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Mark "Technology, Music, Books and Movies" RSS Feed (East Coast)
(VINE VOICE)    (#1 Hall OF FAME REVIEWER)    (2008 HOLIDAY TEAM)   

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Kaplan Evidence-Based Reading, Writing, and Essay Workbook for the New SAT (Kaplan Test Prep)
Kaplan Evidence-Based Reading, Writing, and Essay Workbook for the New SAT (Kaplan Test Prep)
by Kaplan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.76
47 used & new from $8.65

5.0 out of 5 stars Kaplan Reading, Writing and Essay Workbook - A Streamlined And Effective Study Tool, February 3, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an incredibly good guide for the SAT reading, writing and essay sections. Somehow the sample passages and questions (called "practice sets") are very streamlined compared to other guides I have seen. And as such, answering those questions as if you are taking the test will help you to prepare to think in the proper way for the exam.

But after each section, the real gold comes in the answer keys. They don't just tell you the correct answer. They give you guidance on the main themes to search for and the main pitfalls to avoid. So your approach will apply to any sample passage you encounter on the test.

They also include some general guidance for each section. But based on my review, the practice sets and corresponding answers and explanations are where most of the valuable information is to be found.

Section four includes a complete sample test and scoring guide. I have not tackled this yet but I suspect that those who complete all the problem sets will be very well prepared for this sample test as well as the actual test. The main benefit I can see coming from completing the sample test is an understanding of the time management needed for the exam.

Most Kaplan guides have corresponding online resources. In the case of this one, it's not clear that any online resources are included or applicable.

CONCLUSION

This is a very high quality guide that will help you prepare not just for this test, but for any writing test you might have to take. Recommended.


Beyond Blame: Learning From Failure and Success
Beyond Blame: Learning From Failure and Success
by Dave Zwieback
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.07
47 used & new from $5.05

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Blame - A Truly Relevant Book for Problem Solving, December 11, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Beyond Blame is a revolutionary book about problem solving and identifying the true ways to improve systems. The story that provides the basis for this book is one involving a Financial Services company and a failure of their core network. But the truth is, the approach and methodologies described here can apply to any number of situations. Anybody who has worked in a corporate environment or any kind of technical field will find the events and people described here extremely familiar.

Rather than ascribing blame and seeking a sacrificial lamb, this book shows that true accountability is about reaching the most complete understanding of how failures happened and, thus, how systems can be improved for the future.

There is a lot of rather in depth research that is casually blended into this story. This is a thin volume. But the author cites many other books and research papers. If one were to study all the sources of material used in this book, it might make the basis for a rather useful Masters Degree program.

The treatment of cognitive biases is an area where the author chose clarity over completeness. Clearly, important and relevant biases like "hindsight bias" and "outcome bias" are discussed because they apply to the story but also because they apply to so many situations that readers can relate to. By many other biases are not covered.

The author points out the large number of biases that have been identified in current research. Most notably he mentions Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow." I plan on seeking out some of that research. The bottom line is that there are many biases that hinder our ability to correctly analyze a problem or event and make objective conclusions.

The conclusion of this book outlines a framework for "the learning review." But I think the lessons of this book go way beyond that . That is only one possible outcome of this approach.

CONCLUSION

This is a thought provoking book that hints at many lessons to be learned from the way problems are dealt with in corporate and technical environments. I definitely think the author packed a lot of knowledge into this slim volume. I plan to explore the texts he cites to delve deeper into all the related topics.


Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart
Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart
by James R. Doty
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.77
37 used & new from $13.46

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Into The Magic Shop - Meditation And The Brain, December 4, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"Into The Magic Shop" is the kind of book that takes a short time to read, but a long time to truly digest and understand. The author attempts to retell his own awakening as a child and connect that to his career as a neurosurgeon. In many ways he succeeds. He demonstrates the positive attributes he learned from meditation that actually help him perform in his very demanding job. In fact it's easy to infer that he was able to become a doctor because of those positive lessons.

This book is really more of a tale of one man's introduction to meditation and mindfulness than it is a foray into the intricacies of the brain. There are some anecdotes about the author's experiences as a neurosurgeon. And there are some explanations of how meditation actually changes the brain in positive ways. However, those looking for hard science should know that this is not that kind of a focused book. This book is more of a memoir than it is a book of theory.

