Reviews by tom (256)

No 1 Airport Lounge, Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport, London

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 07 Sep 2011
Great new lounge at Terminal 3 in Heathrow. Comfy, relaxed, light and airy, great food and service (including light meals), a nice mix of spaces (workspaces with power, comfy seating, games area, showers). Huge improvement over the ServisAir lounge down the corridor.

Sophie the Giraffe Teething Toy

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 13 Jun 2011
Sophie the Giraffe seems to be the toy that every teething baby has at the moment. Typically, if every kid has one that really puts me off. However, after giving our little one some traditional teething rings and finding them lacking, we tried a Sophie the Giraffe and I'm totally sold. There are many different bits to chew on, and all the legs, neck etc are great for getting hold of. Sophie was an immediate hit, and while they're not cheap the beauty is that if one gets lost it's easy to source another identical one, hopefully without the little one even noticing. Highly recommended - they're popular for a reason!

The Swan Inn, Swineford, nr Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 13 Jun 2011
It's years since I last went to the Swan, but I have to say that it's a good as last time, maybe even better. The refurb has worn in nicely and the food is excellent, in a traditional pub style. The outdoor area is also great for summer time. A top-notch country pub.

Extract (Film, 2009)

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This is a film about everything going wrong. That said, it's incredibly funny and hits just the right level of discomfort to be bearable. There are some great performances from Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig and Ben Affleck. It's not going to change your life, but is very entertaining for a couple of hours.

Riverford Farm Cook Book: Tales from the Fields, Recipes from the Kitchen

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 19 Apr 2010
This is a cook book whose production values are almost as wholesome as the recipes it contains. The Riverford Farm Cook Book is a beautifully put together piece of work that mixes fantastic seasonal recipes with background information about Riverford Farm and its produce. These snippets slotted between the recipes make great reading, bettered only by the recipes themselves. If you enjoy the book then a trip to the Riverford Farm Field Kitchen is worth making the effort for.

Airport Reviews - Budget Traveller Guide to Sleeping in Airports

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Really interesting, potentially useful, and quite entertaining site about sleeping in different airports around the world. The only downside I see is that for a large airport like Heathrow the reviews vary wildly, from great to terrible.

Domainr

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Domai.nr is a really useful site for helping you find available domain names. It ranks far above any regular domain registrar search service, as not only does it check whether a particular domain is already taken, it also suggests cunning alternatives based on splitting the name to want to make use of country-specific top-level domains. One of those services that you wonder how you ever lived without.

Tropic Thunder

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Total dross. I'm not saying this out of snobbery. It's just an awful film. Sad, given the cast.

The Guardian (Newspaper)

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In my view the only paper worth reading if you're a liberal thinker interested in UK news. Has a left-leaning slant but applies decent analysis across the spectrum. The print version is backed by a good Web site and some innovative usage of new technologies.

The Guardian (Film, 2006)

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Total cheese, like Top Gun applied to US Coast Guards but without the quality soundtrack. Still, if you're in the mood for something unchallenging then you could do worse than this.

Caledonian Sleeper

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 13 May 2009
This is the sleeper service between Scotland and London (or vice versa). I travelled on the 'Highland Caledonian' from Aberdeen to Crewe recently, and was quite impressed. There was a certain olde world charm about it, with decent service and a bit of a sense of adventure. My only complaints would be the plastic covering on the mattress, which can make for a bit of a sweaty night, plus the breakfast pack was a little bit uninspiring. Otherwise highly recommended.

The Square Restaurant and Bar, Aberdeen, Scotland

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 13 May 2009
I was taken here by a business partner for an evening meal, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The place has a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, and the food was delicious, particularly my roast salmon. Will certainly go back next time I'm in Aberdeen.

W H Smith

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I used to be proud of WH Smith's as a great British institution, but now I just feel ripped off by them, particularly their operations at railway stations, which charge incredible amounts for sandwiches, drinks and snacks, e.g. almost GBP2.50 for an Innocent Smoothie. Sad.

Virgin Trains

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Not half as bad as their reputation makes out. In most cases I think they've done a pretty good job, and they do seem to care about service and have invested heavily in the franchises they've held.

CrossCountry Trains

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 13 May 2009
I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when Virgin Trains lost the franchise for the Cross Country routes; they got bad press but I actually think they did a good job all in. Right or wrong I don't have the same confidence in CrossCountry, perhaps because they're owned by Arriva. All the staff seem to be the same, which is good, but I don't feel the same urge for change and innovation as we got when Virgin took over in very difficult circumstances.

easyJet

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 13 May 2009
I'm not a huge fan of budget/no-frills airlines, but of them all I guess I feel most affection for easyJet. OK, so the excessive orangeness is a bit much, but they do actually seem to care about customer service, they are more upfront with their pricing than others I've known, and they have made it easier to get around Europe by flying to some otherwise inaccessible places.

Babel

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This film is well shot and atmospheric, and does an excellent job of portraying people in challenging situations. Not one to watch in a dark mood, but ultimately worth seeing.

Sopranos St Magnus Court Hotel, Aberdeen, Scotland

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Decent, friendly, and relatively stylish independent hotel close to the train station in Aberdeen (but not so close that you get disturbed by the trains). The room I stayed in was spacious and nicely done out, although the paintwork could do with touching up in places and a better blind in the bathroom and more substantial lock on the door would be nice. Tasty breakfast, comfy rooms and great location mean I'd certainly stay here again; pleasing to be able to support a smaller business.

The Little Owl, Solihull, Birmingham

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 07 May 2009
Not bad for a pub next to the business park and near the NEC, although once you realise it's a chain pub and that the layout and menu is the same as many other Vintage Inns nationwide, the appeal fades quite significantly. Having said that, the food is decent enough for a chain pub, and they do have fantastic open fires in the winter.

Walk the Line

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 05 May 2009
Not just for fans of Johnny Cash or country music, this is an entertaining and quite heart-warming film that doesn't feel like it reaches a real crescendo, but holds the attention well and lingers after it's finished (in a good way). Strong performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, and intriguing (presumably accurate) insight into the backstage dynamics with Elvis and Jerry-Lee Lewis

The Wedding Singer

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Total cheese, but quite endearing. Almost tempted to give it four stars, but just can't quite bring myself to do that.

Hotel Aguas de Ibiza, Santa Eulalia, Ibiza, Spain

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Almost brand new hotel in a decent location near the marina in Santa Eulalia. Very spacious communal areas and rooms, decent breakfast and friendly staff. My only complaint is about a stuff-up with some ironing I sent to the laundry service, which never reappeared and when I chased it it turned out it had been forgotten. Also the control panels in the room for the lights etc are pretty incomprehensible, but overall a very pleasant place to stay.

The Wild Wood, St Augustines, Bristol

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This place has recently opened up where Bocanova used to be, at the top of Colston Street close to the city centre (apparently this area is St Augustines, but most people will think of it as just up from the BRI). I've only been once so far, but am fairly impressed. Nice decor, friendly service but certainly not pushy, decent atmosphere and good food. My Wild Wood burger with cheese, egg and bacon was absolutely amazing. Prcies are reasonable too. This is a very welcome addition to this part of town and I'll certainly so back.

Cybex Exim Solutions Pvt Ltd

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 01 Apr 2009
I have no idea about the quality of Cybex Exim Solution's products or services, as I have never used them. However, based on the spammy reviews they have posted on this site I don't get a very favourable impression of the company. I hope they stop soon.

The Hillgrove Porter Stores, Kingsdown, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 27 Mar 2009
One of my favourite pubs in Bristol, and another one in Glen Dawkins' small chain. Great ales on tap and great atmosphere (especially if you turn up early and can get the sofas by the fire). My only complaint (and the reason for only 4 stars) is the recent move into doing food, which in my limited experience was underwhelming and overpriced. Something like £7.50 for pretty uninspiring sausage and mash; £4.50 would have been reasonable. So come on Hillgrove, forget the food and stick to doing what you do best.

P.S. I Love You (Film)

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Utter drivel. Not even worth watching on the plane; too much risk of inducing travel sickness.

Zoolander (Film)

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Decent entertainment, in a lighthearted, low-impact kind of way. Not gonna double you up with laughter, and not as good as Dodgeball, but a reasonable way to pass a couple of hours.

A Scanner Darkly (Film)

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 19 Mar 2009
This is a really excellent adaptation of Philip K. Dick's book of the same name. Just like the book it's intense and you have to pay attention (it helps if you've read the book first), but it's well worth it. It alternates comedy with a pretty dark portrayal of where we could be heading as surveillance increases.

Keanu Reaves does a reasonable job as main character Bob Arctor, though it's hard for him to shine from behind the invisibility suit. Robert Downey Jr. is brilliant as Barris, especially early on in the film, and the portrayal of Freck would be totally hilarious if it wasn't also a bit disturbing.

Takes a bit of effort, but all in all very worth it.

Atonement (Film)

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 19 Mar 2009
A great adaptation of a great book. It's not often that a film does justice to the book on which it's based, but this is the case with Atonement. The film brilliantly captures the atmosphere and tragedy of the book with some great photography.

Lazy Flamingo II Restaurant, Sanibel Island, Florida, USA

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 16 Feb 2009
This is the branch of Lazy Flamingo on Periwinkle Way, one of the main roads through Sanibel Island. I went there in a small group, as it's one of the only places on the island serving beer beyond about 10pm. They had a few good ales available from a brewery in Tampa I think. The food was simple and good and huge, and the service was down to earth and friendly. The peanut butter pie for dessert was amazing, though a whole slice to myself would have been too much. If you want somewhere homely in Sanibel to relax over a tasty but casual meal, then the Lazy Flamingo is a good option. Recommended.

The Timbers Restaurant, Sanibel Island, Florida, USA

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The Timbers was recommended by staff at the Sundial Resort in Sanibel. It's a huge place, that looks like a log cabin from the inside (hence the name I guess). There's a great looking selection of fresh fish on display as you enter the restaurant. We had a very pleasant meal, but it didn't blow me away, hence the average rating. I would go back, but I get the impression there are plenty of other places worth exploring on Sanibel Island.

Warmseal DIY Double Glazing Kit

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 03 Feb 2009
This is the kind of thing I associate with living in student houses, but if you can't afford double glazing, be bothered to get it installed, or can't easily access the window from the outside, then these Warmseal DIY kits are well worth considering for the winter.

You can get them from your local hardware shop (don't be ripped off by the places selling them online for inflated prices - expect to pay maximum £10 for a large pack). You basically get a large sheet of plastic film, some double-sided tape and some instructions. It's not quite as easy to fit as the outside of the pack claims, but isn't hard really. Do read the instructions in detail, but basically you stick the tape to the window frame, stick the film onto that, and then use a hair dryer to shrink the film until tight.

My main tip is to crank up the heat on the hair dryer if you don't noticeably see the film shrinking. You'll know when it's working, and don't leave it sagging. Also try and avoid creases around the edge, though this is quite hard with big windows. Lastly avoid fitting this around dusk or in the evening as you're more likely to get condensation trapped behind the film; the middle of a dry day is probably best.

In summary it can be a bit fiddly to fit, but for the money these double glazing kits are fantastic. The change in temperature of the room is amazing and instantly noticeable, plus you get almost no condensation. I have a hunch there is improved sound insulation aswell, but that is just a hunch. Should have tried these years ago. Just wish they would work for sash windows too.

Bells Diner, Montpelier, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 02 Feb 2009
I've only been to Bell's Diner once, but it more than lived up to my expectations. Awesome food, with incredible subtlety and flavour, served by friendly, down to earth staff who knew their stuff and were not afraid to share it, in a completely non-patronising way. Great atmosphere throughout, from the front parlour with the open fire to the main dining room. If I had one criticism it would be the slightly uninspired selection of single malts (the list on the web site doesn't correspond to what was on the menu recently), but hey, that's not really what I went for! Definitely a treat worth saving up for.

The Bristolian Cafe, Montpelier, Bristol

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Imagine a traditional greasy spoon cafe, transposed to the setting of Picton Street in Montpelier (with all that entails), and you hopefully have a reasonable image of what the Bristolian has to offer. It's a great place for a fry-up or bacon sandwich if you're in that mood, and there are decent looking veggie options for breakfast, plus greek salad and pretty intense carrot cake. Good music, relaxed staff and relaxed atmosphere during the week; tends to get busy at weekends in my experience. Worth a visit if you need something to cure you from the excesses of the night before or just want to chill with a cup of tea.

Ian Smith Heating Engineers, Montpelier, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 20 Jan 2009
Ian Smith Heating Engineers are based in a small shop on Picton Street in Montpelier, Bristol. I needed a gas boiler servicing and was keen to use a local firm if possible, so gave these guys a call. The guy who came out to do the service was a little late (forgivably so - it was a Monday morning) but friendly and efficient.

All seemed to be well until later the same day when I tried the heating and the boiler showed an error. The hot water still worked but the boiler wouldn't fire up properly when starting the heating. It was 3:30pm by this point so I called the heating engineers back, who said they would come out again at 5pm. No one showed up by 6pm so I expected the worst, and by this time the office was closed. Much to my relief the boss Ian himself came out after 7pm to try and fix things. It turned out the incoming gas pressure needed to be adjusted slightly, after which the heating worked fine. It was a real relief that I wasn't left hanging until the next day, as aside from the cold the frustration would have been unbearable.

Despite the initial hiccup I feel that Ian Smith and co more than redeemed themselves, and based on this experience I would certainly use them again.

Waltz with Bashir

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Not much to add - Wikipedia gives a more than adequate summary of what the film is about - except to say that this film should be essential viewing for anyone who cares about what goes on (and has gone on) in the world around them.

Great animation, though the narrative gets a little less slick later on. Great soundtrack too. The whole thing is particularly resonant at the current time.

TDG Scholar

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This is a nice bibliographic search site currently based off the DBLP data set. The search is *very* fast, which is pleasing compared to e.g. the ACM Digital Library; I'm using it to grab Bibtex records for my own publications rather than rekeying them. Greater coverage would be nice, and it will be interesting to see how the relevance and performance will scale with more data, but I will likely continue to use this service alongside Google Scholar.

Hanns-G HW191D 19" LCD TFT Monitor

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 07 Jan 2009
The HW191D was so well reviewed on Dabs.com, and such a bargain at £83 from Amazon.co.uk that I couldn't resist. I was a little concerned about what I might get, but the monitor has just arrived and works a treat, with no dead pixels.

It was recognised automatically by Ubuntu and set to its native resolution (something like 1440x900). The 19" widescreen form factor gives plenty of roominess and it's nice and bright; yes, you need to reduce it from the default 100%, as the reviews say, but if you work in a fairly bright room it's good to know that the screen has the scope to go brighter.

Looks-wise the casing is surprisingly stylish for something that costs less than £100, although it would be nice if the stand was adjustable for height or the screen wall-mountable. The onboard speakers seem reasonable enough for watching video from the Web, and the inclusion of both VGA and DVI inputs was a clincher for me.

If I had room for it, I'd buy another and put them side by side. At this price, why pay more for an LCD screen?

The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 05 Jan 2009
This was the first Nassim Nicholas Taleb book I've read, and was quite the worst book I've read in some time. I'm sure, at least I'd like to believe, that there are some interesting and valuable ideas here, but after about one third of the book and many doses of frustration and irritation I had to give up. Leafing through the remainder of the text I didn't see anything to suggest things would get better if I carried on.

I'd like to try and summarise the main point of the author's arguments here, but I found the book so disjointed and lacking in narrative clarity that I'm struggling to capture the essence of it. I found the book terrible at signposting where the narrative is leading and as a result I found it very easy to get lost. The section and chapter headings strike me as at best meaningless and at worst self-indulgent, adding little to the reader's comprehension.

Ideas are introduced seemingly at random (and tend to disappear from the story as quickly as they appear), and are rarely well backed up by evidence, argument, or in some cases even explanation. One passage that particularly got me went something like "We call this phenomenon abc...", with no explanation of who "We" consisted of (We, members of a certain school of thought? We, the author and the reader? We, society as a whole?) and therefore no opportunity for the reader to understand the context of this label.

I found the fictional characters introduced in the book, such as Yevgenia Nikolayevna Krasnova, unconvincing and irritating. Don't introduce a fictional character as if they're real, and then say afterwards "actually, in case you Googled her, I made her up".

In the end I came away feeling I'd gained nothing, except a deeply negative impression of the author. I found the anti-French comments littered throughout the book unpalatable, but most of all the poor read was annoying and left me wondering who had ever agreed to publish this. Whatever you do, take the hype on the jacket with a bucket of salt.

Tart Cafe and Foodstore, Gloucester Road, Bishopston, Bristol

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A new, old-school tea room on the promenade on Gloucester Road. Awesome cakes and vicarage-style sandwiches. There is a private dining room at the back if you want to take tea in peace, though the little window through to the kitchen is a bit odd. The deli at the front looks stocked with some great local stuff. My only criticism (except for the window) is that my coffee was nice and strong, but a bit lacking in milk.

Bad Santa

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 22 Dec 2008
So wrong in so many ways, but so hilarious. The relationship between Santa (Billy Bob Thornton) and Thurman is cringe-inducing at first but ultimately quite sweet. Bad Santa has the makings of a Christmas classic - I've already seen it twice and it made me laugh at least as much second time around.

Jam

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 04 Dec 2008
I agree with the previous reviewer - some jam can be horribly over-sweetened. On the other hand, a decent home made jam or more upmarket brand can be excellent. Another case of you get what you pay for.

Imperial Hotel, Galway, Ireland

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 28 Nov 2008
Certainly not Fawlty Towers, but neither is the Imperial Hotel going to win any awards if you ask me. The bar and rooms have been recently refurbished, but the bathrooms are fairly retro and the general impression is that the place isn't overly cared for. The reception staff are very friendly and helpful, but my first room felt rather cold and damp like it hadn't been used for a long time. The window had been left open (presumably to air it) and the room was freezing due to this and the tiny radiator. I moved after one night of noise from outside nearby clubs and (far worse) the delivery outside of kegs of Guinness at 6am. It felt like a minor earthquake. The new room was much nicer, but for the money I won't rush back to the Imperial, despite the very central location on Eyre Square.

Hotel Alpha-Palmiers, Lausanne, Switzerland

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 24 Nov 2008
Just up the hill from the main station in Lausanne, the Alpha-Palmiers is an old building with a huge modern extension tacked on the back to make a pretty sizeable hotel. Many of these sort of efforts fail badly, but I think this one works ok. My room in the modern part was large, spacious and comfy with floor to ceiling windows (only downside was the view of the car park) and an incredibly comfy bed.

Reviews I've read elsewhere have complained about the bathroom being separated from the room only by frosted glass, but I thought this was quite a nice touch, as the room was therefore a bit different to all the homogeneous hotels you normally get.

Breakfast was decent and this coupled with the location makes the Alpha-Palmiers a pretty decent (if not cheap) option in Lausanne.

Pub on the Park, London Fields, Hackney, London

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 24 Nov 2008
A very light, airy pub in a great location right next to London Fields in Hackney, Pub on the Park could be a world beater. It has a good go, but misses out on a few counts. The beer selection is good but I'm not convinced it's kept as well as it could be. The solid no frills pub food is a definite plus, but the arsehole locals who think they own the place took the edge off for me. All in all a decent enough place to spend a few hours, and I would go back if I was in the area, but I won't rush.

SlideShare is the best place to share powerpoint presentations

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 14 Nov 2008
I have to agree with the previous reviewer. In my experience SlideShare is a terrible way to share slides. So many slides are locked away behind a login screen and there's just something about the interface which is impenetrable. Making me log in is not a great start for sharing, and even those slide sets that are completely open are overwhelmed by the busy-ness in the interface. So, please people, don't ever send me links to slides on SlideShare, as I won't even try to look at them. HTML would be best, but even PDF would be an improvement.

Novotel Hotel, Karlsruhe, Germany

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 31 Oct 2008
Right next to the Kongress (Convention Centre) in Karlsruhe, this Novotel is nothing special (is any chain hotel?) but does the job more than adequately. It's pretty modern and nicely decorated inside, the staff are friendly, breakfast is good and the rooms are comfortable (if a little small). If you're going to an event at the Kongress and don't mind something a little more pricey then this place is hard to beat.

The Lamb and Flag, Oxford

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 02 Oct 2008
Large, cavernous and with a certain atmosphere of not caring. My pint of Old Peculiar was served by a guy who obviously had no idea how to pull a pint.

