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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

2/2/11
If you're a big KISS fan, and I think this is a band which you're either a big fan of, or not, then you'll want to visit this online store. Although looking pretty basic and almost embarrassingly Web 1.0, it has a surprisingly wide range of KISS-related merchandise on offer including just about everything you could imagine, from tacky keychains to rare collectors cards to used drumheads and sticks from KISS tours.

As if that weren't enough, here you will find what may be a unique celebrity photo page. Not that celeb photo pages are by any means rare, but it's not often that you see one in which all the celebs, male or female, have been lovingly transformed into KISS members with Photoshop.

Perhaps the only surviving photo in the world of Buffy The Vampire Slayer made up as Gene Simmons can be found here, not to mention a hilarious Britney Spears and a pretty impressive elaboration on a sexy pose from the X-files stars.

This is a very old page, at least in web terms, and I'm not even sure that there's a link to it anywhere, any more. It's one of those little web back-alleys that you sometimes stumble across by accident, and which is remembered only by Google, though even there it appears in the listings only by chance and not necessarily where you'd expect.

There's only a handful of images here, but it may be the only one there is. And each one is a gem.

The page is at:

http://www.kissarmywarehouse.com/kissfreaks.com/features/celebsinmakeup/

If you want to find out how to do it, and who wouldn't, the artist also provided a tutorial, here:

http://www.digitaltropic.com/tutorials/kissmakeup.htm

This sort of creative inspiration is what the web was once about, back in the days when it was a venue for all, regardless of talent or taste. Sadly, those days may be gone, but pages like this deserve to survive. If only because nobody in their right minds would publish anything like it, again.
2/1/11
This is a unique musical experience. Featuring, promoting and showcasing music and bands from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia it covers a vast geographical area, and a sound palette that's sometimes familiar but often strange.

The range of genres covers everything from reggae (including a Christian Orthodox-Reggae band) through electronica and jazz, dance, pop, rock and even English and French language sections. It's all served up from UCLA in California, too, so the media loads and streams much faster than you'd expect. Every artist has several complete tracks to listen to, and sound quality is great.

I'll leave you to read the reviews and descriptions of bands for yourself, but note that they're often very un-western and need to be read in their own social context. Videos may be even more fascinating, unintentionally throwing some light on aspects of a society and countries that we seldom if ever see. And there are many videos here.

Some comments are particularly striking, for example:

"The vocals were really monotonous. It was all accompanied by a loud, head-splitting roar of sound. Nonetheless I really liked what I saw! That atmosphere was especially good; this music is a fitting soundtrack to the nation's growing dependence on booze and drugs."

And an equally telling:

"The workings of popular music in Russia are so unfairly centralized - and unadventurous - that the emergence of sub-genres like twee pop is no great surprise. Countless musicians, far from media attention or the middle of a map, are aware from the outset that any likelihood of success is minimal. Coming to terms with that grim reality, they turn instead to a simpler, smaller aesthetic, one often associated with their childhood. A celebration begins of minor scales, so to speak, and a deliberately tinny amateurism."

This is not a single musical culture but many, encompassing both urban and natural wildernesses and discovering its own voices while drawing from the influences of everything around it. It's fine to mix reggae with hip-hop with Indian or French music, or traditional Chanson with electronics, throw in some Russian lyrics and see what comes out of the mix. Don't be surprised to find a St. Petersburg outfit with an English name and a fondness for fake Chinese sneakers, singing in French.

The site is "named after a famous Soviet novel, celebrating the heroic efforts of Siberian oil workers during World War Two, an awfully long way from comfort or safety", a choice that might seem oddly alien to us, but I think you might understand a little better if you take the time to do some reading and listening here. Most of the text is in good English, though there are slips into Russian here and there which don't spoil anything. If you can read any Cyrillic it helps, but not that much. Don't worry about it.

I keep wanting to write, here, listen to this one... listen to that one... if you don't mind your vocals in other languages and want your music to be seriously indie, this is a rare find that deserves some attention.
1/31/11
The Travel Rosary has been designed to counter what appears to be a common problem experienced by Catholic drivers: there they are, trying to pray the Rosary in their hands whilst at the same time trying to steer their cars. This clearly presents the strong possibility that they'll get a lot closer to God in a lot less time than they might have planned, or at best they'll have to start over later if driving safely seems suddenly appropriate.

Enter the Travel Rosary, which is a steering wheel cover with the Rosary beads and crucifix cleverly embedded in the surface, so that the driver may pray the Rosary whilst driving and still - as the site puts it - remain a safe driver. To accompany this claim, there is a photo of a safe driver using the Travel Rosary, driving along with just his thumb on the wheel so that the only the appropriate bead may be counted.

The Travel Rosary is supplied with a CD featuring a narrative of all the Rosary prayers, accompanied by piano music, a great partner, the site explains, if you are traveling alone. And now, you also get a TROKK, which is a holder for your cold drink. This has a further decade of Rosary beads around the top, and it:

"Keeps your hand dry, your drink cold, and reminds you to pray the Rosary while enjoying a soda, beer, or bottle of water."

Presumably this is not for using in the car, or one hopes not, anyway. Having both thumbs in use at once wouldn't really be that good an idea.

So there it is. The combinations of parts for the Travel Rosary are pretty impressive, I have to say. Aside from different materials for the cover itself, you may choose from a plethora of saints, crucifix styles and even colors of beads. And at $45 for a custom-made product, it's not at all unreasonably priced, even though there's nothing else to compare it with.

