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Chris O.

6 Level 6 Contributor
  • 654 Reviews
  • 3,310 Helpful Votes
  • 0 Thank Yous

Experience: Computers & Technology, Clothing & Fashion, Entertainment

Member since August 2009

  • Reviews

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  • First Reviews

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Review Distribution

About Me

I last made serious contributions here in 2010 - please note the dates before commenting on anything I wrote back then.

654 Reviews by Chris

3/24/11
It's... sushi on a stick.

Innovations to the original design now include a clear plastic lid and window so that you can see straight away if your sushi has gone off yet, and to satisfy unbelievers who don't trust the reliability of shipping in dry ice and the three-hour defrost time (faster if you place it in a warm place on your person).

It comes in a range of flavors, with or without the seaweed, and is in all respects identical to eating eight pieces of sushi in a restaurant except it's frozen on a stick and apparently doesn't quite taste or look the same or have the same texture. Still, for people who need their sushi on the go, or have some other use for a cold tube about an inch across by seven inches long, this is what you've been waiting for.

The soy sauce? In the handle, obviously. Awesome.
3/24/11
In response to the first reviewer of this one, I admit it. I have no idea how the world works.

But I did spend some time looking around here anyway, and sorry, but although I'm a "boomer" I'm not going to be coming back. Even though it's created by the man who created monster.com, and might have been a great idea, it's been around a few years and still doesn't seem to have gone anywhere much. I looked for a "Watchers of Drying Paint" group and was surprised not to find one. As for groups that might suit me, I searched for "eccentrics" and "misfits" and they didn't have either. There's a group for perpetual hippies but they're largely too stoned to contribute, I guess.

The very top group of the lot, far and away most popular for a year, is full of quizzes such as "how many words can you think of that begin with B and end in D", and even though there was a photograph of a bed added as a clue, the word I was thinking of was "bored".

The site has all the hallmarks of the seminal online community model - lots of groups with one or two - and in one case zero - members (presumably even the person starting the group was too apathetic to join it), groups with one or two postings a week, or none for a year, and the inevitable "where did everyone go?" messages.

On the plus side, it features the useful self-help groups also seen most commonly in those earlier community models - survivors of depression and abuse and cancer, and groups for writers with writers' block and artists with whatever the equivalent is, and so forth. And there are the usual recycled joke, political and religious groups that you'd expect to be there, though I must be honest and admit I didn't search to see if there was a Sarah Palin fan club. It might have been super-popular, and I really didn't want to find out.

Not everything is dull, there are some unique ideas for groups, but none of those seem to have got very far off the ground. None that I found, anyway. And that suggests a certain lack of support for individualism, which probably comes with getting too old and too conservative to want to stand out from the crowd. Celebrity, once celebrated, becomes regarded as attention-seeking, deprecated even though we still vote for some of the greatest attention-seekers we can find.

OK, so I'm an eccentric and misfit enough to go looking for a group for misfits, even as I recognize that's an oxymoron. There's nothing essentially wrong with the model, and for those who enjoy being here, there's no reason to change. But looking back over the years, it reminds me very much of early online communities around the mid-1990s, and that model has long been superseded by Facebook and other web 2.0 social networks. Are the current concepts any better? Not necessarily, but that's where the future of the social web lies, leaving a site like this feeling somewhat of a backwater.

On the BIG plus side, visitors can look around the groups and even read all the messages without having to sign up. And I didn't see any of those irritating Facebook "like" buttons either, which is becoming a very rare event indeed.

If you're old enough to know better, don't pay me too much mind. Take a look for yourself. It's a more stable and more gently paced sort of community than those which prevail in younger age groups, and I do feel a certain sense of nostalgia for these. The problem is, they didn't survive the rapid progress in web society and I doubt this one will, either.
Domometer
3/23/11
Choosing a domain name is a tricky and stressful business, unless you're selling fake Ugg boots, in which case you've probably got a couple of hundred already. For the rest of us, though, how do we tell what's good and what's not?