The pint looked flat and tasted off so I complained, to which one guy blamed his colleague for not being able to put a head on the pint, and the landlady said it was a new recipe that wasn't very nice and that many people had complained that they didn't like it. It tasted sour to me, and I said this, but she refused to give me something else instead. She also didn't seem to even consider taking it off or warning people who may have thought to order it. Clearly she was happy to keep selling it to unwitting punters.

Not much fun the whole experience. I won't be going back to the Lamb and Flag if I can help it.

The Beaufort, Montpelier, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 15 Sep 2008
This pub on York Road in Montpelier is an institution. Inside, despite the recent refurb, it still has the feeling of a set from Coronation Street circa 1975, but that's a feature not a bug. The staff and regulars are great, the drinks are fairly cheap by Bristol standards, and it's widely seen to have the best jukebox in town. In the winter they have mulled wine on tap. Awesome.

Mela, Indian curry takeaway, Montpelier, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 15 Sep 2008
I really like Mela, which is just opposite the Thali Cafe on York Road; it's cheap, tasty, seems decent quality and the staff are friendly. Order your food then pop in the Beaufort next door for a quick pint while you're waiting. I've always enjoyed the food, though the Chicken Jalfrezi last night was waaaay too hot. The Saag Chana kind of made up for it, but it was a bit of a spice odyssey. I've never had this experience at Mela before though and will definitely go back.

The Barrel Inn, Bretton, Derbyshire

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 22 Aug 2008
The Barrel is not just one of my favourite pubs in the Peak District, but in the entire country. Decent hearty food, a few good ales on tap, and a location to die for set on a ridge looking out over both the dark peak and the white peak. Best experienced on a sunny day when you can sit outside and admire the view in both directions.

San Carlo Italian Restaurant, City Centre, Birmingham

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 22 Aug 2008
Authentic and fairly high-end Italian restaurant with a good (and deserved I think) reputation, just off New Street in Birmingham City Centre. Very tasty food. I had an huge, amazing pizza for main course, although the anchovy sauce with my breaded mozzarella starter was a slightly strange combination. Definitely worth revisiting.

New Street Station, Birmingham

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 20 Aug 2008
Nope, still no change. Not even the station staff know which platform the trains will be coming in on. Today I witnessed them telling a train crew to follow them to certain platform because they had the information first and then have to go to another platform because the information was wrong. Tragic.

Gnarls Barkley on KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic, 25 July 2008

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 19 Aug 2008
This is a really great set, drawing more from the second album as far as I can tell, though the rendition of Transformer from the first album is awesome - far better than the album version.

Brandenburg Gate

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 18 Aug 2008
The Brandenburg Gate makes a pretty impressive and imposing monument as you approach down Unter den Linden. For many people the gate will be imprinted on the brain from images of the day the Berlin wall fell, and the history bound up in this place is tangible. Just being able to walk through it freely is a fairly mindblowing experience. Not to be missed if you're in Berlin.

Man on Wire

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 08 Aug 2008
Brilliant. This account of Philippe Petit's high-wire walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center is mind-blowing, moving and hilariously funny in almost equal measures.

The documentary plus reconstruction format works pretty well, and while some of Petit's present day performances for the camera are over the top the film nevers lacks credibility. In fact the interview segments have a degree of clarity that really brings the story alive. They're somewhat reminiscent of similar features in Touching the Void, except the range of protoganists with distinct characters gives this an added dimension.

Great direction, coupled with a powerful soundtrack and poignant archive footage of the Twin Towers under construction make this an unmissable film.

The Grant Institute

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 04 Aug 2008
I've got no idea what these guys actually do, but if my email inbox is anything to go by they're too busy sending spam email to actually do any real work. It seems to be something to do with workshops about writing grant proposals, but I can't imagine who would want to take a course with these guys given their marketing techniques. I'm not going to provide a link to their web site, as I don't want them to gain any Google karma from this review.

Alison May - Food Stylist and Writer

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 04 Aug 2008
Not being in the kind of business that needs food stylists or food writers, I haven't ever booked Alison for a job. However, I have been lucky enough to act as a guinea pig while she's been perfecting recipes for clients, and it's impressive stuff, always impeccably presented.

Kwik-Fit Tyres and Car Servicing, Cheltenham Road, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 31 Jul 2008
I've had bad experiences with this branch of Kwit-Fit on Cheltenham Road before, but always gone back as the guys seemed decent but just sketchy and disorganised due to stress. I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but today's experience really takes the biscuit.

Having got some quotes for tyres over the phone earlier this week I phoned Kwik-Fit to see if they could match the best quote. The said they could, and would order the tyres in for fitting later in the week. They were due to be fitted today, but on taking the car in it turned out the specific tyres had not been ordered as agreed. To make matters worse the manager appeared and refused to honour the telephone quote for those specific tyres or even some cheaper alternatives. At this point I walked away, and will now have to make an additional trip elsewhere.

If you're thinking of chancing it and using this Kwit-Fit, my word of advice is to always phone back and double-check that they've done what they said they were going to do before you turn up. All in all though, my opinion is that giving this place a wide berth is by far the best strategy.

The Lamb, Stoke Goldington, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 25 Jul 2008
The Lamb was voted CAMRA Pub of the Year 2008 for Milton Keynes and North Buckinghamshire. The ale selection did seem good when I went, and generally it seems like a friendly local village pub with a nice big garden out the back (carry on past the patio area).

In general my experience was fine, and I would go back if in the area, but I wasn't overly impressed with the food, which seemed fairly uninspired. My scampi came with a decent salad garnish - better than the usual token gesture you get with pub meals - but looked distinctly like it came straight from the freezer. Tasty, but run of the mill in my opinion.

As I've said before, the range of pubs in Milton Keynes is pretty poor, and whilst this only just counts as Milton Keynes (being a few miles north in Stoke Goldington), The Lamb seems like one of the better ones for its ale selection alone.

New Street Station, Birmingham

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 09 Jul 2008
Worse than ever! Delays, endless delays, and no information.

Tim Berners-Lee's Keynote at Linked Data Planet, New York, 17 June 2008

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 17 Jun 2008
Seeing the inventor of the Web speak is always interesting, but this keynote at Linked Data Planet was exceptionally good. Tim seemed to relish the prospect of speaking specifically on the subject of Linked Data, noting the current excitement around the Linked Data movement and making observations that Linked Data is "the Semantic Web done right", and "a paradigm shift all over again". The excitement certainly shone through in the talk, and hopefully the audience members who were new to the area caught this buzz in the air.

Cats Abbey, Sherborne, Gloucestershire

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 12 Jun 2008
A really nicely converted barn available for rent. Sleeps up to 25 with almost all rooms en-suite and plenty of space. The garden is great for BBQs, there's a big kitchen and dining area and the views across the Cotswolds are amazing. Some decent pubs nearby-ish. Not cheap, but if you can afford it then it's worth it.

Harmony Guesthouse, Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 21 May 2008
Harmony is probably the best hostel I've ever stayed in. We arrived here to pick up some sleeper train tickets for Xi'an after a mad dash and nightmare journey from Wutai Shan, only to find that we were too late, and the tickets had been cancelled.

Fortunately there was a room available for us to stay in overnight, giving us a chance to see something of lovely Pingyao, and Jipu (aka "Jackie") the fab owner was able to get us on a bus to Xi'an the following day. We suspected that this situation might have been somewhat engineered, as the guy at Datong CITS who had booked the train tickets for us (via Harmony) did not tell us that we needed to pick them up before 12noon, which would have been impossible coming from Wutai Shan the same day, which he knew we were doing. He had also been incredibly keen that we stayed in Pingyao, which we had not intended due to our tight schedule. Anyway, whatever the reason for the situation, Harmony came as a breath of fresh air.

After the brashness and hassle of Wutai Shan, the very basic accommodation, and the nightmare journeys to get there and away, Harmony (and Pingyao in general) was a big relief. We got a lovely traditional Chinese room with a huuuuuge bed, facing out onto one of the main courtyards. It was quiet, clean and comfortable, and fairly reasonably priced at 140RMB.

Jackie gave us tea when we arrived, was very apologetic that he'd had to cancel the tickets (not knowing that we were on our way), soothed our nerves and got our onward trip to Xi'an sorted for the next day. He speaks great English which, despite my desire to learn and speak Mandarin, can come in very handy at times. He and his wife seem to understand in detail what Western travellers look for in a hostel/guesthouse, and Harmony is the embodiment of that.

Aside from the the lovely rooms, there's free wifi/internet, cheap payphone, plentiful hot water, and local food, breakfast and proper coffee served in the lovely common room at the front. The atmosphere is brilliantly relaxed, with a real mix of travellers, and no attitude or posing. This is a great place to take a day or two out from the sometimes hectic experience of travelling in China, relax, regroup, plan onward journeys and see something of historic Pingyao. Top marks to Jackie and his team for creating somewhere truly special.

Taijia Hotel, Datong, Shanxi Province, China

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 19 May 2008
This is probably the worst hotel I've ever stayed in. OK, so I've stayed in some real dumps, but this place takes the biscuit as it seems to promise something and then catastrophically fails to deliver. Like Fawlty Towers, without the humour. Or even the competence.

At face value this place looks alright, and at 140RMB for a double room seems to be quite a bargain. It's down a side alley to the right hand side of the square as you exit the main station in Datong, and is the new location for the well-known Datong office of CITS (worthy of a separate review). Your first experience of this place may be when the CITS guy meets you at the station and brings you back to the cool, light and airy reception to help fix you up with tours, onward travel etc.

If you're thinking of staying here, have a look at the room first, but look closely. We looked at the room and it seemed fine - we were more worried about the noise from the trains nearby (not too bad in the end). What we didn't notice from a quick look was the leaking toilet, with resulting scum around the base (gross), or the sink waste pipe that overflowed, sending waste water, scum and hair all over the floor. Once we had moved in and spotted this, along with the general dirtiness of the place, we asked to change room.

The gang of teenage girls who nonchalantly roam the place and seem to be responsible for the rooms seemed genuinely shocked when we showed them the leaks, but I didn't get the impression anything would change.

The new room was even dirtier (sunflower seed husks all over the floor), and the loo still leaked when flushed, but at least the sink didn't empty all over the floor. No idea when the sink bowl itself had last been cleaned, or the bathroom last saw a mop.

These things aside, the biggest issue in the second room was the mosquitos. The squashed bugs all over the walls should have been a warning sign, but a quick scan over the walls before bed showed nothing up. Then, sure enough, just around dawn we woke up to the wining buzz in our ears and I added to the mosquito road kill effect on the ceiling. There were two more in the bathroom. I have no idea if they were just loitering there from months before, getting in through the gap by the aircon unit, or breading in the disgusting drain behind the loo.

The CITS guy told us everywhere else reasonably cheap in town was full, otherwise we'd have moved the next morning. No idea if he was telling the truth or not, but we stayed out our two nights, then got the hell out of the Taijia. You've been warned.

Reichstag building

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 17 Apr 2008
As a previous reviewer said, this is a sight worth seeing. I didn't like the crowded queueing system for the security checks, but otherwise well worth the effort.

U2 Bar, Haeundae, Busan, Korea

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 07 Apr 2008
Basement bar a block or so back from Haeundae beach in Busan. Looks terrible from the outside but this place is actually not bad. Subtle lighting, good music, pool table, drunk foreigners, drunk Koreans, dodgy Russian sailors and fairly minging Gents toilets - this place has it all. Perfect if you're a long way from home and missing the ambience of a British pub or club on a Saturday night.

Get Your Data Out! - Danny Ayers' DataPortability and Me Video

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 31 Mar 2008
In this video, distinguished musician and Semantic Web luminary Danny Ayers spreads the Data Portability message through the medium of ROCK! It's an instant classic, with De La Soul samples and something of the feel of Jacket Hangs-era Blue Aeroplanes. Do what the man says; get your data out!

Be Kind Rewind

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 28 Mar 2008
A decent slab of unchallenging entertainment. Good for lots of laughs; if there's a deep message (other than the cheesey but true community vs the-powers-that-be thread) then I missed it, but it was fun nonetheless.

The real gems for me came from the creativity that had gone into filming scenes or elements from blockbuster films on a zero budget. The Ghostbusters scenes in particular are great, especially their Slimer mock-up.

For the chain-link fence camouflage suit alone this film deserves an award. It won't won't change your life, but it will keep you amused for an hour or so.

Scores on the Doors

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 25 Mar 2008
Scores on the Doors is a web site where you can find details of hygiene assessments of places serving food. If you've ever wondered how clean the kitchen is at your favourite restaurant or takeaway, then check out the site; you may be surprised what you find out, and feel differently about your favourite little place next time you visit. This is Freedom of Information in action. Not all local authorities participate yet, but more are coming on stream all the time. My only criticism of the site (hence the 4 stars) is that it's not very easy to get at the data, which would be great to use in other applications.

No Country for Old Men (Film)

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 12 Mar 2008
No Country for Old Men is a pretty dark film, peppered with some brilliant comedy. The opening premise is that welder Llewelyn Moss chances upon a large amount of cash in the desert. The rest of the film has the feel of a French film in which not much happens, despite lots actually happening. It's this tempo, the dynamics of tension and humour, and the underlying message of our own irrelevance in the passage of time that make this film really work watching.

Ibis Hotel, Central Station, Amsterdam

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 11 Mar 2008
Conveniently located next to Centraal Station (and opposite the amazing multi-storey bike park), but otherwise a fairly run of the mill Ibis. It's having a major re-furb, which is good because the rooms are a bit dated and tired looking, with a kind of Eastern Bloc feel. I guess the refurb won't increase the average room size though, which is a shame as they're a bit pokey.

The staff at reception are friendly, although one of the cleaning staff kept knocking on my door to see if she could clean my room, despite it being 1 hour before checkout and despite the Do Not Disturb sign on my door! When she knocked again at 11:40am and I reminded her that checkout wasn't until midday she had the gall to tell me that it was getting close to 12. This was really annoying, but at least the reception staff were apologetic. The free breakfast (free while the refurb is finished) could be a little more inspiring.

New Street Station, Birmingham

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 10 Mar 2008
Dark, dingy, congested and cold. Terrible layout, far too many grumpy barrier staff, regular delays, constant last-minute platform changes, poor passenger information, uninformative displays. What more do I need to say? A sad indictment of Britain's commitment to public transport. Badly in need of the planned overhaul. The only saving graces are Marks and Spencers Simply Food on the concourse, plenty of cash machines, and a few tacky but useful shops in the Pallasades upstairs.

Band of Horses, Live at the Thekla Social, Bristol, 25 February 2008

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 07 Mar 2008
If you imagine a ratio of bass punch (from the drum kit alone, in the chest, you know the sort) to musical tempo, then Band of Horses reached new heights with their opener, Monsters, the penultimate track on Everything all the Time, and a somewhat hidden gem in my eyes.

The rest of the set rocked too, although the middle section did lack a bit of shape and with so many band members on stage the sound did end up a little bit crowded in a venue as small as the Thekla.

All the highlights from both albums were there, and what a lot of them there are, especially given that the albums themselves are fairly short. The track written by keyboard player Ryan Monroe was a cool interlude. Weed Party rocked, and was the only point when I thought that someone might actually start crowd surfing. First album classics Funeral and Our Swords were essential components of the set, but the surprise highlight for me came at the end with General Specific, when the band really seemed to hit their stride.

All in all no big surprises in this show, but good to see the band in person.

Oh Calcutta Indian Kitchen, Cotham, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 07 Mar 2008
I went back to Oh Calcutta recently for the first time in ages. Service was top-notch and the food was as good as always. Was a little bit empty for a Wednesday night, but hey, can't have everything.

Semantic Camp, London, February 2008

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 20 Feb 2008
From the SemanticCamp homepage: "SemanticCamp London is a free, two-day unconference on the Semantic Web and related technologies that takes place in London on February 16th and 17th 2008 at the Department of Computing, Imperial College, South Kensington, London. It follows the principles of BarCamp, including the rules of BarCamp."

Tom Morris, Daniel Lewis, Ashok Argent-Katwala and David McBride among others all put a lot of effort in to making this a really fun event, as did the sponsors who coughed up cash for the tasty grub on offer. I saw some really great talks over the weekend, not least of which Yves Raimond and friends' linked music data demos, Ian Davis's talk on Open Content Licensing, and the awesome stuff going on at the BBC with publishing their data in RDF.

As always, however great the talks are the chance to chat over a beer, catch up with old faces and meet some new ones was even better.

Memories of India Restaurant, Kensington, London

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 17 Feb 2008
The meal I had at Memories of India on Gloucester Road was one of the best curries I've had in ages. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what it was that was so good, but my Chicken Jhalfrezi just tasted great: very fresh and flavoursome without being too heavy. The service was very friendly, and we even got a box of After Eights when we left.

Sarn Park Services, M4, Bridgend, Wales

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 03 Jan 2008
Admittedly it was early evening on New Year's Day when I stopped at Sarn Park services but the place was like a ghost town. Worst of all were the signposting and road markings, which were terrible even by motorway services standards. People have probably been rescued from this place after days driving round and round looking for the exit, having to live on food from Burger King in the meantime. If only Welcome Break would invest as much money in Exit signs as they do in No Entry signs the world would be a better place.

Apple Quicktime Player

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 19 Dec 2007
The player itself is generally ok from a performance point of view, but everytime an update comes out and it's another 25Mb download it reminds me what bloatware this is. Then on installation it litters your desktop, and anywhere else it can find, with Quicktime logos, starts scrapping with RealPlayer, Winamp, WMP etc etc for your file associations, and then sulks like a teenager when you say you'd actually rather not use Quicktime for everything under the sun. Come on Apple, get a bit of a grip.

iswc2007

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 28 Nov 2007
I was really impressed with this year's International Semantic Web Conference in Busan, Korea. It was the third ISWC I've been to, and without doubt the best yet. The networking side has always been good, but this year I felt that the main tracks also pulled their weight. I really enjoyed the research papers, the keynotes, the venue and the strong sense that the Semantic Web was maturing and starting on an exciting new phase.

Korea, Lonely Planet Country Guide, by Rob Whyte

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 22 Nov 2007
Using this guide book confirmed by growing suspicion that the Lonely Planet series has really gone off the boil. I hesitate slightly to rate it bad, because it didn't actively do anything seriously wrong, it was just badly lacking in places. In just a brief trip to Korea staying in just 3 places I noticed some really annoying ommissions and contradictions.

For example, the section on the Myeongdong district of Seoul lists very few eating opportunities, giving you the impression that there are no restaurants in this part of town. This is clearly not the case; if you simply walk around enough you'll find plenty of individual streets crowded with perfectly decent restaurants. The guide doesn't need to list all these, it would just be useful if it flagged up that this was the case. I don't need to be spoon fed; I'd much rather be pointed in the right general direction and take it from there, but the Lonely Planet guide doesn't give you that bigger picture. The one listed restaurant I did visit looked dead and uninspiring compared with other places round the corner, so I walked away and found somewhere else.

Similarly, the section on Gyeongju says that there are two trains a day to Seoul (only two?!). What it doesn't bother to mention is that after a shortish train ride to another town along the way you can pick up the KTX high speed train direct to Seoul, giving you the option of a good ten trains a day. Staff at the station will sell you a through ticket. It would have taken just one more sentence to mention this, but the authors didn't seem to think it was worth it (or didn't bother to do their homework). This gives me the impression of a guide that hasn't really been thoroughly field tested.

In the Health section, one paragraph states that no special vaccinations are required or recommended for Korea, but then one page later it states that all travellers to Korea should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A. So, is this a special vaccination? Is it required or not? This kind of ambiguity is really sloppy.

At a general level I find the layout of the books has now got pretty confusing. In any one section key information about a topic such as transport links may be scattered around different subsections, often leaving me wondering "where did I read that?".

There could also be improvements to the indexes in LP guides in general. One of the first things I want to know when I arrive in any country is whether or not it's safe to drink the tap water. This information is generally embedded in the Health section, but why not put an entry in the index pointing directly to this?

The last few Lonely Planet guides I've bought have all irritated me with these kind of oversights, and the Korea guide is no exception. I'll be thinking hard about buying anymore in the future.

Heathrow Airport, London

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 22 Nov 2007
It may claim to be the world's busiest international airport, but it's certainly not one of the most pleasant. The airside areas generally aren't too bad, but apart from at Terminal 4 the Departures and Arrivals areas can be pretty grim. Worst of all in my opinion are the underground walkways linking the terminals to each other and to shared facilities such as the Central Bus Station. This seems to have had some form of refurbishment in recent years, but the new structure has all the ambience and comfort of a cow shed. It's hard to justify the new terminal buildings (let alone a new runway) given air travel's contribution to climate change, but if they go ahead let's at least hope they improve the travelling experience.