If it makes concerned Catholic drivers out there much safer on the road, it's a small price to pay; they can steer in a straight line and leave a higher authority to do the moving in mysterious ways. To be honest I wasn't even aware that this was a problem until finding the site and I don't think I've ever seen anyone trying to read a Rosary and steer, myself. So, well done to these folks for establishing what must surely be a niche market that holds a lot of potential, and for making the rest of us feel safer on the roads too.
Frontarmy.com
1/31/11
FRONT is a UK-based 'lads' magazine of a type I don't think we're graced with in the USA. Qualifying more for an 'immature' than a 'mature' rating, it features life-enhancing articles about semi-naked girls who'd disappear entirely if placed in front of a wall at a tattoo parlor, alongside guys who aren't able to stand up without intravenous energy drinks to counter the alcohol, and... well that's about it, really. Needless to say, it's NSFW just about everywhere unless you can pass it off as your kid's mag and he's asked you to read something in it, especially.

It's a teenage affair in all respects, except for the nudity in the main edition, which probably makes it an adult magazine in the eyes of the law even though few adults would find anything coherent enough to hold their attention. Except for the gratuitously semi-naked girls, of course, though note that The iPad and iPhone versions have no nudity, so as not to distract users from texting while driving.

In the USA the legal limit for alcohol consumption is still 21, hence a mag devoted largely to teen partying and getting wasted couldn't run here. The American attitude to mass teen excess, which in the USA is called "college", isn't entirely conservative but it's also nowhere nearly as relaxed as it is in Europe. American teens must look across the Atlantic and sigh in anticipation of their impending adulthood, those of them who still seem sober enough to concentrate for that long.

It's an odd publication, because if it wasn't apparently aimed at the upper end of the teen age group as evidenced by the vulgarity of the content and the aforementioned semi-clothed young ladies, it would be hard to guess the target audience. If there are adults who still behave like this once they've escaped the formal requirements of education and actually have to get up in the mornings on more than an occasional basis, then I can only imagine that they're a dark and secretive group which only emerges in the dark of night, on weekends.

They're alien folk, it seems, who try not to go beyond four letters per word in the interest of not confusing their mates or wasting good drinking time, have mates instead of BFFs, and spell 'best' with two 'z's anyway. Their girlfriends, or 'totty', I should say, can't afford jeans and have to stick short pieces of black adhesive tape on their breasts because that's how their boyfriends are used to recognizing them in magazines like FRONT, which, and I'm not sure I mentioned this earlier, is, like, awesome, guys. Check it out.
1/31/11
Computer manufacturers never go much beyond some too-pretty wallpaper screens featuring their own logos or views that you don't want to see every day anyway. The notable exception was the default Windows XP screen, which was at least relaxing to look at and didn't make any overt attempt to remind you that you couldn't afford a Mac. But until recently Windows has still been shipped with the tiny tiled images that shipped more than ten years ago, and all this encourages people to go look elsewhere for a bit of desktop eye candy.

There are thousands of sites out there offering free desktop wallpapers, but most simply copy the same old collections round and round in a never-ending circle of banner ads and popups and fake anti-virus alerts and Congratulations that You Really ARE the 10,000th Visitor. This one is different, and better, and with Firefox and Adblock Plus running, I didn't see a single ad here.

Surprisingly, given the claim of more than 10,000 images here, I would estimate that more than 90% of the ones I viewed were new to me. And that included the 3D range, which on most sites is prone to repeating some very common selections, and even the Girls section, the first couple of hundred images I felt obliged to view for review purposes.

Although most wallpapers anywhere are suited for all, no such site is going to be entirely family-friendly and some parental caution is advised in certain areas. Especially the Anime section, which if you don't know anything about the genre, might surprise you with its many typical cartoon depictions of Japanese schoolgirls. Students in Japanese comics tend to be considerably less warmly attired than here in the west and are inexplicably clumsy, needing to bend over to pick up their dropped books far more than you'd think. It's a Japanese thing, and don't ask me to explain any further because I don't think I can, not here.

Obviously the Girls section is off-limits for kids to a very large extent, with many images that would be Not Safe For Work in most American workplaces, many more in some workplaces, a few in a few workplaces but none which would raise as much as an eyebrow in the local repair shop or garage. There's no Men section, a sign that sexual equality in the workplace has some distance to go even in these politically correct times.

Otherwise there's a lot to choose from here, and the only reason I knocked a point off was the way in which images are delivered. Although most if not all are offered at a range of sizes, previewing anything beyond thumbnail size requires downloading the largest possible file of the set. This is fine on a faster machine and connection, but really unnecessary when you just want a look, not necessarily a save, and not at that size. And if you spend a great deal of time here, you might want to clear out your temporary internet files to recover some space.
Weishare.cloudapp.net
1/30/11
Microsoft has long offered a calculation which is aimed at showing you just how much of a performer your Windows machine is. It's called the Windows Experience Index (WEI) and if you have Windows 7, you'll be presented with it in your face when you visit your computer's properties screen. The range is from 1 to 7.9, and shortly after Windows 7 was introduced, even Microsoft couldn't build a machine capable of hitting the top figure.

They did predict, though, that it would only be a brief time before that figure was met and they were right. Advances over the months have been such that the magical 7.9 score is now met by many configurations, and not all of them are six-core, twelve-gigabyte gaming beasts. Some mid-range setups are no longer the pedestrian Word-plus-Excel boxes they once were, and there's still a certain satisfaction in building your own PC and hitting the high spot, though the bragging rights aren't anywhere as exclusive any more.