Obviously, we'd want to pick a short title that's really easy to remember, so we'd choose just one or maybe two short, memorable words. And ideally they'd need to be common dictionary words, and ideally the dot-com should be available as that's the top of the top level domains and everyone has always wanted to get a dot-com rather than a dot-anything-else because that's what people think of. If I tell you to find the Disney website, for example, you're going to type disney.com even if you don't know for sure if it's a dot-com or not.

All of that is not obvious, though, to people who visit domometer.com, which invites you to type in your choice of domain name and returns a grading of A+ to F- for your troubles. It explains all the above, if you didn't already guess or know, and then adds an extra category for "distinctivity", a mystery something-ness that we may not be able to put a name to, but which singles out the best of the best from the also-rans.

Is this actually any use? Well, we can have some fun with it, anyway.

If you type in "distinctivity.com" you will be told that "distinctivity" is not a dictionary word (it is, but only barely; either way, the site loses: if it is, then they're wrong to say it isn't, and if it isn't, then they're wrong for labeling a category with it).

If you type in "domometer.com" it gets an A+, but if you instead try "modometer" it doesn't. Neither does dimometer, donometer, or midometer, or damometer, or madometer. The (in my opinion) more marketable "dormometer.com" gets an even lower score.

gooddomains.com gets a slightly worse score than baddomains.com. And to end:

"The domain name distinctivity.com has a very poor distinctivity factor"

So, does that help or not? When you get to the end of the page, there's a note that

"you can have extremenly (sic) popular websites with low Domometer grades. Ultimately what matters is the content on your website."

And that's true. Though there are really no ultimate truths in this game. Hyphens, for example, will always get marked down because (a) people don't remember them and (b) they're usually associated with scams of some sort. But look at how high up the ratings some of these hyphenated titles are. And how many people fall for the associated scams. And remember, people are clicking through from search engines, and bookmarking, and don't always need to remember whether there are hyphens or not. Nothing is certain.

Clever optimization of the site code can do a lot to make up for poorer content, not to mention cheating with the optimization, which for some reason, spammers always seem to be better at than anyone else. Search engines are getting better at not being fooled, but they're still fooled too often.

This is not a bad resource, but IMO not a great one, either. Though as it's collecting all the queries, unless users choose otherwise, it may well become more useful as time passes and the database builds. Ultimately, it tells you things you could have figured out for yourself, and until it can prove that it gets things right, it's not authoritative. If you're really stuck making a choice between several similar names, though, it may well help you make the best decision. Just bear in mind that buy-ugg-boots-cheap is a terrible domain name and don't go for that one, OK?
3/21/11
A new service from the folks at novirusthanks.org, this one scans a website with 17 different applications, looking for exploits and malware and checking on the site's reputation with services such as Web Of Trust.

Whilst nothing is ever 100% guaranteed - a test result is only valid at the moment of the test - this is a good way to know whether you should feel safe visiting a site. And it's quick. Sitejabber passed with flying colors in about half a minute.

A recommended bookmark. Also, see the review of novirusplease.org, the online multi-engine virus scanner:

Http://www.sitejabber.com/reviews/www.novirusplease.org
3/21/11
If you're doubtful that your computer's anti-virus app has made the right decision about a particular file - perhaps it's reporting Aunty Alice's Christmas family photo as a dangerous Trojan - you can use this site to upload that file alone and have it scanned by several different anti-virus programs. Though there used to be 23 a/v programs here the list is down to nine, which is probably just as well since they run consecutively, not concurrently. The nine engines in use now are:

Avast
AVG
ClamAV
Comodo
Emsisoft
F-Prot
Ikarus
TrendMicro
Zoner

It might go without saying but just in case, remember that your upload speed is going to be considerably less than your download speed - very considerably. So don't expect to upload a 1Gb file and get immediate results, it will take a very long time just getting up there. And then it will pass through nine A/V checks. So be practical. Most suspect files are likely to be very small but even so, allow a few minutes for the engine to get back to you with the results. And don't upload the whole folder if only one file is suspect. You get the idea.

This is most handy when you have to run only one A/V on your computer, because two or more at once will screw the system up, but you're getting a positive result that you're really not sure about. And - ahem - handy for that pirate keygen file that you really, really want, but aren't at all sure whether to open. So I'm told.
3/21/11
This is one of a very small number of computing blogs that the tech geeks recommend to each other. With an original blog and a very active forum including tutorials, this is a solidly reputable resource.