Bexco, Conference Center, Busan, Korea

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 19 Nov 2007
I was very impressed with Bexco, venue for the 6th International Semantic Web Conference, and 2nd Asian Semantic Web Conference (ISWC+ASWC 2007). It's a beautiful building (yes, a conference centre can be beautiful, especially when you experience the ergonomics of the place); light, airy, spacious.

The organisation was great. My only gripes are the usual things about wifi/internet access and the lack of power sockets even in new conference venues. The wifi access points were so flakey at times and the downstream connection so slow when 550 people were all using them that I was tempted to give Bexco just 3 stars, but this is easily fixed I imagine; all the right ingredients are in place for an excellent conference venue.

Joomong - place to eat in Busan

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 19 Nov 2007
I couldn't agree more with the previous reviewer; this is a really cool little place in a side street near the Riviera Hotel (the other side of the 'main' street in Haeundae from the Riviera).

If I lived in Haeundae I'd go here all the time. There's a great atmosphere inside (small, cosy, down to earth, plenty of buzz whilst remaining low-key) and great food. We had bulgogy, which was excellent, preceded by fried eggs eaten with chopsticks. Highly recommended.

Jacek Kopecky's Web Site

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 13 Nov 2007
It's quite a basic site to look at, but there's some quality content on the blog.

The Prince of Wales, Bishopston, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 12 Nov 2007
In a city of great pubs, the Gloucester Road area is surprisingly lacking. The one saving grace is the Prince of Wales. It's an institution, although not near the top of my list in Bristol. In other cities I might love this place, but there are just too many other good places around

It gets extra points by default due to the shortage of other proper pubs in the immediate area, but to its credit it does serve a good range of Butcombe aleas. The food isn't bad either, though fairly pricey. Can get pretty packed at weekends (always with a fairly mixed crowd), but does have a large smoking area out the back.

Ibis Hotel, Myeong-dong, Seoul, Korea

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 12 Nov 2007
I'm not normally a big fan of chain shops, hotels, restaurants etc, but Ibis hotels always manage to be an exception. OK, so they've rarely (i.e. never) got any character, but they do some things very well.

The rooms generally just work; the beds are always really comfy (firm, hard to find in hotels) and this Ibis in Myeong-dong (the shopping district of Seoul) is no exception. There's a great view from the reception and restaurant, and breakfast isn't bad.

It's not the cheapest hotel you'll find in Korea by any stretch of the imagination, but it's well placed for shopping and the station, so if you want something reliable then this is a good option. There are also friendly English-speaking staff on reception and free broadband in the rooms.

Riviera Hotel, Haeundae, Busan, Korea

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 11 Nov 2007
Pretty average is the best description for this hotel. The concrete jungle feel of the forecourt and entry through the bargain-laden department store don't help the image. It's not so bad inside, and the reception staff are really friendly.

The rooms are clean and comfy enough, if a little bit tired. The mini-bar is good for when you get the munchies and the fridge makes a good place to store some snacks (bought for a fraction of the price at the convenience store down the road!).

In an ideal world there'd be more hangers (isn't that always the case?), an iron, some decent lighting, more power sockets and some drawers. Perfectly bearable for a week, but not exactly home from home.

Ops Bakery, Haeundae, Busan, Korea

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 11 Nov 2007
Situated just round the corner from the Riviera Hotel, this European-style bakery is a bit of a saviour if you can't manage Korean food for breakfast, lunch *and* dinner. They sell a range of very tasty Italian breads, pastries (French, Danish), and savoury snacks like baguette pizzas, and it wouldn't be at all out of place in a fashionable area of a major European city.

Don't be fooled by the things that have lables only in Korean and look like oval jam doughnuts (you wish!), even if they're in amongst other sweet things; the one I tried was actually filled with a mild curry filling that may or may not have been vegetarian (think British-style curry pasty, in a doughnut rather than pastry). It was not at all what I expected but actually very tasty.

The system seems to be (at least it worked for me) to help yourself by taking a tray and set of tongs from by the door, putting the things you want on your tray and taking them to the till for wrapping. Receipts are possible if you need them; pointing at the part of the till where they are printed and smiling seems to do the job.

It's not particularly cheap, but decent enough value for money and compares favourably to paying for a hotel breakfast. There's a tea shop inside as well off to one side. I didn't try it but it looks decent enough.

www.travelodge.co.uk

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 29 Oct 2007
This is the main national Web site for Travelodge, the hotel group. It's rubbish. The navigation is totally unpredictable and often fails. Hitting the Back button often takes you several pages back, and I kept experiencing errors saying "Your search has timed out. Please search for offer rooms again". Very tedious so I gave up in the end.

Eddie Izzard's Death Star Canteen, Lego-style

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 22 Oct 2007
This video alone makes YouTube worthwhile. See Eddie Izzard's Death Star Canteen routine set to an animation with Lego figures. "You're Jeff Vader?!" Brilliant.

Property Snake

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 22 Oct 2007
Property Snake is a web site that lists property for sale in the UK that has been reduced from the original asking price. It's a pretty useful site if you're looking for a bargain, as it shows you the price at which it was originally listed, current price, percentage drop and length of time on the market. I'd say this was a pretty good way of spotting properties where a bit of haggling might work out quite well. Naturally you can search by location and view full listings of some of the properties.

train station in milton keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 10 Oct 2007
The main concourse at Milton Keynes Central has improved a lot in the last couple of years (at least now there are some cash machines!), but overall the place is looking seriously dated. From the outside it gives the impression it hasn't changed since the 80s; the booking office is the same, except substitute 70s for 80s! The place is run my Silverlink trains; tut tut Silverlink, not impressed.

The main link corridor to the platforms is shabby and soulless, but at least the barrier staff are fairly friendly. The platforms themselves are probably the worst feature; windy, narrow, tiling that would look more at home behind the iron curtain, leaking roofs, run down toilets. Puccino's on Platform 5 brings a little light relief at least, in the form of decent coffee. I'm hopeful that the new platform being built will have a positive knock-on consequence on the rest of the station. At least it should increase the number of peak time trains for ean easier escape.

Transportation in Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 05 Oct 2007
I'd say the previous reviewer was overly generous giving transportation in Milton Keynes 3 stars. I'd say it deserves 1, or 2 at the most. It's expensive, low frequency in many places, unreliable, and patchy outside of core hours. In a city that has a grid system this is pretty hard to forgive; organising a logical, fast, and cheap system should be easy. The best solution if you don't want or can't afford a car is to get a push bike.

Berrill Cafe, Open University, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 04 Oct 2007
Yeah, I have to agree with the previous reviewer. One or two of the staff, the sculpture by the stairs and the wifi access are the only saving graces. Otherwise the Berrill Cafe scores low on every point. Sure, it's nice and light and airy, but in the winter this translates into huge drafts whenever the doors are opened (bring a jacket). In general it has all the atmosphere of an airport lounge.

The opening hours are always being chipped away at (now closes at 4pm I think, used to be 5pm), and the food is always a disappointment. Even things that sound like they should be good are often bland, there are no dressings available with the salads, and the real killer is the price. It's not somewhere I could afford to eat every day, and even if I could afford to I'd quickly get disillusioned with the food.

The Open University deserves so much more!

Maestral Resort and Casino, Budva, Montenegro

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 03 Oct 2007
I stayed at the Maestral for a conference in summer 2006. The rooms are not cheap, especially for Montenegro (which I expected to be a bit of a bargain), but I think they're aiming for a fairly upmarket clientele and the place had just been refurbished when I visited.

I had a very pleasant stay. My room was comfortable, with a sea view and terrace. The food was better than I expected, and the private hotel beach was decent. On the down side I did feel like some of the staff could do with smiling a bit more, and the casino upstairs felt pretty tacky.

I wouldn't rush back, but also wouldn't object to a stay if someone else was paying.

The Miners Arms, St Werburghs, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 03 Oct 2007
I think the Miners might be the best local pub ever. Great staff behind the bar, chilled regulars, excellent real ales on tap, an open fire when it gets cold, nutty pub dogs, awesome selection of Jonathan Crisp crisps, and formerly the stinkiest pub toilets in Bristol. Despite the little toilet refurb recently (I quite miss the experience of weeing against the wall) and the new smoking area the Miners still has it all. Home from home.

Las Iguanas, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 02 Oct 2007
A new branch of the Latin American chain restaurant in the new thehub:mk development in Central Milton Keynes. Like most things in MK it has some overly grand pretensions, but the food is not bad (though fairly pricey). Service at the bar took ages due to everyone ordering cocktails, but the staff were friendly and the table service was pretty efficient. It doesn't set the world on fire, but it's a welcome addition to the MK eating opportunities.

Airkix, Central Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 01 Oct 2007
Indoor sky-diving sounds like a really prospect, but is actually very very cool. Sure enough Milton Keynes can be relied upon to provide yet another outdoor sport indoors!

Airkix is basically a big vertical wind tunnel, and you "fly" in the middle of this tunnel. The build up can be a bit nerve-wracking, primarily because you don't know what to expect from the experience. However, once you've done it once, you realise that it's exhilarating and pretty full-on, but not actually scary.

The entire process is quite long relative to the actualy time you spend in the tunnel. On arrival you are given all the kit to put on and then shown a video which is as much marketing as training. The cheapest package includes 2 x 1 minute "flights" in the tunnel, which sounds like nothing, but is actually plenty for a first go, as holding yourself steady in 150mph winds is surprisingly physically demanding.

I really enjoyed the experience, and would certainly do it again (it's cheaper second time around). My one criticism is that the "training" felt more of a token gesture than a real effort to get us trained up. I would have appreciated some time to practice the "flying position" in the training room before getting into the tunnel, but this didn't seem to be an option. I was also surprised by the lack of any warm-up stretches.

Aside from actually being in the tunnel myself, the highlight was the little display that the instructor did at the end of the session. The combination of Spiderman-like leaping around the inside of the tunnel and the corkscrew to the top followed by vertical dive was absolutely amazing, and well worth seeing by itself.

Sleeper

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 22 Sep 2007
I'm not a huge Woody Allen fan, but Sleeper is fairly entertaining and good for a few laughs. The premise is that Allen's character (Miles Monroe) is frozen and reawakened 200 years later by a subversive organisation who want him to infiltrate a secret governement project.

If you like a bit of Chaplin-esque slapstick then you'll probably enjoy it, and there is some witty dialogue that plays on the 200-year time difference.

Maybe it was a common prediction at the time, but the civil liberty infringements the futuristic population are subjected to are remarkably similar to those the British government seems to want to impose right now.

Robbers and Cowards - Cold War Kids

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 19 Sep 2007
One of the best debut albums I've heard in months, if not years; interesting rhymthms, intelligent lyrics and powerful vocals. Even after several months of heavy listening it's still standing up, and some of the less obvious tracks (e.g. Robbers) are becoming real growers.

Hotel Clemenceau, Nice, France

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 16 Sep 2007
The Lonely Planet guide describes this hotel as having "chintzy" rooms, which is true, but doesn't quite give the full picture. I stayed here on two separate occasions in summer 2007, and the first room really didn't fit with the LP description. Faded, tatty chintz would have been more appropriate. The second room was far better; less tatty and less desperately in need of a paint job.

Having said all that, the hotel is pretty well located about 5-10 mins walk from the main train station, and just slightly further from the beach. The staff are generally pretty friendly, and the rooms have air conditioning and very effective double-glazing, which is a pretty useful combination on summer evenings.

Hotel Clemenceau is a good example of getting what you pay for. It's certainly not luxurious, but getting a room in a central location in Nice for less than 50 euros is not to be sniffed at if you're on a budget.

River Dart Round Robin Day Trip, Devon

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 30 Aug 2007
If you're looking for a relaxed day out in South Devon, then the River Link Round Robin is worth considering. It's a day-long round trip by boat down the stunning River Dart from Totnes to Dartmouth, with a few hours to mooch around Dartmouth, then a quick ferry to Kingswear and steam train along the coast to Paignton (great views), then an open top bus ride back to Totnes.

The pace is just right, the whole thing works smoothly, and you get some fantastic views along the way. It's not particularly cheap, but then it is a whole day's worth of entertainment.

Starter for 10

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 28 Aug 2007
This is a film that centres around student Brian (James McAvoy) and his fascination with trivia and University Challenge. All that is really just a vehicle for a rom-com with a likeable geek in the lead role.

It's quite sweet in places, and certainly passes the time fairly well, but it's a bit short on laughs. Ice cream man Des is the funniest character, but he's of almost zero significance.

My feeling is that it relies a bit too much on student stereotypes for laughs (although the stoned scene is quite funny), and is totally riddled with student cliches. Maybe it really was all like that in the 80s, I don't know, but it feels over the top.

Worth a watch if you're after something a bit lighthearted, but don't expect anything as funny or feel-good as other Brit comedies that try to tug your working class heart-strings, such as The Fully Monty or Brassed Off.

The Steam Packet Inn, Totnes, Devon

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 28 Aug 2007
The Steam Packet is a lovely looking pub right next to the River Dart at St Peter's Quay in Totnes. They serve a few local ales (but through an overly tight sparkler I reckon), but it was the dining experience that really left an impression on me!

A large group of us were eating in the restaurant, having booked in advance, and it was one of the most shambolic (and disturbing) dining experiences I've ever had.

We were told when handed menus that half of the specials were unavailable ("right, let me tell you what we haven't got"), despite having booked our table in advance. Probably 20 minutes after ordering, one of our group was told that her choice of dish (from the standard menu) was no longer available, and asked to choose something else instead.

The general manner of our main waitress reminded me more of something from a school canteen than a restaurant charging up to £15 for a main course. Side plates were cleared with a clank and all the finesse of a bull in a china shop, empty or unused glasses weren't taken away, and plates were left on the table for a considerable time after we had eaten.

The quality of service just didn't add up with the prices being charged. One of our group asked for some other form of potatoes than new potatoes, only to be told that new potatoes were a speciality(!). When he asked if they did fried potatoes of some form he was told "oh no, we don't do fried potatoes" (although there were chips on the menu). He was then offered sauteed potatoes. Being from abroad he asked what these were, and was told that they were fried potatoes! His dish eventually arrived with boiled new potatoes, was sent back to the kitchen to reappear shortly afterwards with boiled potatoes sliced and briefly fried.

Several of our group ordered the duck special (£14) but weren't informed by staff that this dish didn't come with vegetables. When it arrived without veg (making it simply duck on mash with "jus", a bit minimal for £14) we asked whether it was supposed to include veg or not, only to be told by another waitress (who looked like a rabbit in the headlights) that she'd ask for us. She didn't return but instead some undercooked veg arrived grudgingly at our table some time later.

By the time all main courses arrived (thank god we didn't order starters) we had waited over 40 minutes. In the meantime I'd asked twice for extra bread, only to be told after a 20 minute wait that they'd run out, and that we could either have white sliced bread(!) or wait another ten minutes for more to be baked in the oven.

Everything to this point had been frustrating, but not disastrous. What really sent it over the edge was when the member of our group whose first choice of plaice had been unavailable found a LIVE WORM in her dinner. A good couple of inches long, when she spotted it it was crawling at quite a rate from the salad on which her salmon was placed towards the edge of her plate.

This really was the defining moment of a thoroughly stressful and unrelaxing meal. After we'd recovered from the shock and spoken to the management we (against our better judgement) decided to stay for dessert and try to salvage something from the situation.

The same waitress arrived with insufficient dessert menus (you'd think they'd have worked out how many of us there were by this point) and left us to make up our minds. When she came back to take our orders we were told that there was no "fudge cake". I asked which item on the menu was the fudge cake (there wasn't one), and she jabbed her finger aggressively at the "chocolate mousse cake" as if I was an idiot. Why did she have to wait until we'd all decided what we wanted (mostly the chocolate mousse cake!) before telling us it had run out?

In the end we all ordered ice cream, which arrived one dish at a time, and didn't always contain the flavours the waitress (a different one this time) told us it did. One person's ice cream didn't even arrive at all and had to be reordered. Some dishes had strawberries, redcurrants and blueberries as a garnish, whilst others had none. This was the final nail in the coffin and we were really glad to leave.

Whilst we were pleased to have each others company we couldn't really enjoy it as we were constantly firefighting the mess created by the staff. It's a shame because the food itself was actually quite tasty, but seriously let down by excessive prices, and terrible organisation front of house and in the kitchen, not to mention the worm. Yes, a REAL LIVE WORM. Needless to say I won't be eating at the Steam Packet again.

The Yorkshire Grey, Fitzrovia, London

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 23 Aug 2007
To look at this is an awesome pub. Olde worlde charm without seeming tacky, great tiling, open fire, hanging baskets outside, etc etc. Being a Samuel Smith's pub takes the edge off it a bit for me, as there's something about being in a brewery pub that only sells their own beers that I find just odd. Having said all that, the beer is cheap and not too bad; where else in London can you buy a round without the slightest wince?

Upstairs there's a extra room that has the air of an old tearoom and serves down to earth pub food (fish and chips, ham egg and chips, burgers, etc) for about £5-£6 a main meal.

It's not going to make my list of favourite pubs, but is definitely somewhere I'd go back to if I was in the area.

Opodo

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 17 Aug 2007
Opodo has always done me pretty well for booking flights; the interface and market coverage are both good enough to get the job done. However, having just booked a flight on the site and been charged over £12 to pay by credit card (on top of the £5 booking fee) I'm seriously unimpressed. I don't see any way that this figure can be justified, and hope that the Office of Fair Trading act soon to stop this kind of practice. I thought EasyJet and Ryanair were taking the piss charging £2 per passenger per segment, but Opodo have really excelled themselves. Next time I'll make the effort to book directly with the airline, or (shock horror) use a travel agent.

Riverford Farm Field Kitchen, Devon, England

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 30 Jul 2007
Great food (organic, local), really well cooked, and served in a lovely light and airy building. A really good choice for a group meal (you may end up sharing a table with others, so maybe not somewhere for a romantic meal for two), and very reasonably priced given the quality of the ingredients.

The highlight for me in the sunday lunch was the beetroot gratin, which I think I could eat every day and not get tired of. My only grumble was being last up for dessert, meaning the chocolate brownie and pavlova were all gone. On the upside the sticky toffee pudding was amazing.

Highly recommended.

Brothers Fish Bar, Eaglestone, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 26 Jul 2007
A great, award-winning (if I remember correctly) chippie in the otherwise fairly depressing Eaglestone local centre. Tasty chips, good fish, and fairly reasonable prices I think. Friendly staff. My only gripe is that they close a bit early; around 9pm I think, last time I checked.

La Hind, Central Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 25 Jul 2007
This indian restaurant next to the station in Central Milton Keynes is pretty unassuming to look at; in fact it looks a little bit grotty from the outside, but don't let you put that off. It's a friendly and relatively laid back place that does great food at decent prices.

Among the many curry houses around MK La Hind is one of my favourites, mainly because of the combination of quality, price, and relaxed atmosphere. The chutney trays (well, the things on the trays, not the trays themselves) are conventional but very tasty, and the main courses are great. Well worth a visit, and a good alternative to the posher Jaipur up the road.

Virgin Trains' handling of July 2007 floods in southern England

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 25 Jul 2007
In mid-July 2007 southern England received some very heavy rainfall in a short space of time, leading several rivers to burst their banks flooding a number of rail lines and the M5 motorway. I was unlucky enough to be trying to travel along one of the affected rail routes on Friday 20th July, and it wasn't a pleasant experience.

The initial delay to trains due to water on the lines was inevitable, and I wouldn't blame Virgin Trains for that. However, what came next was a shambles and the seeming lack of preparation for this scenario shocked me.

At Birmingham New Street hundreds of passengers were stuck and unable to make onward journeys due to the flooding of rail lines. Normally replacement buses would have been dispatched, however I was told these were not running as the M5 motorway was also closed, and there were no alternative arrangements in place.

After 30mins of waiting to see how it panned out, I was told that in fact buses were on their way, so joined the hundreds of people (who had obviously been given different information) already waiting in the queue. After an hour and a half (in which time just two buses had departed) the queue was disbanded (quite aggressively) by Virgin staff and transport police.