If you want to get yourself into the WEI league tables, this is the site to go to do it. It's the home to a little bit of free software called WEI Share which grades your machine and then allows you to upload your configuration and score, both here and to your Facebook pages, and yes, you can have your moment in the spotlight even if you only get a pathetic 1 on the scale, which my notebook does, but only because there's no rating lower than 1 anyway.

The site requires Microsoft Silverlight, and prompts you to download and install the browser plug-in if you don't already have it. After I did so, with Firefox, the plug-in immediately crashed, twice, so it's probably best to restart your browser first. You won't really notice anything special even afterward, but it's essential if you want to be able to view the site at all.

Once you do get in, you'll be able to see the current top of the league, sorted by processors, memory, video memory and so forth, along with the configurations of the machines and the manufacturers' specifications, if appropriate. I am not entirely sure this is all legitimate, however, since when I visited the top machine was an Asus EEE, which is a netbook with miserable graphics and not much going for it at all. Does it really get a 7.9? Apparently, and there it is, up above the Intel core i5's and i7's and even the odd Xenon (6 cores and if you have to ask how much, you can't afford it).

Well, I don't know what to make of all this, really. The list doesn't seem consistent enough to give the figures much credibility, and now that it seems fairly easy to reach the magic numbers it doesn't seem like a challenge of great interest either to PC users or onlookers. If it were possible to use the same methods and scale to test other operating systems, so that, perhaps, a Linux-based PC might score 9 out of 7.9 compared to the same machine running Windows, that would be more interesting. But frankly unless you've got time and money on your hands and not a lot else worth trying to impress your friends with, I don't really see the point.
1/29/11
Moodscope could be a useful tool for depression sufferers and is certainly worth considering as a part of a support network, as long as your social and psychological profile fits its audience profile.

I have some concerns, however. Although the founder's hope is that it will raise awareness of depression as a serious and common issue that is frequently marginalized by the British health system, it may also have the opposite effect. Major depressive disorder is a serious medical condition and may require deep, persistent professional treatment; but there are too many skeptical people who will look at this site and take it as proof that the illness is something that can easily be cured without any professional intervention, just by filling out a few flashcards. And that's something to be avoided at all costs, since any chance to minimize the seriousness of mental illnesses tends to lead to less care and less belief in the existence of the illnesses in the first place.

I don't wish to take anything away from the idea or the execution, and if people have supportive friends - by no means a given, in depressive cases - and are not in urgent need of professional medical or psychological support, this could be a big help in learning to understand the nature of their own mood swings.

Many depressives will also become dependent on anything that seems to offer help of relief, and I feel this site should take itself more seriously and recognize that this is not just another area in which to develop a commercial internet scheme. If it becomes successful, it will have a responsibility to the people who come to trust, or place their hopes, in it. Part of that responsibility is to make sure new arrivals see a message advising them to call the emergency services if they are having suicidal feelings, and that the phone number of at least one voluntary helpline, perhaps the Samaritans, is there in plain view. Another part is to offer some help and advice to those for whom the site doesn't work at all, and who may become more depressed as a result.

I am also concerned that not enough thought has been given to accessibility. The front page offers an explanatory video clip, nothing more. Almost everything else is presented by way of cool, web 2.0-style minimalist animations. None of this is even visible to people using browsers which are customized for accessibility. Depression and mood issues are not confined to those who will see and appreciate the design style of the site more than the content and older and more challenged members of the community are particularly vulnerable. I don't think enough consideration has been given to a wide enough target audience here.

It's all good, as far as it goes, and anything that helps is welcome. But there are already mature resources online, and communities which function as self-help groups. This needs to be bringing something new to the table aside from what is basically a gadget with smart graphics, in my opinion, and be very careful not to minimalize the dangers of the illness, nor target too narrow an audience. Otherwise all those it might potentially help, but who currently wouldn't feel comfortable here, are going to feel left out. And that's a feeling nobody wants to encourage in someone who is feeling down and out as it is.

Worth a visit, and perhaps a revisit sometime down the line, and worth using if you have the friendly support you will need, already. If you don't, there are other places to seek help with depressive illness so don't give up looking for people who will understand.
1/29/11
A simple, 1Mb application that adds up to nine extra buttons to the top right of your Windows windows. Options, on a per-window basis, include minimizing to the taskbar tray or a common tray, rolling up and down to a bar at the top of the screen, pinning to the top, varying transparency, pushing to the back and minimizing to a box in the corner of the screen.

All these are Windows options not normally available, so there are no unexpected surprises, it's just the clever application of existing Windows routines. And that means the buttons will automatically match whatever your current theme is, too.

If you use a lot of windows simultaneously it's worth a look, as it's free, though unless you're a power user it has limited value but still looks really cool. Install it anyway, and pretend you really have a use for it. Nobody's going to know.
1/29/11
Yes, it's a dreadful name for a website, and it'll be a pain for anyone who can't type, but it gets better, right?

Before I go on, and for those who don't know, it's traditional for a reporter to use the Latin word 'sic' (meaning 'thus') in brackets, to indicate that a reprinted error in spelling or grammar belongs to the original material, and isn't something introduced by a typo during the subsequent reproduction. It's a useful thing to know, as well as distancing the reporter from the content of the report. You might find it useful.

There's a lot of interesting information on this site, such as

"If Prince William would of (sic) married before his 25th birthday he would of (sic) need (sic) his grandmother's (Queen Elizabeth) consent."