Also of particular interest if you're interested particularly in anti-virus apps, is his ongoing test to see which of the many A/V alternatives is the lightest on system resources. While most people focus on which A/V is most effective, the charts here will tell you which ones slow down a system the most and that's something that end users really do notice. The results may surprise you. Find that test here:
http://www.raymond.cc/antivirus/

Bookmark it, if you're interested or involved in PC tech, and pass it on. People will think you're an insider.
3/20/11
The west has a fascination with India long fueled by a vision of sari-clad women, brilliant as hummingbirds, spotted and sprinkled with sintoor and patterned with henna; of snake-charmers and beggars, bicycle bells and the bazaars; of the scents and tastes and sounds of a society that is only barely on the edge of our understanding, yet, unlike further eastern societies, just tantalizingly close enough to draw us in.

I'm particularly drawn, perhaps, because the British have reason for a special interest: the origin of 21st Century England's most popular takeout was once the jewel in the crown that was Victoria's empire. I was raised in a London replete with Indian restaurants, and I was cracking open a can of curry and rice (curry at one end, rice at the other) long before my teens. Long too, before I discovered that the Indians had little reason to love the English, who, aside from getting into all that mess with the Raj, had appropriated the word "curry" for themselves and misused it with vigor. Well, we had a reputation for misusing foreign assets, so it was to be expected, I suppose.

The tale told in Vikram Chandra's latest book, Sacred Games, contains neither Englishmen nor curry, but I thought that was a more interesting way into the review than just saying I'd recently finished the book. Which I have, after a couple of weeks of solid bedtime reading and around 900 pages of great storytelling. It's the story of the rise and inevitable fall of an Indian gangster don, from humble beginnings to a humbler end. It's also the story of the policeman he invites to share his last moments, and above all, as is often the case with stories set in India, the main character is India itself. It's an adult, violent, sometimes cold and sometimes emotional ride, and it's not to everyone's taste, but it's a heck of a read.

Chandra, a lecturer at Berkeley University in California who commutes between here and Mumbai, is regarded as an outstanding Indian voice in fiction by critics who know a great deal more about books and literature than I do. But despite his academic background and the challenge set by a book of this size, don't be put off. If I can get to the end of it and come out satisfied, anyone can. I have the attention span of a... what was it? Nope, I forget. Anyway, this is, as they say in book reviews aimed more at people of my limited literary ambitions, "a real page turner". Which has always puzzled me, not understanding how a book could be otherwise.

Sacred Games is the third book and the second full-length novel from this author, whose work has been widely acclaimed in the literary world. I'll be hoping to read more of his work, when the images left by this one have finally faded, and I'd recommend it to anyone tempted to explore a part of the Indian experience that the tourist guides quite rightly left out.
3/18/11
Can the content of a single magazine span topics such as how to build a garden shed, through to the discovery of a new marine virus, and smoothly move on to which jet fighter the USA is likely to attack Libya with? Indeed it can, and without any apparent connection to the magazine's title. Odd. And that's my overall opinion of this publication, which really does feature the article on how to build a garden shed, even though it dates back to 2004 and includes a reader comment that it's the worst "how-to" he's ever seen.

Under the very thin excuse that weapons are "tools", the current edition jumps into the field of tabloid speculation, pondering on which weapons, sorry, tools of destruction from America's arsenal will be used to attack Libya, if the Americans happen to choose the same ones as Popular Mechanics and if the Americans attack Libya anyway, which at the time of writing is far from certain. It's all a far cry from building that shed, unless it's bombproof, of course.

The local library has a copy of this magazine which dates back to July 2010, nine months ago at the time of writing, which is about a week after the Japanese earthquake and nuclear disaster. It just happens to be the last issue of this magazine that the library has on its shelves, which is unfortunate for the editors of Popular Mechanics since the cover, which features "The Truth About Energy" with "No More Hype" includes a highlighted "Why Nuke Power Is Safe (Really)".

Inside the magazine, we're told that it's a "myth that nuclear power isn't a safe solution" to the world's energy problems. Coal and petroleum, it continues, are a lot deadlier, especially to coal miners and people living in the Gulf of Mexico. "The amount of radiation put out by a coal plant far exceeds that of a nuclear power plant" says a retired nuclear physicist.