The remaining passengers were herded into a "lounge" whilst staff tried to arrange overnight accommodation in a local school hall. By this point it was around 10pm, and the floods showed no sign of abating. I was shocked that these arrangements were only just being made. The scenario of both road and rail routes being flooded doesn't seem so unlikely, but there seemed to be no plan.

Eventually one bus turned up heading towards by destination and I jumped on, assuming that the motorway had reopened. Unfortunately this wasn't the case and within 1 hour of leaving Birmingham we were sat in traffic, where we stayed for the following 7 hours, overnight, with no food or water and no information about when the situation might be resolved.

Sure enough these are (hopefully) exceptional circumstances, but what really grated was the total lack on information throughout the process (or even worse, the conflicting information given by different Virgin staff), the rudeness of some of the staff, and the fact that our bus was allowed to depart when the motorway had not reopened. We were not even warned of this and given the chance to buy supplies. Shocking.

I'm normally a staunch defender of Virgin Trains, who have made major improvements since taking over their franchises. However, after my 19 hour ordeal I'm a little less impressed.

The Plough Inn, Simpson, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 24 Jul 2007
I went back to The Plough recently and ate in the restaurant for the first time. It's quite nicely done out in the back, and the food was reasonable. My biggest issue was the service. One waitress was excellent - friendly and efficient. The other was terrible - sketchy, slow, and seemingly at constant risk of forgetting things. It was hard to get her attention, and drink orders often took a while to arrive. We were in a big group, but it did seem a bit extreme.

On the upside the food was good enough. I'm not sure the pear, walnut and stilton salad for starters really worked, but the steak for main course was excellent (with great homemade chips). The creme brulee was a total let down, being more of a creme caramel texture with a creme brulee top.

All in all a pleasant meal and a very nice evening, but a few things that would have been improved. As I've said before, decent pubs in Milton Keynes are hard to come by, so the Plough scores slightly above the odds.

Fabchannel.com

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 20 Jul 2007
Fabchannel.com is one of those sites that makes you wonder how we ever lived without the Web. It's a video archive of hundreds of live concerts recorded at the Paradiso and Melkweg venues in Amsterdam. The shows are incredibly professionally filmed (this isn't someone in the crowd with a camcorder) so you have a great sense of being there (as much as you can watching a web replay) whilst also being able to hear the sound very clearly.

Most of the gigs in the archive are from smaller, up and coming bands, which makes it a great way of discovering new music. Current shows scoring well in the Fabchannel charts come from artists and bands like Bloc Party, Cold War Kids, Damien Rice, Andrew Bird and The Arcade Fire. And it's all free. Brilliant.

Slow, Live at the Lansdown, Clifton, Bristol, 15 July 2007

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 16 Jul 2007
This gig was a salvage effort following the washing out of the second day of the 2007 Ashton Court Festival. Shame about the situation, but what a great way to make up for it, and raise some money for the festival in the process.

On a rainy and muggy July evening the music of Slow and the oppulent surroundings of upstairs at the Lansdown in Clifton Village made a perfect combination. Given the intimate setting the band went largely acoustic and the set started with a stripped down version of Glory. It was good to see and hear Oz back on guitar, and the unpluggedness of the set really allowed his sound to come through.

New tracks like Oil showed a slight shift in sound, in a good way, but it was the classic Seeds that topped the night off for me, as always. Probably the best Slow gig yet. Nice one.

The village

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 03 Jul 2007
Coming from M. Night Shyamalan, the director of The Sixth Sense, I expected a twist, but didn't spot what it would be, and was quite impressed. The film manages to build a decent degree of tension, although it doesn't ever become really scary. An enjoyable watch, but probably not alone on a dark night or if you're feeling a bit jumpy.

Proschay Korova - Nayekhovichi

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 23 Jun 2007
I came across Nayekhovichi totally by chance, playing in Krakow's main square in summer 2006. They were like the ultimate buskers; stunning a growing crowd with their unique take on traditional klezmer music, while the lead singer sang through a loud hailer. I bought the CD there and then, and spent the rest of the trip wondering if it had been the best or worst 10 euros ever spent. As it turns out my judgement was sound; these guys totally rock, whether it's playing their own music, or their own take on Paint It Black. Buy the CD if you can, or better still see them live.

Art Hotel Binders, Innsbruck, Austria

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 11 Jun 2007
I think the name "Art Hotel" is stretching it a bit. "Furnished by IKEA" might be a bit more accurate. It's not a bad place, but I felt there was much more that needed to be done before I'd fall in love with the place, and a few things really niggled.

My room was small for the price: it was cosy and had a nice view, but it was still damn small. It had the feel of an upmarket student residence and could have done with a fresh paint job, which seemed ironic given I was supposed to be in an "Art Hotel".

I booked through Expedia, which seems to be absolutely the wrong thing to do, as the rates quoted are far in excess of what is quoted in the hotel's brochure in the room. Try booking through the hotel's own website (almost impossible to find on the Web) and you might get a better deal. Paying almost £70pn for a small room without breakfast starts to grate after a while. The woman who checked me in was really friendly, but the rest of the staff were pretty sullen. In particular the big guy who seems to run or own the operation was totally patronising.

You can buy breakfast separately if it's not included in your room, and at 7euros it's not a bad deal, but is pretty minimal in variety, and the floor in the dining room could have done with a good sweep.

The thing that got me the most was the location: the hotel's web site is pretty vague about this, but Expedia quotes 1km to the Congress (Convention Centre), and 2km to the Old Town. They've obviously got totally the wrong data here, as it's almost 1.5 miles to the Congress, through the old town. Sure, it's not far in a taxi, but at 8 euros a time the cost adds up quickly. Very annoying.

If you've got nowhere else to stay then you could do worse than Binders. It's generally clean and quiet, but in my experience it's unlikely to rock your world.

Hafenbahnhof Imbiss, Lindau, Bavaria, Germany

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 04 Jun 2007
This is the little place just inside the station building, on the town side not the platform side; it's not the kebab stall by the platforms. It's a great little place to grab some food if you have to kill time in in Lindau waiting for a train connection. There's seating inside and out, and a range of hearty Bavarian snacks on the menu. I had a fantastic sausage salad: weisswurst that seemed to have been put through a french fry chipper, peppers, onions, and gherkins, in a french dressing with bread, all for 4.60 euros. Bargain. Friendly staff, and you can just get a view to the lake.

West Coast Select Original Pacific Salmon Jerky

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 04 Jun 2007
I had to try this, and glad I did, if only to know that I never want to eat it again in my life. It's probably not the best salmon jerky to try first time, but I won't be trying others to find out. It's a little bit sweet and sickly, but leaves a pretty horrible aftertaste. Maybe the peppered varities would be better, or maybe you just need to like this sort of stuff.

Banff Airporter Airport Transfers

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 31 May 2007
Following on from my previous review... Using the Banff Airporter on my way back to Calgary Airport I was picked up in a smaller minibus shared with just two others. So this time there were far fewer stop-offs en route, making it feel more like a taxi service, which in turn makes it seem better value for money. Once again the driver (different to the previous one) was friendly and helpful. Recommended.

The Holiday

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 29 May 2007
Imagine Bridget Jones, with two couples and a transatlantic house-swapping plot, but without the funny bits, and that has The Holiday pretty much summed up.

The Jude Law/Cameron Diaz pairing does have some life at least, whilst the Kate Winslet/Jack Black part of the story is totally hollow and unconvincing. It's a film riddled with tedious stereotypes (all Brits have plummy accents and live in quaint cottages) that just about passes the time, but only just.

The Elk and Oarsman, Banff, Alberta

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 29 May 2007
Middle of the road pub catering to a young crowd who like beer and televised sports. I wouldn't rush back. Friendly staff, and ok food, but nothing to write home about.

The Saracen's Head Inn, Symonds Yat East, Herefordshire

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 28 May 2007
This pub in Symonds Yat East pretty much has it all: amazing location just yards from the River Wye, with plenty of outside seating from where you can admire the gorgeous view; good food, though it isn't cheap; a great selection of real ales; and rooms if you need to crash out after a night in the bar.

In the summer or over bank holiday weekends it's pretty packed, which is understandable given all the things it has to offer. At these times (and even others) it's worth booking ahead or getting there early. There's a posh dining room inside which takes predence if it's booked up, so don't just turn up, and don't expect to get scampi and chips. We ate some fantastic pork belly and an acceptable rib eye steak. The food was good but didn't rock my world for the money. My guess is the prices would be a couple of pounds lower per dish in a different location.

The beers on offer are good, with some standards such as Marston's Pedigree, and the much more preferable HPA and Butty Bach from Wye Valley Brewery.

Despite all the great raw ingredients, I don't quite feel able to give this place 5 stars. I'll certainly be back, and will enjoy doing so, but it doesn't quite deliver 100%.

Indian Fast Food Restaurant and Takeaway, Cotham, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 27 May 2007
This place near the Arches on Cheltenham Road (next door to the Cat and Wheel) always looked dodgy to me, but after hearing good things I gave it a go, and it's actually really good. It's a totally no frills kinda place. You can bring your own drinks as there isn't a license, and the interior is basic, but the food is really really good. I had the best Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi in years; the chicken was really tender and the sauce was tasty and just spicy enough.

The prices on the board in the window are not totally in sync with those inside (maybe the board in the window shows takeaway prices?) but this place represents really great value for money. Two of us ate really well for about £14. Include a tip and the beers we'd brought, and we had a good meal out for about £10 a head. Bargain. The combination of price and quality makes this place worth 5 stars. Highly recommended.

(There doesn't seem to be a web site, but at May 2007 the phone number is 0117 924 8062, or for reservations only before opening time it's 0117 952 0787. Closed Tuesdays.)

Banana Wharf, Southampton

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 23 May 2007
Every city by water has at least one of these - a cavernous bar/restaurant that has upmarkets pretentions but is actually quite chavvy. Soulless interior, overpriced (and rubbish) beer, uninspiring clientele. This is a place for people who think San Miguel is exotic.

Ceno, Southampton

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 23 May 2007
I haven't eaten here, so can't comment on the food, but as a place to sit outside in the sun and have a drink it's not bad. The inside has a bit too much pale wood and a few too many chrome taps serving poor quality (but expensive) beer, but go on a sunny day and sit on the patio and it's alright.

The Crossing Resort, Saskatchewan River Crossing, Banff National Park, Canada

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 21 May 2007
This is the kind of place that has an end of the world feeling to it, but in a good way. It's basically a "resort" (optimistic, but I can forgive them that) made up of some nice little chalets (motel-style, some with extra private terraces at the front), a shop (with plenty of souvenirs), dining room, spa, pub, and petrol station. The chalets are well setup, cosy, and comfy. You can get a cheaper room if you opt for a non-mountain view room, but there are mountains everywhere around so you don't lose out by going for the cheaper option. There aren't loads of places to stay in the area (in fact there's nothing in the area apart from The Crossing and some truly amazing scenery) but you could do a lot worse than spend the night here.

Forest View Hotel, Symonds Yat East, Herefordshire

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 21 May 2007
It's nothing amazing to look at from the outside, but the Forest View Hotel in Symonds Yat East is a decent, welcoming, family-run hotel, in a homely, chintzy sort of way. The rooms are decently equipped, spacious, with comfy beds and good views, but the location is really the best feature, being right above the water and probably a minute's walk if that from the pub in the village. Breakfast was a little bit too deep fried for my liking but that's my only grumble. A perfectly decent place to stay if you're in Symonds Yat.

Balkan Restaurant, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 21 May 2007
This slightly misleadingly-named restaurant on Banff Avenue actually seems to just serve Greek cuisine, but it does a pretty good job of that. The decor and ambience are nothing to write home about, but the food is simple and tasty. I had the Arni Psito (Roast Lamb) which was fantastic - very tasty and just falling off the bone. The staff were friendly and efficient and easily handled 25 of us eating at one table. I don't feel like I've found my spiritual home in this place, but it's certainly worth considering if you want a decent homely meal in Banff.

Railway Journey: Trento to Bassano del Grappa, Italy

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 18 May 2007
If you're heading for Venice from Trento (or vice versa), then taking the route via Bassano del Grappa is really worth the extra time. The section Bassano to Venice is nothing special, but between Trento and Bassano (where you'll likely need to change) you'll be treated to spectacular mountain scenery, deep gorges, lakes, and luscious green meadows (in summer at least). Sitting and staring out the window is the only thing to do.

The regional trains on this route are modern and comfy with big windows, and best of all the journey (which takes a couple of hours) will only cost you a few Euros. Total bargain, and well worth making time for.

Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 18 May 2007
The beer is apparently very popular in Canada, but I don't see why. It really doesn't deserve the label IPA, tasting more like a low-grade lager such as Foster's or Carling. Worth a go if you like that sort of stuff, but if you're looking for a quality ale then give this a wide berth.

Underground Internet Cafe, Banff, Alberta

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 16 May 2007
Down in a basement on Banff Avenue, the Underground Internet Cafe is a convenient place to catch up on some email. The connection speed seems very good, and the large office chairs are very comfy. The chairs and the low lighting makes having a quick doze as appealling as wading through your inbox. However, at $6CAN per hour this isn't really a place to hang around. Given that so many cafes provide internet access for free, six dollars seems like a lot. Quite annoyingly they didn't offer me a discount even though I had my own machine with me, and there doesn't seem to be a bulk rate if you plan to stay for some time. Also strangely for an internet cafe they don't seem to have a web site - at least it isn't easily found on Google. In summary this place does a pretty specific job very well, but not much else besides; could be improved.

Y Mountain Lodge, Banff, Canada

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 16 May 2007
My room at the Banff Y felt pretty institutional. Yes, this is a hostel and so some degree of institutional feel is inevitable, but a coat of paint and a steam clean to get rid of the pervasive smoke smell would really help. Other than that the room wasn't bad; spacious and comfy with decent facilities.

Based on my room alone I wouldn't rush back to the Banff Y, but I do get the impression other rooms are better, and the really killer feature of the hostel is the Sundance Bistro, which I've reviewed separately. The friendly staff behind the reception desk and the awesomeness of the cafe make this somewhere really worth staying, and the location is perfect just the other side of the Bow River from downtown Banff.

Saltlik Steakhouse, Banff, Alberta

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 09 May 2007
This place in Banff town has a bar on the ground floor and a more upmarket restaurant upstairs. The downstairs bar feels a bit average, but the restaurant is very nice. The service is attentive, if trying a little bit too hard; the waiter's spiels got a little bit excessive and didn't feel totally genuine or convincing.

All that aside, the food is excellent. The spanish tapas (is there any other type?) was excellent, and the petit filet steak for main course was without doubt the best steak I'd ever had. This was accompanied by some excellent sides dishes (especially the potatoes, although the asparagus was a little underdone).

There are three in-house beers brewed specially for the place. I tried all three and wasn't hugely impressed (although the IPA was reasonable), but this didn't detract from the meal at all.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, Alberta

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 09 May 2007
This place is immense, and is in a location to die for, surrounded by the heavily wooded mountains of the Rockies with amazing views. The building itself is almost as impressive, if a little bit over the top.

I'm not sure that the reality lives up to the first impressions. The common areas inside the building are very grand, but the rooms don't feel particularly exceptional. Sure there are lots of deep, fluffy pillows and bath robes, but there's nothing else that sets the rooms apart from many lesser hotels.

My experience in general didn't get off to a good start when my credit card was authorised for the entire amount of my bill, plus 100 dollars a night for incidentals, without any warning from staff that the authorisation would be so large. Pretty excessive, and resulted in alarms going off at the credit card company.

The "royal service" you get over the phone is fun, very efficient, and does set the place apart, but aside from that the hotel as a package (views excepted) doesn't rock my world as I had expected.

The bars and restaurants in the hotel are as expensive as you'd expect, but fortunately there's a food shop and liquor store on site.

Sundance Bistro, Banff Y Mountain Lodge, Banff, Alberta

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 07 May 2007
This is the cafe/bistro at the Banff Y Mountain Lodge (the YWCA, open to all) and deserves a special mention. It's a great little place set within the hostel at the Banff town end of Spray Avenue. The atmosphere is relaxed, with nice low lighting, making it the perfect place to get your morning caffeine hit and then sit quietly while you come down.

It's open all day 7am-10pm but I've only been there for breakfast, which is really tasty and very reasonable. The most basic option is 5.50 dollars for eggs and sausages and toast. I had the Huevos Rancheros (fried eggs with tortilla, refried beans, and grilled cheese) which was huge, and kept me going all day. Staff are friendly too.

Banff Airporter Airport Transfers

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 07 May 2007
The Banff Airporter does airport transfers from Calgary Airport to Canmore and Banff in the Canadian Rockies. In my (limited) experience it's a pretty slick operation. You can book and pay online in advance, there's a desk in arrivals at Calgary with a room where they'll store your bags if you have to wait for the next bus. It felt like a very professional operation.

My two criticisms are 1) the cost - 50 dollars each way seems a lot, especially when you're travelling in a bus with 20 others, and 2) the time it takes to drop people off - if you're in a bus with many others then you may be last to be dropped off, depending on your destination hotel, which can add up to 20 minutes to the two hour journey. Having said all that, this is a door to door pickup service, so some going round the houses is inevitable I guess.

Our driver was really helpful and friendly, and knew exactly what he was doing, so for service they get top marks. If you're in a group then there may be cheaper and quicker options, but if you're travelling alone then this is a good option.

Banff Springs Ski and Mountain Sports, Banff, Alberta

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 07 May 2007
This is the sports equipment and ski rental shop at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in Banff (underneath the Conference Centre). I went in to buy some swimming shorts, and realised I'd hit on a great source of local information on all sorts of outdoor activities. It looks just like an outdoor clothing shop, but is clearly a lot more.

I got talking about good cycle rides and the really friendly staff (especially the owner Bec) was very forthcoming with recommendations for bike rides in the area, as well as information about the hotel spa and the local hot springs.

As well as the ski and snowboard rental, the shop does bike (and bear spray!) rental, and sells all the maps you'll need for walking and cycling in the Banff area. They also run a hiking register for those going out alone or in small groups, which is a nice touch. Highly recommended.

Hotel America, Trento

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 07 May 2007
Hotel America is a really nice family-run hotel in the centre of Trento. It's nicely done inside and well equipped, without feeling at all pretentious. I was given a lovely room (all are en-suite) right at the top of the hotel with its own roof terrace giving views over the old town. The room was clean, cosy, and comfortable, and the reception staff were very friendly. Italian and some German is spoken by the reception staff (not sure about other languages).

Breakfast is yoghurt, cereal, fruit salad, bread, ham, cheese, etc, and worth taking time over. My only grumble would be the really mediocre coffee from the coffee machine, but I imagine you can get something better from the bar in the dining room.

The only other minor grumble is that the wireless costs 2 euros for 30 minutes. Really I want it to be free, but I guess I can't have everything, and the room rates are pretty reasonable. This is a really nice place, and I'd certainly go back.

The Coach and Horses, Clifton, Bristol

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An old-style boozer hidden away in a little square right at the top of Whiteladies Road. The view from the terrace at the front isn't anything to write home about, but it is a great suntrap and perfect for whiling away a weekend afternoon.

Traditional pub food such as scampi and chips, and burger and chips is available. For those with exotic taste there's lasagne (yes, with chips). It's reasonably priced (roughly a fiver for each dish) but nothing particularly special. As well as all the usual mass-produced beers when I visited there was also London Pride, Spitfire, and one other fairly mainstream cask ale on tap.

The Last Kiss

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A group of late twenty-something males suffer pre-thirty relationship crises, centred around male lead Michael (Zach Braff). As the relationships unravel the film unfolds into a more interesting story than one expects from the early sense of impending doom. The premise of pre-mid-life crises is an interesting one, but in general the film lacks real impact.

V for Vendetta

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 25 Apr 2007
It's sometime in the near future, and Britain (or is it just England?) has become a fascist state. In the spirit of Guy Fawkes, the mysterious "V" plans to blow up the Houses of Parliament and shake things up enough to remind the oppressed masses what they've lost.

Office worker Natalie Portman gets involved with V (in a sequence of events that's wonderfully executed - in just a few minutes her life changes and there's no way back) and the story unfolds from there.

The basic premise of the film is excellent, and very scary, especially because in the most surveilled country on Earth, with a government intent on attacking civil liberties, it seems worringly plausible. By invoking the legend of Guy Fawkes the terrorist aspects of the film are given a rosy, nostalgic air. Sadly the reality of a situation where anyone contemplates this sort of thing must be anything but warm and cosy.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of terrorism, this is a story about oppression, people's coping strategies, and the lengths to which they'll go to overcome it. It's also a film about vengeance, very cleverly executed.