"The day has been declared a Royal bank holiday give (sic) the public a three day week due to Easter Monday."

From the Grasping At Straws Department and under the heading of "Everything you need to know about the venue" comes

"This is an ideal location for the royal couple as Westminster Abbey is rich in royal history."

Anyone reeling from that information blast can expect to read much more, since

"Prince William and Kate have had non-stop press coverage in the news since the happy couple announce (sic) their engagement in November"

And

"With the royal wedding date now set for 29th April 2011, media houses (?) would (sic) definately (sic) be in a frenzy to put up a good coverage of the event. Camera crews will definately (sic) be falling over each other to get a vantage positions (sic) at Westminster Abbey, Bukingham (wait, what?) Palace and the streets in between. The event is definately (sic) one to bid for (eh?) and I am sure we only have to wait a while to know who will be the official broadcasters."

"One BBC viewer comemted (sic) 'I'm hoping the ceremony will be televised as I have never seen a royal ceremony as I was only born in 1979.'"

Well, quite.

Also,

"Kate and Prince William discovered a romance that would lead onto (sic) a royal wedding and the biggest media frenzy in the UK and global (sic) alike."

So, on to the big day, and

"Kate is rumoured to be spending her last night as a single women (sic) at the Goring in Belgravia, central London"

And

"Royal Wedding ceremony is going to take place at Westminster Abby (sic) at 11.00am"

The dress?

"Latest new (sic) implies that Bruce Oldfield could be designing Kate's dress"

"Prince William also continues to follow in his parent's (sic) footsteps by taking interest in varies (sic) causes..."

"Prince William likes to contribute to charities that help disadvantaged young children and is currently a patronage (sic) to 19 charities..."

"The pair tried to keep their relationship a secret for as long as possible but their relations (sic) was (sic) confirmed when they were spotted kissing..."

"More recently Prince William has toured Auckland and Wellington on behalf of him (sic) mother..."

(this last is accompanied by a rare red-eyed flash photo of the Prince, which given the thousands of normal shots out there, must have been quite hard to find. As might have been the shot of Kate with her hand in front of her face, and the one of Kate and Harry with the latter apparently holding his crotch and grinning)

History:

"Although price (sic) William came from a privileged background, his mother Princess Diana wanted William and his younger brother Harry to lead a normal life..."

But alas,

"his parents got divorced and his mother was tragically died when he was 15 years old."

And afterward?

"St James's Palace is an option for Prince William and Kate Middleton as they are keen to live a normal life... "

Well, normal is relative, I guess.

And lastly,

"The wife of a British king is automatically a queen so one day Kate Middleton will become the Englands sixth Queen Catherine "

The England must be looking forward to that.

Seriously, this is dreadful stuff and I've left out the missing periods (full stops), punctuation errors and omissions, lack of capitalization and less serious mistakes.

This is presumably all about making money from the event, and there's a merchandise page which is "live on site and ready to buy." There's nothing actually for sale, but there will apparently be a range of items including "mouse matt's".

The whole thing is wrapped up in a basic Wordpress template with lots of purple and gold and very little else.

The site is designed and apparently owned by a company called Igniyte (www.igniyte.co.uk), which is in the business of making profitable lead-creating websites for clients and getting them into the Google listings with great SEO (search engine optimization). The company is previously noted for its work in building the official website for the World Curry Festival, at www.worldcurryfestival.com, a venue which, I feel you will agree, takes all the excitement, color and variety of the subject and ignores it entirely.

This time, though, things will be better, because

"Our team have been working hard on TheRoyalWeddingWilliamKate.com avid link building and on site SEO undertaking extensive research and with With just a couple of weeks work behind this professional website we have already reached page one on Google for certain relevant key words."

Well, I tried a couple of educated guesses at key words, such as "royal wedding" and "william and kate", and this site wasn't anywhere to be seen. So maybe I picked the wrong words, or it's slipped a bit. Or maybe, this is exactly what it seems to be from looking at the underlying code - a basic Wordpress blog, with a standard free SEO plug-in, not much content and a lot of hopes.

So I can hear you asking, why did I pick on this one to savage, in particular? Well, I guess first and foremost I'm English, and this is a dreadful way to promote the country and its Royal Family. Secondly, it was actually featured in the current edition of the UK magazine, 'Web User', which started off getting it right:

"This online celebration of the Royal Wedding looks a little naff at first"

But then blows it with

"there's plenty here to feed your excitement... as the big day draws near, there's sure to be more content added."

And even without any merchandise in the "live on site and ready to buy" store, no mouse matt's, even, the magazine still awards this thing three stars out of five. So much for standards.

To cap it all, the site claims to be "an unofficial sponsor" of the Royal Wedding. Now maybe I have this wrong, but since when did the Royal Family need sponsorships? Are we to see Prince William wearing a Marlboro logo on the day? Come on then, guys, explain how you're sponsoring this event, because you say,

"We are an unofficial sponsor and supporter of the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. We aim to provide a wide variety of relevant information and products related to the occassion (sic)"

Darn, they didn't even get that bit right.

If this is the normal standard set by English websites, and this is good enough for three stars with the promise of more in a leading national magazine, then don't be surprised that the USA continues to lead the way in the English-language web. It's especially inexcusable because it's the Royals we're talking about here, and just because they don't cut off people's heads any more doesn't mean just any commoner can go around mis-spelling them. It's not right, and it wouldn't have happened in Victoria's day, I can tell you.
1/28/11
What would Jesus play? I mean, if he had an X-box? That's broadly the question which the reviews on this site attempt to address. It may seem obvious to the rest of us that games with a 'mature' rating aren't family-friendly, or that a game such as Doom 3, with a storyline entirely about demons from Hell, is a no-go zone. Ghostbusters is likely to be another, but these are just assumptions until someone has actually played the games and assessed them on behalf of their readers. Are there gray areas, games which have messages of peace whilst being superficially violent? Is the low level of morality in an adult game still acceptable due to some other redeeming feature?