Another source is the deputy associate director of a nuclear lab, who observes that "people are willing to reconsider the benefits of nuclear energy." and the article ends with another criticism of coal plants and the suggestion that all we need is "a few hundred nuclear facilities" to supply almost all our energy needs here in the USA.

The rest of this several-page article tackles all sorts of energy solutions, including ethanol and switchgrass (maybe, one day, but barely feasible), wind power (inconsistent and limited, but worth bearing in mind), algae biofuels (too expensive, too complicated for now), tidal power (too soon to give up, but...), clean coal (don't be stupid), deep geothermal (odds on serious earthquakes are very low) shale (forget it) and finally, solar power (wow, this one actually works, and you get your money back eventually). All this is good stuff and it's presented in a friendly, accessible way, but after the nuclear section, I wouldn't have bothered with the rest if I hadn't been reviewing it. It may all be accurate and useful. I'm no longer interested.

The current online issue does feature an interesting article on toxic plume prediction, with no further praise of the safety of nuclear power in general. It doesn't always screw up, and it can handle bigger science than which bagless upright vacuum cleaner works best (as it happens, another contentious review). I can't see the need for it to get involved in promoting its own energy agenda or speculating on war in the Middle East. If it had stuck to teaching people how to wire their ceiling fittings and grow their lawns, it would have got a better mark from me.
WinRumors
3/17/11
Launched at the end of 2010 by blogger Tom Warren, Winrumors aims to bring us the latest news and gossip about Microsoft and what the little angels up there are up to. It's become a well-known source of MS information in a short time and is well worth checking out whether you're a PC or a Mac.

Latest news at the time of writing is that Microsoft has been selected for the short list of the world's most ethical companies - yes, you read that right - making it into the final 110 and causing MS execs to smirk because, yes, you guessed it, Apple isn't there at all. And neither is Google, which may or may not surprise you. Well, what can I say. Wasn't MS that company that was widely known for pinching other people's ideas and being fined for trying to gain a worldwide OS software monopoly? Hm. Must have been someone else. Funny how one's memory fades as one grows older.

Anyway, it's a cool blog and worth a bookmark if you're at all interested in the goings-on of the tech world.
3/17/11
Over a million free e-books listed, many or most of which are available in common downloadable formats such as EPUB and PDF. An international collection, though note that some books are available only in the USA and for those, a proxy or VPN connection or a friend in the USA would be needed.

Books are listed by title, author and subject, there is an occasional blog, and for those who still think the Americans are a laid-back sort of folk, a list of the books they've banned over the years.

There is also a vast list of external links, covering big repositories of foreign language materials and specialized subjects of all kinds which store hundreds of thousands more titles, at least. This alone would keep you busy for hours, and although some of these links are very old, I picked two at random and they were still active. Which is at least 50% more than I'd expected.

It's a very basic, very efficient site with no graphics except in the blog. Although it looks dull, though, you'd be missing out if you moved on in the search for something more flashy. And unlike some sites of this age and nature, it's updated and in touch with the latest out-of-copyright releases. Very good value.
3/16/11
I only ever drink tea at Starbucks, but I admit that even as an expat Brit I've come to accept that coffee has to be a part of my life here in the USA. It's unavoidable, like obesity and republicans. But I'm no expert coffee brewer, and I've yet to be sucked into the world of home-roasting and degree-perfect temperature monitoring. That's probably never going to happen, not because I can't see the point, but because I like tea too much to go totally native.

This is not to say that tea doesn't have its own science and even mythology, predating coffee as it does and coming as it does from an older, wiser and generally less stressed culture. Do you warm the pot or not? Rotate or invert? Filtered water or tap? These are questions which most modern English tea drinkers resolve by chucking a pyramid bag in a mug, something that I suspect coffee lovers would really like to do but which doesn't suit the medium. For coffee lovers, things are more complex.