Intellectually this film is a must-see. As a story it didn't engage me 100%, but I would happily watch it again. Knowing that it's based on a graphic novel helps you understand where it's coming from, narratively and cinematically.

Cat, the animal

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 24 Apr 2007
I'm a big fan of cats. People with gardens (but without cats themselves) seem to hate them quite often, saying that they come and make a mess of their gardens, but on that basis cats win over dogs every time (and it always seems to be dog-lovers who do the complaining!). A very low proportion of dogs are really cute; this proportion is much higher in cats, especially when they're asleep. The only downside is when they get a bit old and dribbly, but you kind of have to forgive that after so many years of being soft and strokable.

The Day After Tomorrow

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 23 Apr 2007
A serious message wrapped in a cheesey film. It passes the time, and does have a moment or two of tension, but the script-writing is pretty awful and there are a few fairly annoying details that don't help you take the whole thing seriously.

My first annoying niggle was in the library when they seem intent on burning books, rather than all the wooden chairs, tables, and shelves around them. Obviously this just provides an opportunity for a little aside into "can we really do this?" moral dilemna territory.

I guess I've got used to national stereotypes in Hollywood films, but the portrayal of the British scientists (football fan and token black man led my lovable old duffer professor, toasting "England" at the end, with Scotch) is just so laughable.

Perhaps most objectionable is the scene showing the US president being the urged to leave the White House, as "they're the last ones left". I can't believe for a minute that any US president (or other head of state) would stay behind to be the last one out. Instead they'd be the first to scarper to somewhere safe and warm. Pah. At least the Royal Family come a cropper in their choppers, so maybe there is some justice after all.

Scrubs

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 19 Apr 2007
I love Scrubs so much. It's been the most consistently funny thing on TV for the last few years. Any programme that can make me crack up one minute, well up the next, and then leave me pondering the meaning of existence is something pretty special.

JD is brilliant, especially his little mental outtakes, but it's hard to have a long-term favourite character. Dr Cox would be totally objectionable if it wasn't for the glimpses of humanity, that are all the more touching for the speed with which they disappear. Dr Kelsoe is an evil wacko in so many ways yet also human at the same time, and has some amazing one-liners: "If I wanted to make boring small talk over low-grade beef, I'd have dinner at home". Brilliant.

John Smith, Live at The Royal Albert Hall, London, 16 April 2007

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Can one guy with an acoustic guitar grip the entire crowd in a packed Albert Hall? If it's John Smith then the answer is yes. There to support John Martyn, he played a short but sweet set that showed off his talent as a performer and songwriter.

The tracks he chose to play from his album "The Fox and The Monk" were not all obvious choices (Green Man, To Have So Many, So so, Winter), but they demonstrated his vocal abilities and amazing guitar skills. In particular the variation on the album rendition of "So so", that involved paper in the guitar strings, was superb, and showed he's not standing still.

To stand up there unaccompanied and as a less well known artist takes real guts. John totally pulled it off, and even managed to crack plenty of jokes. Easy in a small venue perhaps; much much harder in a room that size. Top work John. Come back as headliner next time.

Facebook

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 19 Apr 2007
I'm interested in these sort of social networking sites from a research perspective, so I'm both enthusiastic to see what they offer, and as a regular person quite cynical. I've been a longtime user of LinkedIn, which is just starting to prove useful now I've reached a critical mass of connections, but have held out on MySpace and Facebook until recently.

Since I signed up I've been reasonably impressed, but more at a technical and user interaction level than anything. As with many things, it's affected by the "I already use X number of social networking sites, why would I need another?" problem, and without the ability to port all my connections from LinkedIn I can't see Facebook being my "social networking site of choice" any time soon.

Having said that, they do some cool things. The Status Updates are nice, although nothing I can't get with my Jabber roster or from Twitter. The Social Timeline is quite interesting, but a bit meaningless when sparsely populated (guess I need some more Facebook friends). Probably the biggest advantage over LinkedIn is the use of photos; optional, but really helpful, and gives the site more of a familiar and personal touch. By far my favourite feature is the "Poke" feature. I haven't even used it (again, more friends needed), but I know I want it, and have wanted it for ages. Well done Facebook.

After all the good stuff, now the gripes... Sometimes I find the options on the site annoyingly restrictive, and Facebook really needs to learn from the tagging world about this. The "How do you know X?" options are stupidly narrow. Where's the "Other" option? Or the "We just know each other from around" option. There are stacks of people who I know in multiple contexts, and the overly restrictive options means I live this connection blank which makes the system less rich and less useful.

Lastly joining the college (university) networks requires you to log an email address from that institution with Facebook. Maybe this would give me lots of useful extra features, but I'm sorry they're not getting their hands on my Uni mailbox. I deliberately use other accounts for these sorts of services, and that isn't going to change any time soon.

Facebook seems to be immensely popular, and deserves to continue doing well. It's a crowded space, but there are some good features in there. Just a few kinks to iron out and it could be unstoppable, especially if the "how do I get my data out to reuse elsewhere?" issue was sorted ;)

Amsterdam

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 18 Apr 2007
It's a while since I went to Amsterdam, but I was genuinely impressed. We weren't in the mood for cultural stuff, just being there, relaxing, and soaking up the atmosphere of the place. I got the sense that there was loads to do if you wanted culture and sightseeing, but it's also a perfect place to just be.

The sleazy reputation isn't really deserved; sure it's there, but that's true in any big city. Generally the people were really friendly and helpful, with the exception of one guy who we actually tried to speak Dutch to. I'm not sure if he was shocked, offended, or just rude, but it didn't go down well and we were put off trying again. Everyone really does speak such good English that it's not really worth bothering to try Dutch, although it does totally offend my sensibilities to not even try.

It's easy to find stuff to do in Amsterdam, but probably my favourite thing was just walking along the canals in the early evenings and getting a glimpse of the lives of other people through the windows of their apartments overlooking the canals. Perfect stuff for a cold February.

Seasick Steve, Live at the Thekla Social, Bristol, 17 April 2007

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 18 Apr 2007
Seasick Steve arrives on stage from the wrong direction. Guitar in hand he plays his way through the crowd, reaches the stage, clocks the fans at the front dressed in Seasick Steve outfits, smiles and looks slightly bewildered, then begins a set that totally rocks.

Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm at a gig or a standup comedy night. Between tracks he cracks jokes that are genuinely funny, and the crowd can't help but truly warm to him.

Performed live the songs eclipse their album versions to go from great to outstanding. The sound is full, rich, and needs no further accompaniment; Steve has it all, but still gets us singing along to Things Go Up, and by the end he's up on his feet in a frenzy of hobo rap. Weird, but very, very good.

Things get a little bit tetchy when the people at the back keep chatting. Steve is looking pissed off, the crowd at the front can tell, and the chatting's ruining the mood. This goes on for a couple of tracks and then he loses it, stops playing, gets up and tells them to shut up. It mostly works, and the crowd applaud, but you can feel the adrenaline as he finishes the track looking furious.

This is not a gig lacking emotion. When Steve closes with an awesome Dog House Boogie we hear the less censored version of his first 14 years. Seeing him steady himself to share the grim details shows how real these experiences are. After a few more bars he manages it, and goes out with a bang. It's all very, very good y'all.

The Star Tavern, Belgravia, London

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 17 Apr 2007
This is a posh part of town, so to find a pub that's as down to earth as the Star Tavern is no small achievement. Sure, many of the drinkers are locals who aren't short of a bob or two, but the crowd was relatively mixed when I visited and the place doesn't feel snooty.

Being a Fuller's pub you'll find (well kept) London Pride, Discovery, and ESB on tap, plus seasonal variations such as the tasty IPA. There's a decent looking menu available, although the (very friendly) staff were very willing to just serve us some chips.

In general the atmosphere was nice and chilled, if a little bit too smokey in the main room. If only this place had a garden it would be really really special. As it is it's a decent pub I'd be very happy to go back to.

Poland as a Holiday Destination

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 13 Apr 2007
Poland is not the first place you'd think of as a tourist destination. Needing to find somewhere nice to travel for some walking and relaxation on a tight budget, and encouraged by the growing UK-Poland links resulting from Poland's accession to the EU, we decided to give it a try in Summer 2006. Having heard good things from a friend and with advice from a Polish colleague, we headed for the south, so this review only covers general impressions of the travelling experience in Poland, based on that area.

I'd heard people wax lyrical about Krakow, but was a little disappointed when we arrived. Sure it was pretty, but felt a little bit dead. We stayed in university halls in a fairly central but otherwise non-descript part of town, which I think added to this feeling. I wasn't in the mood for sightseeing, but there was plenty to do if I had been; day trips to the Salt Mines and Auschwitz-Birkenau seem to be the main "attractions". After a few days we moved on, but did return to Krakow at the end of the holiday. This time we stayed near Kazimierz, which has a much more exciting atmosphere compared to the old town. I still wasn't hugely in the mood for sightseeing, but Kazimierz has such an interesting history that you can't help but be engaged. It totally transformed my experience of the city, to the point that I left with a strong desire to come back.

The middle part of our trip was spent in the Pieniny National Park, which straddles the border with Slovakia. We'd been warned off going to the Tatras in summer due to the crowds, so went to the Pieniny instead, which is much lower but still stunning. There are loads of well marked walking trails, with beautiful views along the way. You can buy maps showing these trails from tourist offices, and even the average walking time of each section of a route is given which helps a lot in planning. There's not necessarily much to do if you're not into walking or other outdoor activities (which seem to be massively popular with Polish people coming to this area), but if you are then you could easily spend a week or two just doing this.

We didn't have a problem finding accommodation, although it did look a little bit tricky at first due to the time of year. In the end we split our time between a (relatively expensive) hotel and a (very good value) private room, which was organised for us by the local tourist office.

Depending on how you see it, language was or wasn't a problem. This is not an area that sees many western Europeans on holiday; in a week in the Pieniny we saw one Brit and three Germans, so it's not somewhere that is used to tourists who don't speak Polish. Having said that, between a bit of an effort from us to speak Polish (which seemed very much appreciated), a bit of German (useful mainly with older people), and English (useful mainly with younger people, who often work on hotel receptions or in other public-facing roles and generally speak amazing English), plus the ubiquitous sign language we got on fine. The few crunch points came at places like bus stations, where communication could be hard due to the more pressurised environment (but hey, that's all part of the experience, right?).

Enjoying our own company was pretty important though, as the Pieniny is a family kinda area so not full of wild nights out and chances to meet other travellers. We did feel very welcomed by people, who went out of their way to help us out, but without better Polish skills we were limited in how much we could get to know them.

My main reservation about Poland as a holiday destination is that it doesn't yet seem adapted to providing for tourists who may have a different timescale or perspective on the day. Maybe this is a good thing, and I should adapt, but it seemed like a missed opportunity to attract more visitors from abroad. Even on holiday the Poles we saw seemed to like to get up and out in the morning; slobbing around in bed seemed kind of alien. Similarly in the evening (outside of Krakow) most things shut down after about 9pm (so don't wait too long to go out for dinner - aim for 6pm and you'll be fine). As a Brit with a fondness for the pub, this seemed really odd, and was surprisingly hard to adjust to.

I had expected the food to be really bland, but in fact it was excellent. Liking hearty meals of meat and potatoes helps, and if you do you'll be in heaven. Far from being bland the food was full of flavour and the meat really tender. Go with an open mind, and don't expect to find what you eat at home on restaurant menus, and you'll come home well fed. Similarly the beer (lager-style only it seems) was excellent but it's strong so watch out.

In general Poland is still good value, but I'm sure it's not as cheap as it once was, and I'm also sure this will change fast. In fact in some places you can already easily spend as much as in any western European capital. So go for the experience, not for the money. Plans some walks, check out the fantastic scenery, feel the history, eat and drink early, and be ready to get to know the people as much as you can, and you'll have a great time.

Propeller - Pete Roe

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 12 Apr 2007
Propeller is the debut album from Bristol musician Pete Roe. His music could be described as jazz, blues, folk, or a whole range of things, but the important thing is that it's great to listen to. The album gives a good taste of what's on offer, but if you're lucky you'll see him live first, and then buy the album (10 quid, and well worth it).

I saw him once playing solo, switching between guitar and piano, and it was quite an enchanting experience. The songs range from slow and atmospheric (I'll only be dreaming of you; Far too soon), to upbeat rock n roll (All over town). Either way this is perfect music for sitting, listening, and paying attention, or just switching off and chilling.

Hopwood Park Services, M42, Alvechurch, Birmingham

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 11 Apr 2007
These Welcome Break-operated motorway services are either new, or have had a major refurbishment recently. The main building is actually quite nice architecturally, at least for motorway services. On the ground floor there is a shop, a large cafe set against a huge two-storey glass window, and a few other things. Upstairs in the usual service station self-service restaurant, as far as I remember. What let the place down when I visited were the toilets. They were quite smelly and just felt grubby. This was odd given that the timer at the entrance said they were inspected hourly, and it was over 30 minutes until the next clean, meaning that they'd been inspected within the last 30 minutes. Obviously someone had walked in, said "yep, these are as dirty as always", and walked out again. Shame.

Joost

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 03 Apr 2007
According to the hype Joost holds the promise of revolutionising TV, and I think it may just work. The premise is basically TV on-demand over the net. I'm not sure it gets any more complicated than that. You download and install the client for Windows or Mac, fire it up, and have a look through the channel listing to decide what to watch.

At the moment Joost is undergoing beta testing, and the amount of content available is fairly limited. Highlights include the IndieFlix channel (check out the Inside Iraq documentary), some of the live gigs, and the surfing/snowboarding channels. The rest can be pretty obscure at times (do I really care about the World's Strongest Man channel?) but with a couple of big deals struck recently this is bound to increase, so have patience. Once it reaches a critical mass of content it will really be a viable alternative to regular TV.

Content-aside, the main things that hinder my usage of Joost are the demands it places on network and system resources. I have an uncapped 4Mb ADSL connection at home, and I still feel a bit conscious of how much data transfer is going on while I'm watching a programme. Is guess I'll just get used to this over time.

Despite the connection speed, the picture quality is still not what I feel the creators have promised. It's fine for documentaries, but suffers a bit when trying to watch surfing or snowboarding videos. If anything, the latest 0.9 version of the client has more hangs in the programming than previous versions, although this could simply be about network load.

Last of all is the issue of system resources. My machine meets the system requirements, but does get put through the wringer when watching stuff on Joost. This is especially true of CPU usage, and even some serious hard disk thrashing at times. I know machines are built for this sort of stuff, but I do have an image of something going pop.

The interface is very smooth to look at. It doesn't always work quite as smoothly, but the team do seem to listen to requests for changes. There are already some nice little widgets included, and I get the impression these are going to be a huge part of what Joost offers. It's really nice that they've gone for supporting Jabber rather than one of the other IM platforms, although people without Jabber or Gmail accounts will be a bit stuck, and so far I don't see any moves to address that. The channel chat rooms are never occupied by anyone else when I drop in, but hey, there are only beta testers to be there so that's hardly surprising. I can imagine this will be huge in the future for some channels, and dead for others.

Ultimately all my niggles will be resolved. We'll all migrate to more powerful machines, get more bandwidth, and Joost will get more content; so these aren't deal breakers for the whole venture, but may mean that people need a little more coaxing to get onboard. At the end of the day, it's free, you can watch it potentially anywhere, anytime, and I've never found the ads paticularly intrusive. TV does need a good shake-up. Virgin Media in the UK are doing some cool things with on-demand and replays. Joost takes this one step further. With some more careful manoeuvring by the team behind Kazaa and Skype, this really should be a big as the hype suggests.

Mud Dock Cafe and Restaurant, Waterfront, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 02 Apr 2007
The Mud Dock cafe/restaurant is upstairs in an old warehouse building on Bristol waterfront, just spitting distance from both the Thekla and the Arnolfini, and a nice contrast to the unimaginative bars along the busier part of the waterfront. Downstairs is a bike shop, yet upstairs manages an intimate, relaxed, and cosy atmosphere despite the high ceilings and big windows.

I'd walked past Mud Dock loads of times before but never stopped. Going recently for the first time I was pretty impressed. On a Saturday night the place was nicely busy, with candles on the tables and small groups happily eating and drinking away. The food isn't particularly cheap, but is tasty and not outrageously priced. There is a decent range (in price and taste), and ingredients seemed good quality. I had the Mud Dock burger, which was a homemade hunk of beef and really tasty. The chunky chips that came with it were a bit floury and could have done with a lot more of the delicious salsa that came on the side.

We were served by a young waitress who was excellent. Only the annoying 10% service charge added to the bill stopped me from leaving a tip, which she would have deserved to pocket personally. I was really impressed, and she deserves to do really well. In contrast, the floor manager seemed frenetic and a little bit too stressed when everything seemed to be running smoothly. This rubbed off on the customers at times, which was a little bit uncomfortable to watch.

That aside, my only complaint would be the excessive cost of drinks. £3.50 for a bottle of Bath Ales Gem is taking the piss a bit when you know that in a pub just 5 minutes walk away this would cost two thirds of the price. So, a few minor niggles, but otherwise a good place that I'm looking forward to going back to.

Jonathan Crisp Crisps

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 29 Mar 2007
Jonathan Crisp crisps are the best thing to happen on the pub snack scene in years. They really do make a perfect complement to a good pint, and the different flavours are so good that it's always worth getting a few packets (to share around, naturally).

I really like the thick chunkiness of the crisps, and the decent amount of seasoning that's heaped on - this is a killer combination for me (an antidote to beer and reason for more at the same time). Flavour-wise, I used to be a die-hard Jalapeno fan, but the Horseradish and Sour Cream have stolen the thunder recently. The pictures on the front are great too - especially the one that looks like Camilla Parker-Bowles.

The Vine Bistro, Ware, Hertfordshire

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 29 Mar 2007
The Vine is the kind of place that I think of when I see the "my bank's now a trendy wine bar" advert (for a bank that shall remain nameless, and now an ad that has become almost mythical in the UK). I don't think the building actually was a bank, but it is now a trendy wine bar, and it's been done very well.

Inside the bar and restaurant areas have been kitted out well, with a good mix of regular tables and sofas. The highlight for me is that they serve a pretty good range of beer, and very tasty food. It's not cheap, but does feel reasonable for the style and quality (although the crisps are a right rip off - 1 pound a packet last time I went in). The menu is pretty extensive, but not unnecessarily so, and the staff are generally decent and efficient.

I've always found the atmosphere to be really nice and chilled at the Vine, although I've only been during the week, and gather that it gets pretty rammed at the weekends. This would definitely put me off, as its a place to go and have a few quiet pints, not somewhere to shout to be heard. Overall I wouldn't change much, except for maybe less rip-off crisps, and a bit of insulation around the windows; those old sashes are lovely, but can get pretty draughty on a cold night.

Funeral - Arcade Fire

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 28 Mar 2007
This is not an album that grabbed me when I first put it on, but by god it's a grower. Everyone who mentioned it said it was great, and these were people whose taste I trusted. With a few more listens I saw past what felt like prog-rock, to tracks that were immense, operatic, and very very well done.

And it stands the test of time. Whilst some of the tracks are now totally familiar, they haven't lost any of their shine. Tunnels conjures up brilliant images; Power Cut and Rebellion (Lies) rock; and album highlight for me Wake Up does the same, with choral backing. Awesome.

Kuvuka Cafe, Stokes Croft, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 26 Mar 2007
Kuvuka is a great little cafe on Stokes Croft, that's only opened in the last month or two. My feeling is that it should do really well, and deserves to. All the right ingredients are in place: the space is wonderfully airy and light, with high ceilings and a mix of comfy sofas and regular tables. There's great (fair trade) coffee, reasonably priced and tasty food (panini, salads, flapjacks, cakes), friendly staff, and free wireless internet access. Panini are served in little wooden 'boats', which is a nice touch.

This is an easy place to spend a few hours, and makes a real difference to the sometimes bleak landscape of Stokes Croft. My one comment would be that there were a few crumbs, and empty cups and used plates hanging around on tables a bit too long. However, with just the owner on duty (and handling the busiest day yet in admirable style) I can easily forgive that. Highly recommended, and good luck to it I say. It's open roughly 8am to after 6pm, shorter hours on Sunday, and a late start on Tuesday if I remember correctly.