Most reviewers tackle this pretty well, without slipping into moralizing themselves and simply rating the games according to a fairly rigid points system. You might take issue with some of the scales used; for example, a low-cut dress or a character sleeping in their underwear might not worry you, but still draw a points penalty from a reviewer more sensitive to the irreligious nature of these things. You might consider the implication that characters are living outside of wedlock to be insignificant in the modern world, and object to the number of points knocked off for their doubtful morality. In most cases, the reviewers temper their personal opinions, mark up their scores, and let you decide for yourself. I only found one reviewer who, after playing a mature-rated game known for extremes of all kinds for many hours, declared himself disgusted by it.

In the main, it's a worthy attempt to show games in a different light. You might laugh at a Christian struggling to avoid admitting that an ultra-violent shooter is actually quite fun, but at least they're attempting to tackle these thorny problems rather than sweeping them under the carpet. Do young Christian players enjoy GTA3 despite the gratuitous violence? Darn right they do, and the reviewer manages to find some positive family values even here. The Call of Duty series, though the soldiering depicted is hardly of the Onward Christian variety, is hugely popular and pretending it's not would be embarrassingly transparent.

Unfortunately most of the PC reviews are for older games, but the console game reviews aren't and neither is the site forum; that's very active, and gives you further insight into how Christian players comment about their own interests in these games. There is a 'shoot-em-up' topic, and notably the most-wanted games are all in some way related to violence and war.

Amongst the excited comment about Call of Duty, a lone member suggesting that a paintball game fulfils the same purpose whilst being family-friendly and educational, is very much a voice in the wilderness. But he's there, and nobody flames him for his contribution, which is a lot more than he could expect from the average gaming forum. Besides, he's almost certainly as close to answering the 'what would Jesus play' question as anyone can get here.
1/27/11
An international and, for a change, Euro-centric look at notebooks and laptops in highly detailed, professional reviews. Notebookcheck.net provides both in-house reviews and links to those on external sites, and covers what I imagine is the widest range of notebooks and laptops to be found in one place. I would be wary of their purchasing guide, though, which didn't return a good selection of machines to meet my own fairly simple query, so you should, as always, look to more than one source before you purchase. However, the reviews themselves are deep and seriously intended to give prospective buyers the maximum amount of relevant information. Gaming machines are evaluated using gaming benchmarks, and business machines aren't; amazing how something as simple as that can be overlooked by some review venues.

If you're in the USA this may be your first exposure to some of the most remarkable laptops out there. Take time, if you have it, to look at the mySN XMG U700 Ultra, for example, which leaves the likes of Alienware standing but demands a price of up to 6000 Euros for the best configuration. And if you find the name a little tough to recall, there's always the almost-identical and closely related, wonderfully-titled, DevilTech HellMachine.

There's also a useful FAQ about laptops in general, with helpful information on graphics cards and CPUs and so on, and finally, a library of thousands of reviews of every laptop imaginable, in every language they could find.

I could do without the sidebar and Google adsense advertising, which is often apparently unrelated and unwelcome, but just ignore it and concentrate on the content and you'll find much here to enjoy.
1/26/11
The last years of the 20th century were marked, musically, by a phenomenon that seemed poised to change the face of society yet survives now only as a vague and implausible memory - The Spice Girls. Not the first all-girl band in the world but still, at least in financial terms, the most successful ever, they caught the mood of the moment with the rallying cry of Girl Power, launched a career in which their very first not-terribly-well-sung song became their anthem, and sold hundreds of union-jack minidresses.

The five Spice Girls, Ginger, Baby, Posh, Scary and Sporty, couldn't have had a higher media profile or been a more perfect fit for the times. Yet having embarked on a Beatle-like path to fame and considerable fortune, they faded away leaving only the memory of Geri's tiny dresses, Emma's... er... tiny dresses, and everyone's general inability to sing very well together, which at the time made little or no difference at all. Posh married Becks, became even posher, and is now a legendary fashionista and media celebrity. Ginger lives quietly in England and writes childrens books. Baby is a TV and radio presenter, Scary is a TV personality and recording artist, and Sporty has sold more than 10 million records as a solo artist and holds the third position for most United Kingdom number-ones by a female artist.

For those of us who were there the first time around and remember, the Spice Girls captured a mood and an enthusiasm for life that comparative boy bands didn't come close to. Sadly, though, this official site died in 2008 along with the band, and is more of a dusty memorial than anything else. But it's worth a look, just as a reminder, and it might tempt you to look further at an episode in England's musical history that almost entirely lacked substance or significance but was above all, fun.
Ongo
1/26/11
Perhaps as a result of the less-than-enthusiastic response of surfers to advertising on the web, a new financial model has developed for publishers: don't sell any ad space, but instead charge your readers for the privilege of not seeing any ads.

This is much simpler for the publisher, and gives the reader the sense that he's getting VIP treatment for his money. Whether there would otherwise have been any ads anyway, is irrelevant; just the knowledge that there won't be any now, is the teaser.