According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the perfect coffee has a brew strength of 1.15% to 1.5% of total dissolved solids and an extraction rate of coffee flavor components of 18% to 22%. Not 23%, mark you. And it doesn't stop there. Not only are there the fundamental issues of water quality and temperature, precise altitude and barometric calculations, moon phase and astrological casting, all of which apply at least equally to other beverages (except, perhaps, McDonald's tea, which is equally bad at all altitudes, temperatures and times of the month). There is the question of how you grind the stuff, and how you brew it, and in what. And here, coffee streaks out ahead of everything else in the many choices that abound, and the intense fan support that grows up around each. Do you pump it, squeeze it, allow it to drip, stir it up, let it soak?

Thankfully there is a site such as Brew Methods to help the novitiate through a choice of methods and machinery, at least. Here you can learn to make your brew anywhere from the stove top to the Aeropress, in glorious video provided mainly by YouTube and Vimeo links. This won't teach you all there is to learn about coffee - you'd need to stay awake for more than a few nights to achieve that - but it's a great place to begin if Aunty has given you an Aeropress for your birthday and you don't know whether to push it down or invert it and push it up (opinions vary). And come to think of it, it'll explain to male readers that maybe they aren't using the Aeropress for the purpose for which it was intended. Read the instructions, guys.

Since many of these links head off to places like YouTube, you'll inevitably be sucked into other clips on the same subject. So, a good starting point for those of you who want to become coffee lovers, not just good friends. Me, I'll probably stick to tea when the opportunity arises. No offense, it's just more civilized.

By the way, did you know that over here McDonald's gives endless free drinks refills to restaurant customers? But only of coffee, and sodas. Tea drinkers only get refills of hot water, second and subsequent times around, and have to re-dunk the original tea bag. I'd like to see them try this on where I came from, but oh well, they're foreigners, you know.
3/16/11
If you have an e-reader or an iPad, these folks have you covered.

Heh.

Seriously, these seem to be popular products in the e-reader community, and a good choice given the high cost of buying the manufacturer's recommended ones. Some e-book reader covers cost up to two-thirds of the price of the device, so you do want to shop around.
3/15/11
It's about architecture, and it has Jennifer Aniston on the cover. What else could you possibly want from a magazine?

Inside, there's a photo of Mariah Carey in an extraordinarily tight low-cut dress, standing pictured against the background of... oh... what is it again? Sorry, I got a bit distracted there. And look, there's Sheryl Crow, and Vidal Sassoon, not to mention Sting, and Ralph Lauren, and Norman Foster, also a star but this time an architectural one. And some very expensive homes, obviously, set against blue skies in which you just know that any passing fluffy little clouds have been carefully arranged to set off the foreground perfectly.

If you want your architecture glossy, and enjoy the sort of mags where you get a free tote bag for subscribing, this could well be for you. The sub-heading is "Your home on the web", though if that's true, you probably don't need a free tote bag anyway.

I knocked a point off because a lot of the feature material was in the form of slide shows that simply didn't work in Firefox. And when I switched to IE, I was hit by an obtrusive floating ad for that free tote bag. I lost count of how many times I was offered that bag. I don't want a tote bag, really, thanks. I still have the one from the National Trust, and The World Wildlife Fund, and you can just have too many free tote bags, in my opinion.
3/14/11
If you were to play a recording of Sarah Palin to the Milky Way, how many galaxies would spin to the right and how many to the left? Would there be a red shift or a blue, or would the universe simply carry on, as ignorant as before?

These are the kinds of questions that might be asked by the Galaxy Zoo project, though since it's serious science, the actual questions are rather more serious than that (bah!). The core concept is that supporters in their thousands are being asked to look at images of galaxies, courtesy of the Hubble Telescope, and categorize them in very simple terms (simpler than trying to figure out American politics, that's for sure). Are they spirals or disks, for example, or star- or cigar-shaped?

You see, it has long been known that a large number of small computers in a distributed network may achieve faster and more accurate results collectively than big, single computers can. This is the basis for the famous SETI volunteer project, charged with the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life. Well, amazingly, the same holds true for humans. A "distributed community" of hundreds of thousands of humans may return more accurate results, and faster, than any computer network.

And that's where Galaxy Zoo comes in. To take part, all you need do is devote some time to looking at images of galaxies and other astronomical objects, provided by the Hubble telescope. Not a bad way to spend time, as it is. And then, you'll be asked to categorize each, into a small set of preselected categories. It's just a mouse click, nothing more complex or challenging than that, and you can go just as fast or slow as you please.