The Last King of Scotland

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 26 Mar 2007
The Last King of Scotland gets off on a real feel-good note, with plenty of laughs and a sense of adventure. Inevitably, for a film about a brutal dictator, this can't last for ever and things get increasingly dark.

That said, it is a thoroughly watchable and enjoyable film, with some real comic moments. Both James McAvoy and Forest Whitaker are excellent, and show a real chemistry. The subject matter is heavy, but the film never becomes overwhelming; a pretty tough balance to strike.

The Tap Bar, Ware, Hertfordshire

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 25 Mar 2007
The Tap Bar seems to want to be all things to all people. Even the web site describes it as "a family run cafe, bar, restaurant and hotel, serving traditional foods alongside tapas, real ales and coffee". Ambitious indeed, and in reality I'm not sure it totally works. It's certainly not a bad place, but I don't think it lives up to its pretentions.

The inside is quite nicely done out in pale wood, and the place doesn't have a bad atmosphere. I was there on a Tuesday night and there were plenty of tables occupied and a decent buzz to the place. I'm not sure the group that looked like the local sewing circle is really the intended target market, but perhaps in a town the size of Ware one can't be too fussy about who your customers are.

In the end I felt that little details let the place down. The real ales on tap were not bad beers (Greene King IPA, and maybe Adnams), but didn't display any imagination. Some of the little plastic-wrapped cakes on the counter looked tacky set against the very dressed-up barman (who seemed to have slight Cocktail-esque aspirations). The decent decor inside is let down by the run of the mill outdoor furniture in the adjacent courtyard, and the fairly downmarket loos all confirm the impression of a place that hasn't quite got it right.

I'm sure one could have a very pleasant and fun evening at the Tap Bar, and I didn't try the food or the accommodation, so can't comment on those. However, in general I'm left with the feeling that with a little more attention to detail the Tap Bar could be great; in the meantime The Vine down the road has got the formula just right and wins hands down.

Westwood House Hotel, Galway

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 22 Mar 2007
This is a review of the bar and restaurant at the Westwood House. I haven't stayed in the hotel itself, so cannot comment on that, but was fairly impressed with the restaurant and bar.

An upmarket hotel in this location on the edge of town seems a bit bizarre, but my guess is that the business park across the road provides a large proportion of the custom. Entering from one of the main doors you come into the bar area, which is furnished in dark wood. It gives the place a cosy, luxurious feel rather than being overbearing. There are large tables with big comfy seats; perfect for a few hours of Guinness and conversation.

Bar snacks are available, but if you want something more substantial then the restaurant to the rear is well worth it, but turn up early or bring sufficient funds. The a la carte menu is not cheap (20 euros plus for a main course if I remember correctly), however the early bird menu (until 7:30pm I think) of starter, main course, pudding, coffee, and wine for 50 euros per couple is very good value for money.

The food was very good, and the atmosphere both oppulent and cosy. I'd certainly go back for the early bird menu, but being truly honest I probably wouldn't eat from the a la carte menu after 7:30pm and therefore pay full price. The disparity between the early bird and a la carte menu seems a little bit too great, so paying full price would leave me feeling a little bit cheated.

If you want a decent upmarket meal in Galway, and you're staying nearby or you don't mind getting a cab out to the Westwood House, then it's well worth a visit. Just get there early.

Lal Jomi Indian Restaurant, Redland, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 19 Mar 2007
Lal Jomi has to rate as one of my favourite curry houses in Bristol. It's tucked away in a cosy residential corner of Redland just off Coldharbour Road, so has a friendly neighbourhood feel that doesn't sacrifice quality one bit.

The food is generally excellent, but the pickle trays deserve a special mention. Without doubt this is the best selection of pickles, chutnies, etc that I've ever seen at an Indian Restaurant, and the brinjal chutney is sublime.

Decor-wise, Lal Jomi is high-quality Indian Restaurant chintz. The big differences over your average curry house are the cosiness of the booths around the edge, and the tent-like suspended canvas canopy ceilings. You'll know you're in the pretty well-to-do Redland area of Bristol from the locals' conversations going on around you, but that aside the atmosphere is suitably exotic that you could be anywhere. Recommended.

Arcade Fire, Live at Brixton Academy, 15 March 2007

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 16 Mar 2007
Seeing The Arcade Fire perform live is like witnessing an ancient, fantastical machine in operation. Each part is staffed by a highly trained individual, each performing their very specific function. Together they create something far greater than the sum of the parts.

The show at Brixton Academy on 15th March was an awesome spectacle. In an amazing venue, the set created an almost holy/industrial feel, and the sheer number of people on stage emphasised that. Each band member seemed to be happily doing their own thing, but in totally synchrony with the rest of the group. This makes for a totally captivating performance. I've never seen a band that's quite so visually engaging on stage; one minute you can watch the tambourine guy, the next the violinist, then the female vocalist. Oh hang on a minute, now the female vocalist in on drums, the drummer guy is playing keyboards, and the tambourine guy has a guitar! And they all switched over in the dark, while the music was still going.

Frontman Win's voice was suffering a bit from sinus issues, and you could tell in places, but the band all carried each other. The spine-tingling from openers Keep The Car Running and No Cars Go was only just subsiding when the crowd helped out on tracks like Neighborhood 1 and Wake Up and my world was truly rocked.

The Wavendon Arms, Wavendon, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 13 Mar 2007
A traditional roadside pub in the village of Wavendon, on the edge of Milton Keynes, that has recently been refurbished to the point where once inside you wouldn't even guess you were in a pub. They've done a fairly tasteful (if slightly over the top) job. Personally I think it goes a little bit too far, but whether or not you like it depends on how you feel about old pubs having such major surgery.

Inside there is a large dining area which is clearly the target market, and it is lovely and light and open, which on a sunny day is wonderful. The tables are comfy and simply done and I was really impressed by the menu when I saw it; every section contained numerous dishes that looked appealling, from pizzas, pasta, and salads to more substantial meals.

The blue cheese tortellini I ordered came in a creamy basil and walnut sauce, which was fairly tasty, however the tortellini itself was mediocre. If I hadn't ordered it, I wouldn't have guessed it contained blue cheese; in fact, if the waiter hadn't said "blue cheese tortellini" when he brought the plates I'd have sent it back on the basis that there'd been a mix up in the kitchen. To my mind a blue cheese tortellini should be pungent and gooey, which this certaibly wasn't. Bland and with an odd aftertaste better captures it.

As a side dish I went for a tomato, basil, and onion salad, which amounted to one large bowl (too large, which was odd given that the reasonable £2.50 price tag) of halved cherry tomatoes, fairly thickly sliced red onion, and a reasonable amount of basil. The result was totally unidimensional: the tomatoes were too sharp, the onion overwhelming, and the quantity unnecessary. Nigella Lawson's red onion marinade for greek salad would have worked wonders; even the red onion fan in me was put off.

The friends I ate with had a decent seafood risotto, and a deeply underwhelming (and undercooked) pizza. When this was flagged up to the (fairly sketchy) waitress she tried to tell us that that was just the style; the pizzas are thin-based with tomato on top, so apparently they're bound to be a bit soggy in the base. Not convinced? No, us neither. Try telling that to an Italian.

Overall the place has a nice atmosphere, and had a decent buzz on a weekday lunchtime. The food is reasonably priced (even if it needs a bit of work), and I would go back, just with lower expectations than the management might be hoping for the place.

The Turf Tavern, Oxford

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 09 Mar 2007
A proper old old pub tucked away in Oxford's side streets. Low ceilings, beams, and lots of dark wood give this place plenty of character inside. Outside in the courtyard there's a covered area with large tables. There are lots of real ales on tap, and a menu of what looked like regular pub food. In general I liked it; my one grumble would be the service behind the bar. It was quite busy, but only one person was serving, and she didn't seem to be in any great hurry.

The Jericho Cafe, Oxford

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 09 Mar 2007
Great little neighbourhood cafe/bistro in the Jericho area of Oxford. It's light and airy inside thanks to the big windows at the front, but still cosy, and makes a great place for people watching. Good coffee, and fantastic cakes; don't plan to go anywhere in a hurry as you'll need some time to come down from the sugar rush. There are also main meals on the menu, which look excellent, but I haven't eaten there so can't comment further. Well worth stopping in if you're in the area.

Cold Mountain

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 05 Mar 2007
This is the kind of film that if it manages to get you, then it really puts you through the wringer. It's hard not to be got when faced with male lead Jude Law's character Inman desperately trying to make it home from the civil war to Cold Mountain and Nicole Kidman's Ada.

The people he encounters on the way ensure there's some story to the journey itself, and back at the ranch Renee Zellweger's Ruby provides some light relief. However, this film is all about whether he'll make it home or not, and you have to be patient to find out how it concludes.

None of the performances really grabbed me; the tension is the star of this film, set against some beautiful scenery very well shot.

The Swan Inn, Middleton, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 03 Mar 2007
From this outside this is a quaint old pub in Middleton, the original Milton Keynes village. On the inside it's been recently refurbished, with a big dining area at the back. The refurb is actually really well done - I was impressed. They've managed to give it a contemporary feel that also has a lot of character. As I've said many times before, the choice of pubs in MK is not what it could be, and this certainly qualifies as one of the best, thereby justifying the four stars. However, there are some issues which for me means it doesn't warrant five.

We ate in the dining room at the back. The service was friendly and attentive, although drinks tool a while to arrive from the bar. The range of ales on tap is limited to the fairly obvious Greene King IPA and Adnam's; both of which are fine but a pub that has had so much effort put into it deserves a better range of beers. The IPA also tasted like it was pumped rather than hand pulled; more like John Smith's in a can.

The menu contained some really tasty looking things, but my major issue is the price. For what you get I'd say the prices where a quarter to a third too high. I ate fish pie, which was fine, and if you'd cooked it at home you'd be perfectly happy with it, but it didn't justify the £11.50 price tag. There was way to much mash on top (at least half the depth of the pie), and it was served in a large mug, which seemed odd, and I suspect served to reduce the amount of pie filling actually required. The flavour was fine, but didn't blow my mind.

My other comment about the dining area is that with four people sat around one table it's fairly cosy, and there was a serious shortage of space on the table itself, especially once wine, beer, water, etc etc were taken into account. The dining room itself didn't feel cramped, but they could generally have done with slightly larger tables, or smaller dinner plates.

In general I think they've done a good job, and I would go back, but they need to keep a serious lid on the food prices if they hope to build up regular dining customers.

Ryanair

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 28 Feb 2007
Ryanair's one redeeming feature is the routes they fly. Often they're the only airline flying to a particular destination, and because they use regional airports this often means they have good point to point connections.

However, this is where the redeeming features stop. They're no longer particularly competitive on price, except for on the really obscure routes, and the sheer number of extra charges on top of the advertised price is totally frustrating.

The travelling experience itself is pretty cattle-like. The lurid yellow and blue interiors of the planes are really disgusting, the staff are pretty surly, and you have the sense that no-one really gives a s*** about you. My worst Ryanair moment was sat on the tarmac at Stansted for 45 minutes (at 10pm on a Sunday) awaiting a bus to take us the 100 metres to the terminal building, simply because the airline is too cheap to pay for the slots at the gate, and they'd run out of buses. Nightmare.

The Hope and Anchor, Clifton, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 26 Feb 2007
One of Bristol's most highly regarded pubs, and one that wouldn't feel out of place in a small village. The atmosphere is homely and cosy, helped by being tucked away down the hill from the Triangle in Clifton. There is an impressive range of guest ales on tap, and the food is excellent, substantial, and reasonable value. An very easy place to spend an evening.

The Wheatsheaf, East Hendred, Oxfordshire

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 26 Feb 2007
Lovely pub in the very picturesque village of East Hendred. There's a great big open fire in the bar area to the right, plus plenty of tables for eating to the left hand side. The emphasis seems to be on the food, which I didn't try but is supposed to be very good, however there are three ales on tap if you're only interested in drinking. Very friendly staff and great service.

The Fox and Hounds, Cattistock, Dorset

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 21 Feb 2007
The Fox and Hounds is a proper little village pub, sat in the pretty village of Cattistock. It has a fantastically authentic feel to it, with friendly staff and locals, big log fires, and hearty pub food (e.g. ham egg and chips, fisherman's pie). There's a decent sized menu on the wall in the main bar, and portions are very generous. When we visited there were three real ales on tap, all from local breweries as far as I remember. Apparently the pub has a had a very good reputation locally and despite recently changing hands looks like it will keep it up. Won't count as my pub of the year, but worth stopping in if you're in the area.

Royal Thai Restaurant, Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 20 Feb 2007
This is a nice little Thai restaurant on the High Street in Stony Stratford. The staff are friendly and the food is very tasty. We ate a combination of banquets A and B, which were excellent. The chicken satay and chicken in pandanus leaves that came as part of the starter were particularly good. The main courses were all nicely varied in terms of flavour and spicyness, and with the freshness that I associate with Thai food. My main comment would be that the place would benefit from a little more atmosphere - I hate to say it, but maybe some traditional Thai music - but then we did go on a Monday night. Otherwise, faultless.

The Caldecotte Arms, Caldecotte, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 19 Feb 2007
A pub set in an old Windmill on the edge of a lake. Sounds idyllic doesn't it? Sadly sounding idyllic is about as much as the Caldecotte Arms manages. About the only charm to be found inside is from staring at the old beams and brickwork on the ceiling. The lighting is a bit too bright, the service is slow, impersonal and uninterested. It can be good if you have a large group and don't want to book in advance, as there's loads of space, but other than that it's uninspiring.

During the week there is a two meals for £10 deal, with quite a lot of choice. Dinner for 5 pounds isn't bad, but as with most of these things you'd rather pay a little bit more for something of a bit higher quality. I had fish and chips; the fish was actually tasty and well cooked, but the chips were really measly and only half covered the plate. They looked as if they'd deliberately been arranged to take up as much space as possible, to hide the fact that there were so few of them. The peas were lukewarm and undercooked.

The bar has taps for real ale, but when I last visited these were out of use and didn't look like they'd been in use for some time. Disappointing.

The Acorn Inn, Evershot, Dorset

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 14 Feb 2007
The Acorn Inn isn't your typical village pub. It sits on the main street of the very pretty and very chocolate box village of Evershot, and features in the story Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. As well as the bar area at the back, the front is now a fairly high-end restaurant, so the place seems to want to be all things to all people. Generally it manages it pretty successfully.

We had a pub meal and a few beers in the bar. The food was good, tasty pub food (cod and chips, ham egg and chips), although there wasn't much choice on the bar meals menu itself (three main dishes plus sandwiches and lighter stuff). We had the option of ordering off the restaurant a la carte menu aswell, but weren't planning to go that upmarket. We did however order puddings off the restaurant menu (chocolate brownie, creme brulee). These were fantastic, presented restaurant style, almost as expensive as our main courses, but well worth it.

There were three different real ales on tap, with good variety of different types (two bitters and a stout), but the thing that impressed me most was the service. Both the waitress who served us and the barman were incredibly friendly and professional, but in a nicely laid back way. The one thing I'd change about the service was that we were treated as if we were in a restaurant not a pub, with drinks being brought to our table. This wasn't really necessary, and felt a bit odd in a pub. I wasn't sure if it was what the staff thought we expected, or whether everyone gets the same treatment.

I think the place makes for a good evening, and I would certainly go back. The biggest issue overall was that the bar area lacked a bit of atmosphere. It picked up a lot as the evening went on, but there didn't seem to be any integration between locals and visitors, which was a bit of a shame. So, the Acorn won't ever win my pub of the year award, but definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.

Boston Tea Party, Clifton, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 13 Feb 2007
I always assumed Boston Tea Party was part of a huge chain, and consequently felt kind of ambivalent to the one in Bristol (which this review is about). Doing a little bit of research for this review it turns out that actually they are a chain, but have just five cafes throughout little towns in the south west of England, some of which I'm sure badly need it (I'm guessing good coffee isn't easy to come by in Barnstaple).

Anyway, this review is about the cafe in Bristol, situated towards the top end of Park Street. The main seating area is upstairs, and is light and airy with a high ceiling. It's a great place for coffee and cake. Sandwiches are tasty too. Just for the record, the main Boston Tea Party website is almost impossible to find through a search engine, which the owners might want to get fixed.

Wetherspoons, West End CMK, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 13 Feb 2007
Wetherspoons pubs can vary from wonderful old buildings (e.g. The Imperial, Exeter) to foul, cavernous, modern drinking barns serving cheap food in front of plasma screens showing the football. This Wetherspooons is part an example of the latter. To be fair there isn't much choice of decent pubs in Central Milton Keynes, but this one makes for a pretty soulless experience. The saving grace is the range of beer on tap, as one has come to expect from JDW. Everything else is pretty dire though. The food is cheap but deeply uninspiring, and the place has all the atmosphere of an airport lounge or doctors waiting room.

Rectory House Bed and Breakfast, Evershot, Dorset

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 12 Feb 2007
It's rare to find a Bed and Breakfast where the proprietors have got it all right, but Rectory House in Evershot is one of those places. Owners Jan and Barry have got a pretty winning formula. Situated in the picturesque village of Evershot in Dorset (roughly halfway between Yeovil and Dorchester), Rectory House is a lovely old building with a spacious garden to one side. The rooms are big and airy, whilst still feeling cosy and snug. All have en-suite bathrooms with both baths and showers. Our bathroom was also very spacious and comfortable, which was a nice contrast to some B+Bs where the bathroom has been squeezed into a corner, just because it needs to go somewhere. There's a guest lounge on the ground floor, which could be useful if you have a large group staying, but our room was big enough that we had no need to use it.

The English Breakfast was tasty and well cooked, there was a decent selection of cereals, plus jams etc to go on your toast. Jan and Barry were welcoming and easy-going, giving us plenty of space to just come and go as we pleased. We were given a key to the house, and the way it's set up means that you don't feel like you're disturbing people if you come home late from the pub.

The rooms are really well equipped. Having a safe in the wardrobe is a really thoughtful touch. I felt no need to use it at all, but the fact that its there makes a difference, and is pretty rare in B+Bs. My one grumble would be the 2pound laundering charge if you request a bath robe. This wasn't mentioned on the web site, and if I'd known I'd have brought my own. The charge itself isn't totally unreasonable, but it would be nice to know in advance. This is a minor grumble though, and doesn't really change my opinion that Rectory House is a really well set up place. Highly recommended.

Designing with Web Standards, by Jeffrey Zeldman

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 09 Feb 2007
This book was like a revelation to me. I'd been merrily using CSS for years, and was sold on conforming to web standards, but this was the book that made me pull my finger out and actually do it. And do it right! Some people may find the style a bit full-on, but I think the book succeeds completely in making it's case that there's no excuse for not adhering to web standards. In fact, there are many benefits to be gained in doing so, and the book spells them out. This makes great material for anyone trying to convince clients, bosses, or colleagues that web standards are worth the effort. Plenty of good techniques for handling specific issues are described in detail, so in one volume you have both a recipe book and a manifesto.

This review is about the first edition of the book. I haven't read the second, so can't really comment on how it stands up to revision after several years. Reviewers elsewhere mention out of date examples, which may be the case. Either way there's still a web standards fight to be fought, and this book is a great rallying cry.

Far From The Madding Crowd, Oxford

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 05 Feb 2007
Walk into Far From The Madding Crowd and you'll know you're in an ale drinkers pub; partly because of the large number of beards on show, but mainly because of the range of beers on tap. I visited shortly before Christmas, and there was an impressive mini festival of seasonal ales going on. The food was high quality traditional pub food. I ate a burger that was so big I couldn't eat it without sacrificing some dignity. I'd go back to this pub very happily; the main thing I'd change would be that because it's housed in a new building the large main room lacks intimacy or cosiness. The ceiling is high and makes the place feel more like a city centre Wetherspoons at times. Luckily the beer and food make up for it.

Jennings Sneck Lifter

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 05 Feb 2007
Despite the odd sounding name, this is an excellent winter ale. It's dark and rich, with a chocolatey, smokey taste, that gives it an almost coffee-like taste. You couldn't really ask for more on a cold dark evening.

The Old Church House Inn, Torbryan, Devon

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 05 Feb 2007
The Old Church House Inn is a great little country pub, tucked away in the hamlet of Torbryan in South Devon. Low ceilings and open fires make for a really snug venue for dinner or just a few pints. We turned up to eat without a booking, but the staff (who were generally very friendly and efficient) made an effort to squeeze us in. The menu is made up of good simple pub food, well cooked. The two ales on tap were Cornish Knocker and Betty Stogs, both from Skinners in Cornwall. Neither are amazing in my view, but they're tasty enough and seemed well kept.