This may explain why ongo.com, which officially launched yesterday after a not-exactly-secret period of secret testing, is apparently charging for a service which people normally expect to get for free. Seven bucks a month, in fact, to get a personalized choice of news articles aggregated from some of the leading daily news sources and with no ads to be seen.

Most or all of the news may already be obtained in literally hundreds if not thousands of places around the web; aside from the most obvious sources, including the online versions of newspapers themselves, portals such as Google and Yahoo News offer their own selections and interpretations, and news services such as Reuters and CNN maintain extensive feeds straight to their readers' desktops. And this is not to mention the thousands of bloggers, individual and corporate, who all leap to their keyboards every day with their own paraphrases and polemics.

Aggregation, bringing a large number of individual and often widely distanced and disparate sources together, is fundamental to the web experience; we couldn't hope to grasp the smallest fraction of what's happening out there, without it. And having a personal choice of services isn't new either, as many portals already exist to serve up information only on the topics of your choice. So what's the difference with Ongo?

Aside from being ad-free, I don't think anyone's really sure just now. I guess you'd have to pay the $6.99 a month and find out. Maybe, just being able to shave a few fractions of a second off the time it takes to assimilate a page of news may be enough; there are some seriously stressed people out there for whom a second wasted is a step on the road to being outsourced.

The other difference, is that Ongo happens to be the brainchild of the president of Skype, which may also explain why more than $12 million was raised in the first round of financing for this project. And there are some big names putting up their sponsorship and content, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, both traditional newspapers in search of new ways to secure readership while all about are losing theirs.

I'm not one of those people who needs highly focused news, and I wasn't that highly supportive of newspapers in the past, but it will still be interesting to see whether the traditional media can find some way to hang on in a world which no longer has the time or inclination to read them. Aside from an ad-free experience, what would encourage you to pay for the news?

By the way, Ongo is not a distant cousin of Frodo, Bilbo, or any other Tolkein character. I looked that up, first.
1/23/11
A cult movie is generally one which is widely loved, hated or otherwise elevated to fame not by success in the movie houses or the expensive advertising provided by the studios but by the audiences, who may seize and nurture a commercial flop as their very own. Some cult movies have died at the box office within days, while others have done well at the start but then begun to fade into obscurity as the years pass. Either way, they are often movies whose time has come and which wouldn't survive without the support of the fans who keep talking and writing about them, and viewing them over and over, encouraging TV stations to show them, and in these days, leaking pirated copies around the web.

I'm not sure my personal definition of a genre movie is as clear, so I was delighted to find that Wikipedia agrees, commenting that genre "is always a vague term with no fixed boundaries". I'll settle for a fuzzy definition along the lines that the movie has to be clearly identifiable as fitting into a group of similar works, with similar narratives; horror, or thriller, or romance, say, and let it go at that. The genres that attract most attention from followers of cult cinema tend to be somewhat less mainstream and may include an assortment of 'exploitation' categories, of which 'sexploitation, 'blacksploitation' and even 'nunsploitation' are perhaps best known, but the idea is the same.

As the title of this site suggests, too, many of the movies in these areas are also eccentric in one or more ways, not conforming entirely to the broad categories in which they would otherwise fit, or sometimes even demanding new categories of their own. In which case, they may become the progenitors of entirely new genres, serving as a point of comparison for everything that follows.

Ultimately there is and probably always will be the argument that genres don't even exist unless and until the movie critics invent them, so we are spared having to grope for clearer definitions and losing sleep over whether the movie we viewed last night was sexploitation or blacksploitation or nunsploitation or all three. In any case, most people couldn't really care less as long as Jennifer Aniston was in it, so we don't have to dwell on the problem any further.

This site does dwell, though, and in considerable depth. I didn't check to see how many movies are listed here, but I'd guess around 5-600. All seemed to have lengthy and authoritative reviews coupled with selections of defining images, many of which, I should tell you now, are mature in content since cult films themselves are frequently adult in nature, at least in part. The site does make clear when an indexed movie page includes NSFW images, so you've no excuses for the boss catching you looking, and although it's not a so-called 'family site' I'd be surprised if anyone over 13 was particularly shocked by anything here.

There's a mass of information here, not just about the movies themselves and the genres they inhabit, but the quality of individual DVD releases too. And that's important if a movie is frequently released on different media or is revisited and digitally remastered; you don't want to waste money on a poor print, only to find out that there's a new digital re-issue that you didn't know about.

If you're a cult movie buff you probably know about this site already, but if not, you might be tempted to take a look into a world almost entirely devoid of bland, romantic Hollywood star-vehicles. Probably no Jen Aniston here, then, alas, but you might still appreciate the wonders of The Mole People or They Saved Hitler's Brain, not to mention Plan 9 From Outer Space, one of the most famed and most dreadfully filmed, acted and directed cult movies ever.

Recommended to while away more time than you intended and a solid introduction to a number of movie gems you may not have in your DVD collection - yet.
Buzzer Beaterz
1/23/11
"Your average person looking ugly, drunk and worn-out after a long night of partying" is the official description, though the site welcomes photos of the clearly-not-average, and especially those easily capable of looking ugly, drunk and worn-out even when sober and refreshed.

It's predictably tasteless, but you already guessed that, and it's politically incorrect, and you already guessed that, and it's American and probably could only be so. Not that other countries don't have their fair share of average, ugly, drunken partygoers, but Americans have a unique, charming lack of concern about their personal and public images without which Facebook and MySpace would have been about as exciting as telephone directories. Some societies don't like to be humiliated in public. Americans, well, you know.