The results so far have apparently been outstanding, returning a mass of data unobtainable in other ways, discovering new objects and even being used to validate fundamental theories of physics. It's a measure of the importance of the project that physics books could be rewritten as a result of all this mouse clicking.

It's an enticing project with the chance to be a part of something far greater, in a community of the like-minded. And although it was the first project of its kind, it has since been joined by similar projects evaluating all sorts of astronomical data, at a group of different but connected websites (see below). The whole thing is co-ordinated by the Citizen Science Alliance, which in turn is funded by scientific and astronomic organizations, NASA, and a mainly-American group of international universities.

Take a look - just browsing Hubble images is a pleasure, and you'll be making a contribution to science, something that few of us would otherwise be able to do.

Sources and other sites of interest:

http://www.zooniverse.org (All related projects)
http://citizensciencealliance.org (funding)
http://www.planethunters.org/
http://www.milkywayproject.org/
http://www.moonzoo.org/
http://www.oldweather.org/
http://solarstormwatch.com/
3/13/11
I'm looking for a silent generator, or at least a very quiet one. There are a few quiet ones around, but in the main these devices are big and noisy and very unpopular with your neighbors, or your campground and RV'ing mates, so they're best not used except in emergencies. Even then, they're smelly and can be dangerous at the very cheap end of the market, and you have to carry a fair amount of gas, and so on.

So the Humless Generator range should have a huge market. It's expensive, at just under $500, but not that expensive compared with the competition. It doesn't provide much power, and it doesn't provide it for long, but it's small and portable and yes, it's silent.

The only problem is that it's not a generator, though it seems that US law allows it to be called such anyway. It's a lithium battery in a box, with output sockets. So it doesn't generate anything on its own, and has to be charged up when the power runs out. Is this your definition of a generator? It's not mine, I'm afraid, making this a wasted trip because that's what I was looking for.

The range has some useful qualities: the 'generators' may be recharged by solar panel, or car lighter socket, or hand-crank (15 minutes of cranking gets you enough power to light an LED), or virtually any other 12v supply. And if you're in full sunshine, the charging is fast, too. But you still need an external source of power, which of course costs extra in one way or another.

The battery itself is impressive, as it keeps a full charge for months on end and recharges very fast. If you need a quick source of around 400w for a fairly short time, and you're away from your vehicle and/or don't already have an inverter, this could be a good choice.

But off the top of my head, I can only see one situation in which this would really score, and that's somewhere out in the equatorial regions where there is constant sunshine to recharge it with an external solar panel. It's a pretty narrow niche though, and if you're looking for a genuine generator, you're going to have to look elsewhere.

Amazon has this at the "Sale Price" of $495, identical to the full retail price of $495. Buy.com was the cheapest deal I found, at $449. I couldn't find any user reviews. A lot of sites are listing this with the same promotional text, so my guess is that they haven't actually seen a real one to review.
3/12/11
Long before David Icke fell off his TV presenter's chair and banged his head, there were people who believed the world really was run by invisible aliens from the planet Zog (or aliens from the invisible planet Zog, I'm not too sure but I don't think it really matters that much). They weren't as public about it as they are today, but then there was no worldwide web, and they were left to walk the streets carrying "the end is nigh" signs and fervently hoping it wasn't. Today, though, things are looking up for the watchers of the skies.

The modern way to communicate with our masters from Beyond is through 'channeling', a respectable buzzword for what used to be called 'mediumship' and involved communing with the recently departed, not the recently arrived. Today, it seems that everyone can channel someone from the galactic federation who has just dropped by on his way to the fifth dimension, where, I'm told, there's a rather good vegetarian restaurant and Douglas Adams is alive and well. And why not? Let's be honest, the world is pretty messed up and we can use as many messages of goodwill as we can get. Even if they do come from multi-dimensional thinkers from another galaxy, whose thoughts, being multi-dimensional, can't be understood by anyone who can only experience three dimensions at a time. You and I, for example.