Nutberry's Giant Chocolate Covered Raisins

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 31 Jan 2007
These are the ones in the clear plastic bags that you might have seen next to the till in your local Tesco. They look sumptuous and promising, but are ultimately a disappointment. It's not that hard to make decent chocolate coated raisins, surely, but these are just way too sweet and sickly. The raisins themselves seem quite sweet, so a darker, less sugary chocolate would have been better. Resist the urge when you see these, they're not worth it.

Broken Flowers

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 30 Jan 2007
Broken Flowers provides a fantastic vehicle for a classic deadpan Bill Murray performance. The film centers around his character Don, who one day receives a letter from an ex-girlfriend, telling him he has a teenage son. The letter is unsigned, so (with encouragement from his neighbour) he sets off round the country, visiting each the exes who could be the mother of his son. Predictably they're all different in personality and life situation, giving plenty of raw material for awkward silences and dubious encounters. This is great viewing for any Bill Murray fans, or anyone who likes their humour intelligent and a little bit quirky. The soundtrack is also excellent, and deserves a separate review.

The Road to Guantanamo

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 30 Jan 2007
Michael Winterbottom's docu-drama recounts the story of the 'Tipton Three' - young British muslims who were captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay. The film opens with their original journey from the UK to Pakistan for a wedding, on into the increasingly unstable Afghanistan, and eventually their capture and transfer to Cuba.

If anyone was in any doubt about the brutality of the regime at Guantanamo, then the film certainly provides some horrible, graphical food for thought. What struck me the most was not the way the detainees were treated, shocking as that was, but the almost panicked way in which they were handled. The film doesn't just portray a cold, calculatingly abusive regime, but a regime so freaked out that its response is utterly disproportionate to the situation.

My overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude to Michael Winterbottom for making the film, as anything that causes us to stop and think about the issue is immensely important. However, I also went away feeling like an opportunity had been missed to create a film of even greater impact.

The style of the film is recognisable from Winterbottom's film about two Afghans entering the UK illegally, "In This World". Neither film explicitly passes judgement on the situation or the characters. In This World did a great job of just telling a story, and leaving the viewer to make up their own mind. The Road to Guantanamo is less successful in that regard. It lacks the rigour of a documentary, simply telling the story from one perspective. Of course this is a story that needs to be told, and I imagine that was the director's aim. For sure the American side gets plenty enough airtime, so anything to redress the balance is worthwhile, and we shouldn't begrudge that.

However, with a topic that is so politically charged, I can't help feeling that a little more objectivity would have helped bring the message home. As a viewer I had numerous questions I wanted to ask of the main characters, the answers to which would have helped me engage with their story at a personal level. It's a shame the filmmakers didn't anticipate this. The interview footage with the real Tipton Three felt somewhat hollow. For the most part I found it easier to engage emotionally with the actors playing them. Perhaps this is inevitable given what they've been through; I'm sure I'd seem cut off too.

Night at the Museum

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 26 Jan 2007
This is not a film for the typical Ben Stiller audience. There's only one vaguely smutty joke, and it's firmly in the real of a kids film. Having said that, any big kid at heart or adult capable of a bit of imagination should enjoy it.

The premise is that Ben Stiller's new job (which he desperately needs in order to retain the respect of his son) is not what it first seems. Cue lots of adventures as he tries to sort things out.

The star-laden cast puts in a good performance, although Ricky Gervais seems (yet again) unable to play anyone other than himself. Look out for the cave men, and try to imagine yourself playing those parts. Brilliant escapism.

The Better Food Company Organic Supermarket, St Werburghs, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 25 Jan 2007
This is the place to go if you want to do all your shopping in one place, but know that what you're buying is fresh, organic, as local as possible, and probably even fairtrade. The range in the shop is pretty amazing, from all the usual groceries down to household cleaners (including Ecover refils), nappies, clothes, books, wines, and beers. In particular the deli counter has excellent local cheeses (try the Bath Brie and Bath Blue) and olives. There is now also a cafe which is really getting going and probably deserves a separate review. Staff are always friendly and welcoming, so there's really no reason not to support this great enterprise.

Seeds EP - Slow

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 23 Jan 2007
The Seeds EP is the latest release from warm, laid-back Bristol folk band Slow. It's been said many times before, but their name says it all. Slow play beautiful, gentle songs, perfect for dark winter evenings and warm sunny days, and this EP presents them at their finest yet.

Full of gorgeous harmonies and spinge-tingling instrumentals, it's hard to pick a stand-out track on the EP on purely musical grounds - they're all as good as the one that came before. My personal favourite is the title track; any band that can write a positive song about a post-apocalyptic world, and then sing it so beautifully, is alright by me.

The Barge Inn, Woolstone, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 22 Jan 2007
The Barge is housed in an old building next to the Grand Union Canal, in the pretty 'village' of Woolstone (now part of Milton Keynes). It looks like it's been a pub for decades. With this olde worlde charm and canalside location this should be a great pub. Instead it's decidedly average.

Part of the Vintage Inns chain (owned by the brewery Bass, if I remember correctly), the pub has been done out to look authentic and cottagey, but the impression is pretty fake. There are always a couple of Real Ales on tap which seem reasonably well kept, but the emphasis is really on food. The meals aren't bad, they're just the same stuff you'd get in any other Vintage Inn. Disappointing. Could be so much better.

The New Queen Victoria, Wolverton, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 18 Jan 2007
An average town pub in the centre of Wolverton, opposite the Agora. I get the feeling that this could be a great pub, but the details let it down. For example, there is a raised area at one end of the pub, ideal for sitting and having a quiet chat well away from the plasma screen showing football at the other end. However, the commentary is also pumped out of speakers in this area, making it hard to actually ignore what's going on on the screen.

There are a couple of fairly common but reasonable ales on tap (Greene King IPA and Old Speckled Hen), but these are served in a way that makes them taste like draught ales from a can, not real draught ales. Neither was off, but neither tasted particularly fresh either, suggesting to me that they aren't drunk very regularly.

Lastly, despite being a large room and not having many smokers, the entire bar area was really really smokey, so it seems like the ventilation could be improved. Elsewhere I'd rate this pub as two stars, but I gather the choice in Wolverton isn't what it could be, therefore it gets an average three.

Cafe Balti, Wolverton, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 18 Jan 2007
I've eaten at Cafe Balti a couple of times now, and always really enjoyed my meal. The food is excellent, the staff are friendly, and it's very reasonable. You have the impression that you're contributing to a real, local enterprise, in which the staff and owner really care. My only comment would be that the lighting is a little bright, so the atmosphere isn't quite as intimate or cosy as it might be, but otherwise highly recommended.

The Folk House, Clifton, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 15 Jan 2007
Nestled behind the shop fronts of Park Street, The Folk House is an education, exhibition, and performance space, and venue of some great gigs on Bristol's healthy folk circuit (including the Bristol Acoustic Music Festival, now in its third year). There are courses in arts and crafts, dance, music, and drama, fitness, languages, and personal development. The on site cafe serves healthy, ethical, and tasty food, using local, organic, and fairtrade produce. Behind the bar are a range of bottled Bath Ales beers. Highly recommended as a venue, or just somewhere for coffee/lunch after a hard days shopping.

Cube Cola

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 11 Jan 2007
Cube Cola is the alternative cola from Bristol's Cube Microplex. It's based on an Open Source cola recipe licensed under the GPL, so every time you drink this rather than another cola you're helping to chip away at the dominance of the soft drink companies. It's not available beyond the Cube as far as I know, and even there the supply is sporadic, so get it when or if you can. I was lucky enough to try it recently, and it tastes great. Save your cola drinking for special Cube Cola occasions.

Cube Cinema, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 11 Jan 2007
The Cube really is somewhere special. It's not very often you get a place that's wholly run by volunteers and yet manages to put on a truly captivating programme of films, gigs, and events, many of which wouldn't otherwise get an airing in Bristol. Adding to the greatness is the Cube's willingness to do right by the world by selling local beer (Bath Ales Gem, in bottles), homemade cakes, fairtrade chocolate, even down to making its own Cube Cola. There's nowhere else I know like it.

Pizza Provencale, Clifton, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 10 Jan 2007
Huge tasty pizzas, friendly staff, intimate surroundings... Pizza Provencale in Clifton Village has a lot going for it. Sure, the pizzas aren't authentic Italian, but hey, it's Pizza Provencale, not Pizza Napoli. Authentic or not, they're huge and they taste great. There's a good selection of side dishes and salads to go with your pizza, and the selection of drinks is looking increasingly good. At my last visit they were trying out one of the local Butcombe beers (Butcombe Gold I think) in bottles, and one of the decent west country ciders (also bottled).

I'll definitely go back, but my one criticism is the price. Whilst the pizzas aren't cheap they're still just about reasonable (you'd pay as much getting takeaway from Domino's). However, the drinks were a killer. If the owners can keep a lid on the drinks prices then this place would be unbeatable.

1and1 Domain Name Registration

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 08 Jan 2007
Registering domain names with 1and1 is, for me, a pretty ideal compromise between price, features, and reliability. Whilst they're not the cheapest, they remain sufficiently good value that I'm not tempted to go elsewhere. The features you get with each domain package are fairly comprehensive: DNS management with subdomains, web site forwarding/redirects, that sort of stuff. Most importantly for me, they're a company I trust not to get this sort of stuff wrong, and not to go out of business any time soon. With web hosting it's relatively easy to move providers. With domains it's a little bit more complex, or at least feels more risky. In this case I feel pretty comfortable keeping my domains registered with 1and1, and doing the hosting elsewhere.

The Armando Iannucci Shows

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 08 Jan 2007
Join Armando Iannucci on a surreal existential journey through life in the early 2000s, with all eight episodes of the TV series now released on this DVD. Each episode is a gem in itself, and the bizarre sketches will come back to amuse you for days. I challenge you to watch this and not snigger to yourself next time you pass a golf sale.

Primrose Cafe, Clifton, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 05 Jan 2007
Warm and cosy cafe tucked down a sidestreet in Clifton Village. Great breakfasts, especially when it's warm and sunny and you can sit outside on the pavement. I haven't eaten there except for breakfast, but the food has a good reputation in general. The coffee is excellent. My one criticism is that the waiting staff can seem a bit haughty. This is Clifton, so I kind of expect it on one level, but that doesn't make it ok. Otherwise highly recommended.

The Departed

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 04 Jan 2007
Jack Nicholson at his menacing best and Leonardo DiCaprio on the verge of loosing it; what a bit of film making. Make sure you're paying attention.

Arnolfini Cafe Bar, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 01 Jan 2007
This should be a great place. It's got all the right ingredients: funky decor, harbourside location, some interesting beers on tap, and the Arnolfini gallery right there all around you. Unfortunately the execution lets the place down. The service is sloppy, the beer is way too expensive, and the menus on our table were greasy and stained with old food. You could do worse in this part of town, but the Arnolfini deserves much much more.

Beamish Soap Company

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 01 Jan 2007
I'm lucky enough to have been given Beamish Soap Co soaps in the past by a friend, and they're great. Handmade, excellent value for money, and you know you're supporting a local business. For anyone that was alive in the eighties and likes a good pun, I'd recommend Soapal Fruit. It really really does smell just like Opal Fruits; made to make your mouth water.

Sole Trader, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 01 Jan 2007
Uninspiring branch of Sole Trader in thecentre:mk. The junior staff seemed poorly trained, standing watching while I struggled to get a pair of shoes laced up because the previous person who tried them on had ruined the end of the laces. The older guy, who I took to be the manager, seemed so paranoid about people running off with pairs of shoes that the staff brought me one pair at a time, and sometimes only one shoe; quite pathetic really when the shop was empty and there were more staff than customers.

Licence to Kill

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 31 Dec 2006
Utterly forgettable Bond film. Over the top action sequences, unconvincing romances, and a disjointed storyline. There aren't even any good Bond one-liners. Passes the time but not much else.

The Swan Inn, Swineford, nr Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 30 Dec 2006
A country pub on the main road between Bristol and Bath, recently refurbished, and now part of the Bath Ales group. It goes without saying that the beer is excellent, with all the main Bath Ales available on tap. The emphasis seems to be on food, with over half of the tables laid up for eating. I haven't eaten there, so cannot comment on the food, but the menu looked good. The atmosphere is nice and cosy, and the staff are friendly. My only hesitation concerns the refurbishment; it's country pub style, but feels a little bit superficial. Generally well worth a visit.

Pieminister Pie Shop, Stokes Croft, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 30 Dec 2006
When you need something hearty and filling on a cold day, Pieminister pies are perfect, and the pie cafe on Stokes Croft is the perfect place to eat them. The cosy shop/cafe serves the full range to eat in and take away, with mash and gravy on the side. There's also a good range of drinks and cakes if you're not in the pie mood. Staff are friendly and efficient. If you eat in your pie will be served on an old-style white enamel plate, which is a nice touch. My only gripe is the wooden cutlery - great from an environmental point of view if people are taking their food away, but at little bit naff if you're eating there.

Cranks Cafe, The Cider Press Centre, Dartington, Devon, UK

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 29 Dec 2006
Cranks is an institution, and right now it feels like one that's being badly cared for. When we arrived there were several free tables that had obviously been cleared since the previous customers had left, but that had not been wiped. The queueing system is a mess, making it really unclear where you should queue for different types of food or drinks, and there seemed to be no free trays in the place. Some staff were friendly and efficient, whilst others were surly and verging on rude. I found the coffee reasonably good, but agree with the previous reviewer that the cakes were a bit dry and uninspiring for the price. On this visit I found Cranks decidedly average, which is a shame, as I now it's capable of much much more.

Gadgetsville

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 29 Dec 2006
I bought a little desk toy from Gadgetsville, via the Amazon Marketplace. The price was not the cheapest around for that item but still reasonable. I received email confirmation when the parcel had been dispatched, and it arrived in good time via Royal Mail. My only quibble was that the toy came in a small square plastic box, but was packed in a normal padded envelope with no extra reinforcement, meaning that the plastic box got a bit squashed in the post. Not a huge deal, and I would use them again, but it took the edge off an otherwise faultless service.

Le Taj Indian Restaurant, Montreal

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 21 Dec 2006
Excellent Indian restaurant on Rue Stanley near the south corner of Sherbrooke, in downtown Montreal. Friendly and efficient staff, great food, and relaxed atmosphere. I ate there in April 2006 and had the Davaat (Feast) option, which includes a soup, appetizer, main course, side dish, rice, naan, and coffee for $28 per person - very good value, but make sure you're hungry. The Dhal soup tasted a bit like it came from a tin, but the rest (Chaat Mahar, Chicken Jalfrezi, Mutter Paneer) was really fresh tasting; the Naan was especially good. The staff asked how spicy I liked my food, and offered me a doggy bag for the food I couldn't finish. All in all, really recommended.

Sea Breeze Cafe, Torcross, South Devon

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 21 Dec 2006
Since changing hands a couple of years ago, the cafe at Sea Breeze has been transformed from a chintzy tea room into somewhere light, fresh, and airy, serving contemporary food that has an appreciation for local produce and local specialities. There's sandwiches, real coffee, cream teas, and local ice cream on the menu, served in the front room looking right onto Slapton Sands and Start Bay or outside on the sea wall itself. If you get hooked on the amazing sea air and want to stay longer there are rooms upstairs. No doubt they're done in equally tasteful style, though I haven't stayed so can't review them specifically.

Chalet Beaumont, Val David, Quebec

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 18 Dec 2006
Chalet Beaumont is a pretty perfect little youth hostel, in the Upper Laurentian village of Val David. Housed in a large 1930's log cabin, the hostel has more facilities than you really feel entitled to expect. The communal areas are well set up and spacious, but it's the sauna in the basement which really adds an extra something. There are dorm and private rooms which are lovely and cosy, the staff are friendly, and the views from the dining room are stunning. I'm sure it must get packed at certain times of the year, but when I visited in mid-April I had the place to myself and it was totally idyllic.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 15 Dec 2006
I found the Borat film quite a disappointment. Being a long-time fan of Sacha Baron Cohen in all his different guises, I was left with the feeling that he hadn't done the character, or himself, justice. The genius of Borat is in using his bigotry to expose bigotry in others - that's what makes it funny. Unfortunately there was very little of this in the film. Instead it felt that his prejudices were the main source of the humour, and aside from nervous laughter, these sorts of things just aren't that funny. Instead of poking fun at real-life small minded people, he ended up just poking fun at his fictional Kazakh outlook on life. The best laughs came from the slapstick moments in the film, and in the opening scenes greeting people on the streets of New York. While these were funny, the memorabilia shop scene didn't feel like anything that Frank Spencer wasn't doing years ago.

Hotel Alef, Krakow

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 14 Dec 2006
Make sure you know what you're getting if you book into Hotel Alef. The place has a reputation (at least with some guide books) that seems based on the business's flagship site at 17 Szeroka, the stunning square in the heart of the Jewish area of Krakow's Kazimierz district. There is still Restaurant Alef on this site, and a number of guest apartments. However, Hotel Alef itself is at Św. Agnieszki 5 a good ten minutes walk away, and arguably not within the boundaries of Kazimierz at all. The location is still a good one, but not what we were expecting.

To be fair, the web site of the Hotel and the Restaurant does make this distinction. However, the waiter who directed us from the Szeroka site to Agnieszki 5 was fairly rude, and did not seem particularly bothered or surprised by the situation, or our disappointment. This left me with the feeling that the staff had no problem with perpetuating the confusion.

On arriving at the real Hotel Alef, we were given the keys to a twin room, having explicitly requested a double. There was no record of this request on their reservation system, so presumably only good luck meant that we could change rooms.

The dining room and common areas of the hotel are very nicely furnished, but the rooms are really uninspiring. Small, worn in places, and furnished with ugly modern hotel wardrobes and tables, they are a real contrast to the public areas. When paying 80euros a night (not cheap even for pricey Krakow) this left us feeling really cheated. Ultimately Kazimierz is wonderful enough that our time there wasn't ruined. However, Hotel Alef did nothing to enrich it.

casino royale

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 13 Dec 2006
When I first heard that Pierce Brosnan had been dropped for the latest Bond film I was quite indignant. Now having seen Casino Royale I feel a little bit sad for him, for being thoroughly upstaged by Daniel Craig.

It's a really good film with all the classic Bond ingredients, many of which it takes to a new level. The stunts in the opening scenes are amazing, there are enough (but not too many) Bond one-liners, the badies are suitably unpleasant, and there are some good tongue-in-cheek Bond references to watch out for.

Despite being contemporary the film felt surprisingly timeless, which helped overcome the issue of the story being set early in Bond's career. For me the stand out aspect was the relationship between Bond and Vesper. I expect to be entertained by Bond films but not moved. Casino Royale managed both.

TalkTalk

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 12 Dec 2006
A great example of a good company gone bad. I used to be a huge fan of TalkTalk. They gave great deals on phone calls and broadband internet, had friendly and efficient customer service, and were very reliable. Then one day it all went wrong. We tried to sign up for the free broadband offer (reviewed elsewhere on this site), which meant disconnecting the existing services. Two months later and nothing has happened. No one at Talk Talk seems to know what the problem is, or care about solving it. I'll never use them again, let alone recommend them.

34SP, UK Web Hosting

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 11 Dec 2006
34SP are a great company for web and email hosting, especially if you're just starting out. They provide excellent value web hosting packages, currently standing at £17.95 a year for the most basic. The quality of their support does live up to the claims. I've always found it a well run operation, with responsive staff and minimal downtime. The biggest shortcoming for me is that the accounts are quite limited in terms of disk space and data transfer. If you have anything other than the most basic requirements you'll quickly hit the limits, and beyond this the costs can mount up a bit. Not loads, but a bit. On top of that, hosting more than one domain means buying another hosting account, even if you're not using all your storage or transfer. These sorts of things have caused me to look elsewhere now, but I would always return to 34SP if my needs fitted their offerings, and I would certainly recommend them to others.

Sleepzone Hostel, Galway

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 11 Dec 2006
A decent, clean, and comfy hostel a few minutes walk from the centre of Galway city. There are a mix of dorms and private rooms. I had an en-suite private room, which was fairly reasonably priced. The free breakfast that's included is a basic toast and coffee setup, but does the job. Staff were friendly, and there's no curfew. Opposite reception is a computer room with free internet access. There is also free wireless, though it's unlikely that the signal will stretch to your room. This was my only gripe, otherwise a nice place to stay. Would go back.