So be prepared for a parade of age-related drunkenness, style impairment, terminal obesity and disregard for the consequences of allowing amateur photographers to capture their friends' worst moments of indignity.

If you already know you'll hate it, don't visit. It's exactly what you're expecting. It's horrible and hilarious and nobody's going to admit to laughing themselves silly at some of this stuff. Liars.
1/22/11
*** If you're reading this before February 5th 2011, visit the following URL to get this $30 app free! Make sure you note your registration number. This is a limited time offer, and there appear to be no strings attached as far as I can see.

http://www.pdfzilla.com/giveaway.html

***

PDFZilla is a useful and quite well known app which converts Adobe PDF files into all sorts of other formats such as text, RTF and Word documents, images, and SWF Flash animations. PDFs, which are the files that most people use Adobe Reader for, are very convenient containers for all manner of documents including images and graphics as well as text and various fonts and effects. And since the acquisition of the Flash file format from Macromedia, animated Flash movies may also be included to create a multimedia presentation.

The problem is, once you've created or downloaded one, there's no easy way to extract or edit content. Unlike a word-processing document, which you can simply edit in a free application, PDF pages are more like paper documents than electronic ones; you can't simply add and delete words or move paragraphs around, or insert images. And once a PDF is created, you can't correct any of your errors without a relatively expensive bit of editing software, or alternatively starting over.

This makes PDF format files ideal for large, multi-media documents and books that aren't intended to be modified, or legal documents that need signatures and a greater degree of protection against illicit alterations. But if a situation arises where you really need to alter or add to one, that's not so easy.

This application converts PDF files into a wide range of other file formats, which can then be edited in the normal way. You'll probably already know if you can make use of it in your line of work or document creation, in which case you might also be impressed that it will batch-process hundreds of thousands of documents in a single run, too.

A neat offer for reviewers, by the way, and bloggers and webmasters and online columnists, is that the company will give you a free license in return for your writing a review of the product. Currently that's worth thirty bucks. But before you get started, there's a catch (of course). You have to agree to either put the review on your front page, or keep a link to it from the front page for at least two months. Which unfortunately means that SJ reviewers don't qualify. Boo. But if you want a free copy anyway, it looks like you can just start a blog on Blogger for free, and post the link there. Seems like a good deal to me, and it might even tempt you into the wonderful world of online self-publishing.
1/20/11
Back about 15 years ago, some nice folks at Netscape suggested that the performance of the worldwide web would be greatly improved by a mechanism that allowed rapid, invisible communication to pass from a user's PC to a web server and back. Thus was born the cookie, and the world changed.

Even though this all happened a long time ago, many people still don't understand what a cookie is, even if they've heard the word used in connection with the web or websites. And in a way, that's not too surprising. The original, innocent purpose of the cookie is still there, but it's been hugely subverted and by businesses which really don't want you knowing what they're doing behind your back.

This is too small a space to describe how cookies work today, or what information they store, but as a general rule you'd be safe in believing that any site you visit will drop at least one of these little guys and it will then record information about your visit to that site, and subsequent visits, and in many cases, subsequent visits to other sites, as well. A copy of all this will be sent back to that site, when you return, or sometimes, when you visit some other site.

Some sites use cookies to store much more information about you on your computer; Sitejabber, for example, stores maybe around forty cookies on the laptop I'm using right now, of which about thirty are records of which sites I've reviewed in the past, and the rest hold bits of information about where I've been and other information useful in some way or another to the site management. This all takes up a relatively small space, as the maximum size of a cookie is 4k, or approximately 4000 characters, and in reality cookies are far, far shorter than that. But they're still using your space, sometimes without your conscious knowledge or permission, and they're often tracking you as you travel around the web and then phoning home.

Most common of the cookies you're almost guaranteed to have already, are the ones from Google Analytics, a service which the vast majority of websites use to track their visitors' behavior secretly. These, at minimum, will tell a website which previous site you visited, so for example if you go from a porno site to SiteJabber, the SJ Google Analytics cookie will record that little detail. Another side-effect of Google Analytics cookies is that every scam site and phony Ugg salesman I visit can see I got there from Sitejabber. This data could be used by a scammer to tell whether it's worth posting fake reviews here.

Browser manufacturers and third parties have developed various ways to block cookies or modify their usage over the years, but most people are still being tracked without their knowledge because they don't know enough to prevent it. The latest development is a bunch of secret files called a Locally Shared Object, or LSO, also called a "Flash cookie", which can be up to twenty-five times the size of a standard browser cookie and can't even be located or deleted by a standard cookie manager. A website can not only use one of these to store a huge amount of information about your web habits, which it will recover when you revist the site, the LSO can also be used dynamically by a remote website to restore a cookie you've deleted, without you knowing, or create a completely new one. Thus you may feel safe, because you've managed your browser cookies, but in fact an LSO has simply undone your work as soon as you looked the other way.

Cookie Central has been around for a long time, and in fact some of the information here goes back not far after the origination of the cookie idea. But it's very useful and well written, and serves as a good introduction to the whole concept of browser cookies. While some of the data is older, the news is up to date, and covers general malware and security issues such as drive-by downloads and viruses. It even has a bunch of interactive pages you can use to create your own cookies, just to see and understand how they work and what they can store. If you want to get a solid grounding in the concepts, give it a try before diving into the deep end of what has become a very complex topic, way beyond anything that Netscape imagined way back when.

LSOs are beyond the scope of this review, but you can Google the term for information, and browser extensions exist which will delete them. I'm not aware of anything which allows you to read one, as yet, though.