But even if the messages aren't clear, we can always come to a site such as this and read about the extra-terrestrial, extra-galactic and perhaps even Heavenly folks who are out there wishing us well and by and large, look forward to 2012 when we can all get those "The End Is Nigh" signs out again.

According to recent articles, all these messages from beyond are being channeled in greater and greater amounts by more and more people around the world in recent times. It may be mediumship, it may be astral travel, it may be telepathy, though more likely it's that "click to send to MySpace" button at the top of the page. Who cares? Outer space, MySpace, it's all owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Anyway, is all this likely to harm the unwary? I doubt it. This sort of material has been around for years, some of it well into the mainstream - Fortean Times, for example. It has an attraction for teens, who are looking for answers that the rest of us know they aren't going to find, and perhaps it appeals to some more adult folks for whom the confines of real life are too restrictive. When the President and the Prime Minister have no solutions, and you don't believe in a deity of any sort, then why not believe in angels, or invisible messengers from the cosmos? Both are the same, more or less, except the former, being from Heaven, naturally speak English.

I'm sorry but I don't see that this is a cult hangout; it's not remotely hypnotic and it's not in the least original, or organized, or convincing, even to someone as routinely disoriented as myself. But I still do have a serious concern about it, and it's this: real life is vastly more mysterious and interesting than anything most of us can imagine, and a person is going to miss out on that, if she spends too much time believing in this.

Take a look at the state of 'real' science today. Go read about quantum physics, parallel universes (yes, Virginia, there are infinite Santa Clauses), particle theories, cosmology, and maybe even go look at the actual stars up there, if you're not so confined to a polluted environment that you can no longer see them. We live in a 'real' world that is infinitely vast and infinitely tiny and we have not seen, nor can we ever see, what lies at the very smallest and largest extremes of it all. We can almost see the beginning now, which is pretty astonishing in itself, but we can never see the end. In all this wonder lie infinite possibilities, without needing to invent some new ones, and we have hardly begun to learn. Do we need a Galactic Federation out there to give us hope and a sense of wonder in our environment? If nothing else, it's a good question. Not answered by me here, though, and frankly, not by this site, either.
3/2/11
Given our experience with amazing berries that are (inaccurately) claimed to make you lose weight, should we take seriously something called Miracle Berries and which contain the magic ingredient Miraculin?

It turns out that we should, because for once, the claims for this miracle product seem to be true. Unfortunately, though, the weight loss industry, currently expanding faster than a Californian's waistline, isn't going to make a cent out of it. Not directly, anyway.

You see, what this berry does is to drastically deaden your sense of taste. I don't mean that you'll suddenly be filling your home with those ghastly Thomas Kinkade paintings of country cottages in the mist, it's not that kind of change of taste. It's the other sort, and Miraculin apparently makes unpalatable food taste good, by amongst other things, making sour things taste sweet. Suddenly you can eat lemons and think you're eating oranges.

The result of this, apparently, is that foods which you previously couldn't eat because they were cheap and nasty are suddenly acceptable, thus increasing your choices and allowing you to eat much more, if you're currently limited in what you can afford. You can also go sugar-free and not notice, since the chemical makes more or less anything taste sweet.

The original use was in Africa, by people who used these berries and were then able to eat previously unpalatable grasses - even straw - to extend their available diets when times were hard. The alternative possibilities in the west are endless, and I'm not sure whether we should be getting excited about this or very, very scared.

By the bye, I'm not endorsing the product on this site as I haven't used it and there are competing products. I just couldn't find a URL that Sitejabber could accept, that wasn't representing a retailer of some proprietary product. You should do some further research, including discussing this with your doctor, before changing your diet in any way and for any reason.

And definitely, stay off the straw and cardboard soup until you're really sure it's that good an idea for you.

Here's an interesting article suggesting this berry holds the potential to cure world hunger:

http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/03/miracle-berry/

Note that the writer suggests that the effects could be "just huge" and he's not just referring to those American waistlines. Or is he...
2/28/11
If you're one of those people who just can't have enough original, top-range designer sneakers and trades up every time someone at Nike sneezes, what do you do to get the edge on your sneaker-wearing mates and be the first on the block with something truly different?