Tesco Guacamole

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 11 Dec 2006
Yuck. This is a really foul product. It's like a light fluffy green mousse, interspersed with chunks of tasteless avocado. There is no real body to the flavour, and some attempt seems to have been made to address this, by adding too much chilli. After a couple of mouthfuls this went straight in the bin.

Ezo Restaurant, Bishopston, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 08 Dec 2006
This restaurant is fairly new to the Promenade on Gloucester Road. I've only eaten there once and would go back, but it was a weird and fairly frustrating experience. The food was excellent, no question. All of our meals were delicious, the atmosphere was cosy and intimate despite every table being full.

The big issue for me was the service. Several times we asked for things that never arrived (cold meze for starters, more drinks) until we asked again, leaving me with the feeling that the staff hadn't understood in the first place. After a while it got really annoying, leaving me constantly trying to get the waiter's attention instead of enjoying the meal.

Of the two waiting staff working that night, one was really friendly, though not necessarily effective. The second was just plain weird. He turned a polite request for another beer into some kind of weird confrontation, that may have been a joke, but went on way too long and felt quite aggressive. In the end we were slightly undercharged. Given how disorganised the staff were I wasn't surprised, and given the level of service I wasn't complaining.

All Bar One, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 07 Dec 2006
Decent bar in the business end of Central Milton Keynes. Reasonable range of real ales and continental lagers on tap, though I'm not sure how authentically they're stored and served. There's a wide selection of wines, and decent good food that's not too expensive. The decor is quite nice for a chain bar. Seats outdoors for the summer time. It gets 4 stars from me, mainly because of the limited choice of decent bars in CMK. In other places it would be fairly average

Domestic Disturbance

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 07 Dec 2006
Fairly run-of-the-mill thriller from 2001 starring John Travolta, Vince Vaughn, and Steve Buscemi. Really they should have known better. Vince Vaughn is moderately convincing as a smooth talker who is actually a nasty piece of work, but the performances are generally very average, presumably due to an uninspiring script. The film isn't bad, and will certainly pass the time, it just isn't much good.

TalkTalk Free Broadband Transfer Process

Filled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 07 Dec 2006
Bad. No wait, awful. No, wait again, absolutely freaking terrible like nothing you've ever imagined! Is this the worst customer service I've ever experienced? I think it is.

Once upon a time I was a happy TalkTalk customer getting free evening calls and a reliable Broadband connection, all over a BT line. Then one day I decided to upgrade to the free broadband offer - it was cheaper and faster, and it let me stop paying BT, for whom I have no affection. What a nightmare mistake.

My order was supposed to be processed on 26th October 2006, and be live within a week or so. I've since had to try and sign up three more times, all of which have failed. In the meantime the previous services have all been stopped, meaning no broadband and no free evening calls. So just for clarity, lets recap. I've now tried to sign up four times, and each time nothing has happened. The orders don't even appear on the system, let alone trigger an expected go-live date.

No one on the TalkTalk phone lines will admit responsibility, they just pass you from one department to another, and always back to the useless people in Sales. No one seems to know the solution (or even what the problem is), and only one person I've spoken to seems to care about fixing it. Even he doesn't ring me back when he says he will. Nor does his manager.

If you have an existing TalkTalk account on a previous tariff, treasure it. You'll never get it back if you let it go, let alone get something better in its place. If you're thinking of signing up to TalkTalk, turn around, walk away, wipe that craziness from your mind. As for me, I'm looking for a different provider, but they all seem as bad as each other.

Biodome, Montreal

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 06 Dec 2006
Housed in the old Olympic velodrome, the Montreal Biodome is home to recreations of four different ecosystems found throughout North and South America: Amazonian rainforest, Laurentian forest, St Lawrence river, and Polar. The ecosystems are done very well, with the transitions between them fairly striking. Whilst it would always be nice to see more animals, those that you do see are enough of a treat. A highlight for me was watching the ducks dive in the St Lawrence ecosystems, from behind a huge glass wall - I'd never seen ducks do this and it was amazing. I'm not exactly sure what's stopping me from giving this 5 out of 5 - maybe the slightly cavernous and fairly uninspiring eateries on the site. However, I'd really recommend a trip, and as I remember it the tickets are good value.

Broadband Buyer

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 06 Dec 2006
I used Broadband Buyer to order a wireless router, and the whole process was seamless. Whilst the web site looks a little cluttered, all the information I needed was there (important, as I wanted to make sure I got exactly the right model), the buying process all worked flawlessly, and the router arrived three days later as promised. On top of this, even with postage taken in to account the router was still cheaper than the same item on Amazon, and I was left with a warm glow that I'd been helping out a smaller, local business.

Ray's in the City, Atlanta, Georgia

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 05 Dec 2006
I ate at Ray's in the City in November 2006, and it was one of the best (if not the best) seafood meals I've ever had. The cold seafood platter for starters was fantastic, highlights for me being the lobster and crab. The swordfish main course was also exceptional, served with sauted apple (unusual but very very good) and the best roast squash you can imagine. The decor was a bit dated, but it certainly felt like a fish and seafood restaurant (somehow they'd achieved an underwater feel to the place) and this in no way detracted from the meal. Highly recommended.

Sur Bleury, Montreal

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 04 Dec 2006
Tucked away in a side street (Rue de Bleury) near the Palais des Congres, you'd almost never know Sur Bluery was there. If you do find it then it's worth stopping for a meal. The food is quality contemporary cafe food, with a French-esque feel. It's not particularly cheap, but is still good value. Perhaps my favourite aspect was the atmosphere: it felt like the kind of place you could go for a work lunch, whilst still being laid-back and unpretentious. Try the chocolate mousse in an espresso cup.

Manoir Ambrose, Montreal

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 04 Dec 2006
Friendly and homely independent hotel in downtown Montreal. Traditionally decorated rooms, very friendly staff, good location, and very reasonably priced. I really enjoyed my stay there, and would go back in the future. Wireless internet access available.

I Heart Huckabees

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 03 Dec 2006
Weird. Good, but weird. I expected to enjoy it more than I did, as I'd heard great things, although I imagine it probably stands up well to watching again. One of the high points for me is the poem near the start about the rock. Anything poem with a line like "you rock, rock" is alright by me. Seeing Naomi Watts' character go loopy is also quite entertaining, especially as it seems the most fitting punishment for Jude Law's character. Worth a watch if you like off the wall stuff, but not my film of the year by any means.

Bath Ales

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 30 Nov 2006
A wonderful microbrewery based between Bristol and Bath, and running since 1995. Bath Ales make a number of regular beers such as Gem, a bitter which makes a good session drink, and the darker, richer Barnstormer, both of which are excellent. If you're lucky enough to get to one of the Bath Ales pubs sometime before Christmas, you may be able to find their seasonal ale Festivity, which is dark, rich, and spicy. Local breweries don't get much better than this.

jean gates guest house

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 30 Nov 2006
I've stayed at Jean's a few times, and found it a very positive experience. Jean provided a friendly, welcoming, and sociable environment when I first arrived in Milton Keynes. It may be a little chaotic in places, having the feel of a large shared house, but I found it clean, comfortable, and homely. I have very fond memories of a huge Christmas dinner party, introducing non-Brits to the traditional mix of turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes etc. These kind of experiences are not easy to find, and for that Jean's is unique.

Robin Hood, BBC Drama Series

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 29 Nov 2006
The BBC have tried to give the classic tale of Robin Hood a modern touch with this new dramatisation, and I'm not sure it works. There is none of the mystery of the 1980s ITV version (wonderfully embellished with spooky Herne the Hunter and the cheesey but memorable Clannad soundtrack), and none of the scale and swashbuckling of the Kevin Costner film. In fact, even the wealth redistribution element seems to have practically disappeared, leaving the squabbling between Robin, the Sheriff, and Gisburne as main focus of the action. Keith Allen's Sheriff of Nottingham is sneering, arrogant, and unpleasant, but has none of the menace of Alan Rickman's character in the Hollywood film. All in all it feels small scale, and almost rushed. I'll keep watching because I love the story, but it comes in a lowly third place after the other two recent efforts.

Jaipur Indian Restaurant, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 29 Nov 2006
Sitting like a replica Taj Mahal among office buildings between Milton Keynes Central railway station and the city centre, Jaipur has a reputation as one of the best Indian Restaurants in Milton Keynes. It's a fairly well deserved reputation, as the food and service are both very good in my experience, and the decor is sumptuous (if over the top). However, the prices are at the top end of the spectrum for curry restaurants, and you can get something almost as good for a couple of pounds less in other restaurants in town. Admittedly you may not get to sit next to a small fountain while you eat your chicken jalfrezi, but maybe you can live with that.

iOWEYOU - Expenses sharing calculator

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 29 Nov 2006
iOWEYOU is one of those web sites that once you've used it you wonder how you ever lived without it. The way it works is that you set up groups, that have members (e.g. members of a shared house or flat, or members of a club). When any member incurs an expense that relate to the whole group (or some members of the group), then that expense can be logged alongside who incurred it, and who is required to contribute. The system then shows you totals for who owes who what, as well as keeping a log of all expenses incurred over time. Amazing simple, but fiendishly powerful.

Simon Buckingham Shum's Home Page

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 28 Nov 2006
Simon's home page has recently had an overhaul. I like the new clean and graphical look, plus there's a decent amount of content about Simon's research below the surface.

Web Developer Extension

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 28 Nov 2006
The Web Developer Extension is one, if not the, best reason to use the Firefox web browser. Huge respect to Chris Pederick for creating one of the single most useful tools for Web Developers, ever. If I had to name favourite features, I'd mention the outlining of block level elements and table cells, view source in a new tab rather than a new window, view response headers, and the links to validation tools from the W3C and others.

Zero Degrees Restaurant and Microbrewery, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 27 Nov 2006
The place has always struck me as a weird combination, mixing a modern building with beers brewed on site and a menu that includes mussels and stone-baked pizzas. Having said that, in my limited experience each constituent part works well. The Black Lager was exceptional, although the Wheat Beer was ordinary. The pizza was excellent: big, thin, and crispy. Table service was seamless, and the place had atmospshere even on a Monday night. So, good in many ways, but never coherent enough to be perfect.

Google

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 26 Nov 2006
Still good after all these years; reasonably fast, clean interface, and results that are relevent enough. Not sure what it would take to make me change my default search engine.

You, Me and Dupree

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 24 Nov 2006
I saw this on a plane, and that's really the ideal kind of place to watch it. It's feel good in the end, and quite funny in places (but not so funny that people will stare at you for sniggering in your seat). If you want an unchallenging distraction after which you can doze off, then it's worth watching; otherwise don't rush.

Freddy Got Fingered

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 23 Nov 2006
This film made me ache with laughter. I think when it came out I was vaguely put off by the title and never bothered to check it out. Then, under duress I watched it, and didn't regret it for a minute. The title is pretty incidental to the story, which centres around Tom Green's character trying to make it as a cartoonist, so don't be put off. Be prepared for lots of physical humour and quite a lot of gross-ness. If you can stomach it then it just adds to the effect. Highlights for me were the relationship with the Dad (palyed by Rip Torn), and the girlfriend Betty, the one with the rocket-powered wheelchair. All in all the best film I've seen in ages.

971 The River, Atlantas Classic Hits Station

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 22 Nov 2006
Classic Rock radio stations don't get much better than this. This would be the perfect soundtrack to a road trip, playing classics like More Than A Feeling by Boston, plus plenty from artists such as Queen, The Police, Elton John, Pink Floyd. If you listen too much you'll start to recognise some of the favourites, and the "jingles" will start to play on a permanent loop in your head: "you're listening to the all new 971 THE RIVER, Atlanta's Classic Hits Station", but that's kinda half the fun. Also streams over the web if you're too far away to listen on the real radio.

3rd International Semantic Web User Interaction Workshop (SWUI2006)

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 21 Nov 2006
This workshop at ISWC2006 was a really interesting and useful day. The format mixed long and short paper presentations, a panel discussion, and breakout groups on specific issues. The papers covered a wide range of subjects around the theme of User Interaction and the Semantic Web, and the questions following the panel session started to get into some of the meaty issues we need to deal with as a community. A highlight for me was David Karger's pragamatic approach to all things Semantic Web, lending a healthy dose of realism to the broader Semantic Web programme as ISWC. The workshop did a great job of bringing together people who care about this subject. One of the greatest challenges now is ensuring that the rest of the Semantic Web community does too. If I could have changed one thing, then there would have been less disparity between the lengths of long and short papers, but that's a relatively minor quibble.

The Fox and the Monk - John Smith

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 20 Nov 2006
The Fox and the Monk is the debut album from Devonian folk guitarist John Smith. For any album it's exceptional, especially a self-released debut. Be prepared to be surprised and refreshed throughout. John's style ranges relatively wide within the genre so ensure you give the whole album a thorough listenting to. Highlights for me include To Have So Many, and the clear stand out track Winter. There are also some real growers in there that don't jump out at you first time round, so keep on listening. The album is a clear 5 stars for me. Go and see John live if you can. That would be worth 6 stars if such a thing existed.

Farm 255, Athens, Georgia

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 20 Nov 2006
Eat delicious, organic, and locally-sourced food in a warm, airy, contemporary space. That's what you'll do if you go to Farm 255. It's wonderfully refreshing to visit somewhere that takes such pride in serving well grown, local, seasonal food, and that doesn't seem to simply be paying lip-service to the idea. I started with clams served in a tomato and herb broth, with a black olive tapenade on the side, which was excellent. Main course was shrimp and grits, which seemed like a nice way to ease into real southern cuisine. I couldn't manage all the grits, but to be fair it was a huge serving, and very tasty. Pudding was a molten chocolate cake (kinda like a souffle), which totally finished me off in the best possible way. Service was impeccable, with fresh water provided without us even asking - very attentive but not overbearing. We sat inside (really nicely lit), but there is also an outside seating area with live music every night (even in November). Highly recommended.

Ye Olde Swan, Woughton On The Green, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 20 Nov 2006
The Swan (as it's commonly known) is one of the nicer pubs within the Milton Keynes boundary, being situation in the old village (more a large hamlet really) of Woughton on the Green. It's got log fires, a crooked roof, and low ceilings, which all give it a cosy feeling on a winter evening. Come summer time there are plenty of tables outside in a pleasant garden. Given the other options nearby it's a good choice, but has plenty of shortcomings. The pub is heavily geared towards food, which is generally quite good, and this is responsible for a stupidly restrictive policy about where you can sit during busy periods. In practice you may find more than half the pub reserved for diners, making it hard to get a table if you just want a drink. There are a few decent ales on tap, including Deuchars IPA and Old Speckled Hen, which generally seem well kept. Anywhere else I'd give this pub a rating of 3, but in MK the lack of decent choice makes this a 4.

Running With Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 15 Nov 2006
I spent the first half of this book wondering why I was bothering to read a story so riddled with messed up, abusive relationships. Thankfully after a while this eased off a bit, allowing the authors comic abilities to shine through more clearly. His descriptions of the Finch household are great, and he characterises people well. All in all, a fairly entertaining read once the heaviness eases off; I will probably read more by the same author, but won't be in a massive rush to do so.

Ecotricity

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 14 Nov 2006
Ecotricity are consistently rated as one of the best green electricity suppliers in the UK. They run two plans, Old Energy and New Energy. With Old Energy, all your electricity comes from existing wind farms, making it 100% renewable. New Energy takes some of your electricity from existing wind farms, and some from unsustainable sources, but by doing so generates greater profits which can be invested straight back into building more wind farms. At first Old Energy sounds better, but New Energy represents the best strategy long term - or at least I was convinced of this by their staff. I've always found the Ecotricity staff to be very helpful, friendly, and efficient, and the company as a whole seems to want to do right by their customers; not something that can be said for all utility companies.

Herberts Bakery, Montpelier, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 13 Nov 2006
Herberts Bakery is a Bristol institution. Situated near Picton Street in Montpelier, and identifiable by the large mural down one side, Herberts sells a fantastic range of bread and confectionary, including a decent organic selection. A particular highlight for me is the white Overnight bread, which is allowed to rise overnight, making for a great texture without having to resort to modern industrial techniques. The chocolate flapjacks are also great. Just inside the door on the right there is a basket of reduced price items; either yesterday's leftovers or mis-shapes. These can be good for stocking up the freezer.

Time Without Consequence - Alexi Murdoch

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 09 Nov 2006
I first heard of Alexi Murdoch through his set on KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic in 2002. In just over 20 minutes of music he really captured my imagination. After a long wait, Time Without Consequence puts many of these tracks onto CD. After the KCRW set, my expectations were high, and maybe too high. On hearing the album I felt intense disappointment; the songs had been re-recorded in the studio, and in too many cases it felt that what made them really special on KCRW had been lost in the studio. After listening again and again, the album versions of the songs has grown on me, to the point where highlights such as Breathe sound almost as good. There is no doubt this is a great album, it just feels like it could have been even better.

Copper Creek Brewing Company, Athens, Georgia

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 08 Nov 2006
A brew pub in downtown Athens, Georgia. I went on a Tuesday night and the place was busy until well after midnight. The crowd seemed mainly made up of students and the place had a decent, friendly atmosphere. Bar food is served from a pretty extensive menu, and the pale ale brewed on site was tasty. In summary, not somewhere that rocked my world, but a decent place to go for a pint and some food.

The Clifton Sausage, Clifton, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 07 Nov 2006
Trendy sausage and mash restaurant in Clifton. Tasty food but service is patchy.

The Unwritten Rules of Phd Research, by Gordon Rugg and Marian Petre

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 07 Nov 2006
Authors Gordon Rugg and Marian Petre tell PhD research as it is, in this essential book for any research student. Whilst there are many books out there about how to tackle research at PhD level, this one feels qualitatively different in the topics it covers, and the honesty with which it does it. My personal favourite section concerns writing style, phrases you may use in your dissertation, and how experienced examiners interpret these phrases. Example; You say: "(though c.f. Green et al (in press) for an interesting re-evaluation of this literature)"; Others read this as meaning: "I've read the advanced literature, so sod off". Brilliant.

East West Bistro, Athens, Georgia

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 07 Nov 2006
On Broad Street in downtown Athens, Georgia, East West bistro serves food that combines asian and mediterranean influences. Sometimes this can lead to some weird combinations, such as the Thai Pizza, or the Panang Curry which comes served on penne pasta. Having said that, I haven't tried either of these dishes so can't comment on whether they work or not. In fact, the meals I have eaten there have been great. There is a real range in terms of style and price, with a large tapas selection and reasonably priced burgers and pizzas. At the top end of the scale, the Blackened Beef Fillet was excellent. The downstairs dining area is more casual, whereas upstairs there is a more formal dining room. Service is excellent in my experience - relaxed but efficient.

The Plough Inn, Simpson, Milton Keynes

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 07 Nov 2006
A decent traditional pub in Simpson, one of the older parts of Milton Keynes. There are always a few real ales on tap, and the bar food is tasty and reasonably priced. There is a more upmarket restaurant at the back, though I haven't tried the food. The pub is popular with locals, plus staff and students from the nearby Open University.

Harry Bissetts New Orleans Cafe and Oyster Bar, Athens, Georgia

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 05 Nov 2006
Stylishly decorated bar and restaurant on Broad St in downtown Athens, Georgia. The bar area is at the front with further dining tables at the back. The service was faultless and the food excellent. I ate swordfish topped with crabmeat and truffles, which was superb. There's a huge selection of beers available - ask the waitress and you'll likely get a full recital of all the options. Our waitress was great at explaining dishes and drinks for those of us who weren't from around these parts.

Mytholm House Bed and Breakfast, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One Point on 03 Nov 2006
Mytholm House is a wonderful bed and breakfast within easy walking distance of Hebden Bridge town centre. Hosts Brenda and Jim make you feel very at home without being in the least bit overbearing, and Jim cooks a fantastic breakfast. Rooms are spacious and comfy, with thoughtful extras thrown in such as bath robes. All these points make for a really relaxing stay.

Oh Calcutta Indian Kitchen, Cotham, Bristol

Filled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointFilled Star - Denotes One PointEmpty Star - Denotes No Point on 02 Nov 2006
A great curry house on Gloucester Road serving classic dishes as well as more contemporary variations in a modern environment. Service can be a bit variable, from great to very sketchy, though in most cases the food makes up for this.