste with a fork full of Batten-burg cake (marzipan) and a wisp of honey and you've achieved this drinks gorgeous smell! I could quite literally laden my house with a thick layer of this stuff and never get bored of its delicious, mouth-watering aroma. How do they achieve it?!?!

                              The Alternative:
                              The most acceptable alternative to Disaronno is a brand called Bella Veroni Amaretto which can bought for £9.60 for 70 cl (£13.72 per litre). In contrast to Disaronno, the taste and bottle both lack in quality and depth of understanding of the drink/taste - then again, the alternative is less than half the price so it's worth considering.

                              Altogether, I am very impressed by the exquisite taste, aroma, packaging, and background of this spectacular brand and drink! It never gets old, it instead gets hold of you and makes you rave more. Even in the morning after a heavy nights drinking, the sight and smell of this substance won't turn you to the bathroom sink, it's just too good. A thoroughly recommended product, but be careful, as you can get carried away, forgetting the 28% ABV of the drink and getting pretty drunk pretty quickly!

                              RATING: 4.5/5
                              ABV: 28%
                              PRICE: £15.00 50 cl bottle
                              AVAILABILITY: tesco.com (and in store)

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