The answer might be here. Kickbars are shoelace clips, which you thread your laces through and mount on the top of your sneakers for that discreet touch of class. Made from white or yellow gold, the basic Kickbars come encrusted with white or black diamonds but you may also choose sapphires or rubies for an extra-femine touch.

The company, which is based in L. A. by the way (who guessed?), is conscious of the bloody trail left by many of the gems emanating from the African diamond trade and certify that every effort is made to keep so-called "combat diamonds" out of their products.

Clever and creative wearers have discovered that the threading technique lends itself to wearing Kickbars around the neck, wrist and ankles, too, so you can splash out and wear them all over yourself and for all occasions.

If that's got you all excited, don't despair at finding no prices on the site itself. That's because the market in gems and gold fluctuates constantly. But as a rough rule of thumb at the time of writing, expect to pay somewhere in the region of $7000 for your Kickbar.

Hopefully it's also supplied with a map illustrating the many places in and around L. A. where you'd be crazy to wear one and hope to get out alive. From what I hear, you'll need it.
2/28/11
The Razzies are, to give them their full glorious title, the Golden Raspberry Awards and each year on the day before Hollywood awards itself the Oscars, they attempt a sober counterbalance to all the hype. Here you will find the worst of everything, from Worst Movie, to Worst Eye-gouging Misuse of 3-D (new for 2010, but I suspect, an award which will become more hotly contested each year from now on in).

Of course, it's just a joke. Isn't it? I'll let you decide, though your opinion is likely to be colored according to whether you sat through "The Last Airbender" or not. In any case, and to take it all seriously for a moment, it's a sobering reminder of the obscene amounts of money spent by Hollywood in pursuit of an absolute dud.

Sadly not many of the awardees take it seriously enough, though famously Sandra Bullock did turn up to collect her Golden Raspberry last year, before winning one of those Oscar things the following night at that other place (incidentally, did you know the theater where the Oscars are presented is in the middle of a shopping mall? They have to cover over the store windows and watch their camera angles, so as not to accidentally give anyone free advertising. I love this country).

The site goes beyond the annual awards, too, recognizing the many cinematic train-wrecks released every week and postulating on the prospects of those to come. No actor or actress is immune, no Hollywood sacred cow uncooked. External links also take you to the latest comment on the blogs and in the online media of the moment, so you never need lose track of the best movies to avoid on your weekend night out.

And at the prices of movie seats, not to mention the cost of popcorn, this is crucial information for any cinema goer. Recommended, if only to reassure you that you're not the only one who thinks Nicholas Cage sucks.
2/28/11
Awesome accessories for your Kindle, Nook or other e-reader!

How many people have you known, besides yourself, who yearn to experience the subtle, musty scents of real paper while curled up with their e-readers?

Yep. Anyway, just in case, here is a range of spray scents to bring back happy memories - or just memories - of those days when you could read a book for more than a month without having to plug it into a wall socket, and it was safe to fall asleep in bed with the knowledge that your half-finished paperback would still be only half-finished the following day (see http://www.sitejabber.com/reviews/kindle.amazon.com#1).

The range currently includes handy, pocket-sized containers of New Book Smell, Classic Musty Smell, and the fragrantly titled "Eau You Have Cats", which must surely be the precursor to a line of scents for animal lovers everywhere.

Sadly there are no free samples on offer, though prices are very reasonable given the innovative nature of the products and the admiring glances you'll get from other train travelers when you pull one of these out and give your Kindle a good soaking.

Although there was apparently some issue with the New Book and New Car scents getting mixed up in an early batch, things seem to be sorted out now and I look forward to more choices in the range soon. Perhaps, the scent of your favorite reading location? The opportunities are endless. Your own custom scents, based on sending air samples to the company, could well form the basis for unique and very personal gifts.

And how about this for an idea: are you a newspaper lover? Just think, with a duo pack of scent and black dye you might reproduce both the smell and touch experiences of handling real newsprint. Just spray both on your Kindle and rub it between your hands. Brilliant!

Although too many Silicon Valley startups smell fishy from the beginning, this Eastern European concept has the chance to last longer than the time it takes for the scent of "Eau de Chat" to fade. Well worth a look, and a recommendation to all lovers of old and smelly books everywhere.

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