Lastly, most if not all online businesses will tell you that cookies are essential to the future success of the web, which will fail miserably without 'targeted advertizing', thus putting them all out of business, causing floods, earthquakes, plagues of locusts, etc. The more information they get from you, knowingly or otherwise, the more profitable their advertizing becomes. For now, you still have some choice about how much information you hand over and how much support you want to give to online businesses; in the UK (but not the USA) there are now laws inhibiting the use of LSOs without permission, too, but you need to be informed in order to make your choices and understand how to apply them. Knowledge isn't quite the power it used to be, but it's still the best weapon you have.
1/19/11
When I was randomly browsing the list of more than 1000 tarot decks on this site, I couldn't help thinking about Amazon.com, for some reason. It's easy to type "tarot" into Amazon's site search, and instantly gratifying, since you'll be offered a long list of books and other paraphernalia as well as the decks, plus nice cover photos and of course, prices too. But somehow, it's like browsing medieval manuscripts in a Woolworth store, there's nothing wrong with the venue or the products, but somehow they don't really belong together. Power sellers such as Amazon are fantastic once you reach the buying, or considering-buying stage, but I think it's always better to start with a site that specializes in the area you're interested in.

Aeclectic Tarot offers the aforementioned list of decks, which seems a little dated but still features most people's top picks. Along with illustrated listings, there are reviews from experienced readers that might help you decide, and some fair images of cards. The site is very simple in design and function, hasn't ever changed as far as I can recall, and does the job without drowning you in vague New Age mysticism. I'd like to see more card images alongside reviews, but I can understand why the publishers wouldn't be too happy with giving everything away up front.

If you're new to the Tarot, there are sections here which introduce you to reading and show you a wide range of layouts, plus there are books, e-books, software and more, reviewed and rated. There's even a community-designed tarot deck, with which you can get an instant free one- or three-card computerized reading if you want some guidance right now.

This is all considerably enhanced by the addition of a busy community forum, also at www.tarotforum.net.

Tarot cards in the modern western world serve two main purposes: as practical tools for reading and working both in the field of professional or amateur divination and psychology, and as collectors items. Given the huge and ever-increasing number of decks, and escalating prices, they make a fascinating collection of artwork that has real value; the most collectible limited edition decks from the designers can achieve prices well into three figures, while even mass produced packs aren't cheap. Not that they deserve to be; the quality of the artwork in some decks is outstanding. But in a world increasingly independent of paper and card products, such physical items as decks of cards and even books are becoming seen as expensive luxuries from a past age.

Speaking of which, nobody knows where the tarot came from, or when, and it's unlikely we will ever know. That's a part of the charm and mystery of it all. And despite the religious and perhaps moral objections of some people, the Tarot is in no way related to any sort of 'dark arts' or black magic, and is not even used to 'tell fortunes' by most readers. These misconceptions, deliberate or otherwise, have given the Tarot an air of magic but not in a good, healthy way, which is the way in which it is widely used by readers and psychologists around the world. If you want to learn more, Aeclectic and its community forum are excellent first resources.

On the other hand, if you cross my palm with silver (sorry, no credit cards) I'd be happy to tell you more, anytime.
1/18/11
This is a very well-done resource for anyone seeking general information about autistic spectrum disorders, which are so varied in their symptoms that it's said every autistic child is different from the next, even when they have identical diagnoses.

The site takes a good deal of care to be easy to read without dumbing-down the facts, something that many other sites which discuss specialized topics could learn from. It's clearly aimed at parents seeking guidance and manages to be welcoming without being patronizing.

This is a very complex subject, made more so by the differences of opinions even amongst medical doctors and psychotherapists. It encompasses several different illnesses, making an individual set of symptoms almost impossible to classify, and as a result, a large number of those on the spectrum are regarded as "Not Otherwise Specified", a catch-all for many unique combinations of symptoms that can't be further defined. A clearly-written and sympathetic introduction is well worth promoting and supporting.

I have to say that this is an American site, so suggested resources are American too. Nevertheless the information here is well enough presented to make it useful to anyone.

Incidentally, I'm the second reviewer to review this site today but cross my heart, it's a sheer fluke. Naturally I hate coming in second (grin), but in this case I'm pleased to be able to draw a bit more attention to a worthwhile resource.
Xmarks
1/16/11
Xmarks has recently survived a financial crisis and emerged owned by another web company, LastPass. It promises to continue to provide all its services, with some new ones for "premium" users which will also include new smartphone apps and other goodies.

The services offered by Xmarks continue to be available across most popular browsers, including IE, Firefox, Safari and Chrome, by way of browser plug-ins. The core service is a full backup of your bookmarks, which are then available in any of these browsers on any computer anywhere, but it also extends optionally to allowing you to save all your passwords - encrypted, for safety - and your browsing history and even the tabs you currently have open. This allows you to move to another computer, open the browser, and if the Xmarks plug-in is installed, get your complete working environment back just as you left it on the first machine.

All this is free, with the premium options coming for a small annual fee. As far as I know, there's no reason to avoid having it now that its financial future seems to have been secured. It has millions of users and is a well-known and respected solution to keeping your browser environment available whenever and wherever you need it, and as far as I know it's the only application of its kind that works across all the major browsers.

The only caution, as with any application that stores your sensitive data, is just to remember that even the biggest companies can change hands, or even go out of business. So you should also explore backup applications, or even manual methods of tracking your browser extensions and passwords so that you have at least one offline backup of the online backup in a different place known only to you.

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