There are parts of this book that I found difficult to accept. I know what it's like to have a difficult childhood, but I believe that memory can twist our perception of the way things were. Much of this story is told from the author's perspective as a pre-teen, and it's possible that those accounts are colored. Remembering what happened is difficult, but remembering how those events made you feel is even more so. Nevertheless, the value of the lessons that are presented here remains intact.

CONCLUSION

This is a good book for anybody who is curious to learn meditation techniques. And for those who are interested in the brain, this book offers a unique perspective. It may not offer the hard science some readers expect, but it definitely will make you think. Recommended.


ClosetMaid 31496 24-Pocket Over-the-Door Shoe Organizer, Gray
ClosetMaid 31496 24-Pocket Over-the-Door Shoe Organizer, Gray
Price: $18.98
3 used & new from $18.98

3.0 out of 5 stars ClosetMaid 24-Pocket OTD Shoe Organizer - Great For Flats or Misc Items, Not For All Shoes, November 30, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The ClosetMaid 31496 24-Pocket Over-the-Door Shoe Organizer, Gray is a good addition to your closet or work area. It has 24 pockets that are clear, making it a great way to organize many items. Unfortunately, as a shoe organizer it’s going to be best for women, and a small subset of women at that. The pockets are ideal for flats, and bigger shoes or heels will not always fit.

**** NOTE ****
At this time, this page has combined reviews for many unrelated ClosetMaid organizer products. Please make sure you are reading the review for the item you are actually considering. This is an example of product reviews that should NOT be combined together.

PROS
++ Organizer fabric is a neutral grey fabric that seems very durable yet pliable
++ Great design for organizing miscellaneous items (see through pockets)
++ Pockets are soft and flat to keep your shoes / other items undamaged
++ Nice pleated plastic openings fold flat but open wide enough to insert your items
++ 24 pockets allow for many items / flat shoes
++ 2 Metal hooks are very forgiving for hanging over most doors

CONS
-- Pockets are only big enough for flat shoes; many bigger shoes or heels will not fit
-- Wish the total length was a longer with more space between rows
-- As designed, if pockets rip there is no way to fix them

CONCLUSION

This is a good product. It’s just not the most ideal for its stated purpose. As long as you know this, it's still well worth purchasing.


Contender Fight Sports Mexican Style Headgear, Large
Contender Fight Sports Mexican Style Headgear, Large
Price: $38.39
3 used & new from $38.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Contender Mexican Style Headgear - Great Protection, Great Value, November 26, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Contender Fight Sports Mexican Style Headgear, Large is a very nice piece of gear. It's definitely good enough for sparring and could even be used in live amateur bouts. There are one or two quirks to note, but if I had to outfit a whole gym with headgear this would be a top contender.

I have devoted a lot of my life to the sport of boxing. And amateur boxing has a special place in my heart. Equipment and training are the most important elements to help you get the most out of your training sessions and bouts. So many details that people might overlook are actually extremely important.

PROS
++ Great design which covers all key head regions (maximum safety)
++ Very nice opening so you still maintain visibility with the headgear on, can easily spit out your mouthpiece, etc.
++ They say it's made from PU synthetic leather for durability, but quality is so good it compares favorably to leather headgear
++ Open top allows you to stay cool during rounds
++ Ear openings are also perfect, protecting your ears but still allowing you to hear everything
++ Sizing is spot on, and laces make it very forgiving

CONS
-- Laces are almost too long for the top part; I had to triple tie mine, but there is a risk they can whip around to your face when you are sparring; Laces are also not as rigid as I would like, so make sure to loop them tightly so they don't come loose during a round
-- Wish the flares on the back went just a little lower to protect against those flailing blows that hit the back of the head
-- Padding is so stiff, will require a lot of breaking in (though it should also last longer)

CONCLUSION

The main goal of headgear is to prevent cuts, bruises and permanent damage to cartilage. Contrary to popular myth, headgear will not prevent you from getting knocked out or possibly sustaining a concussion. But once this headgear is broken in from use, it may actually cushion some punches and lessen their damage. This is a quality product and it's well worth purchasing.


Ferplast Amigo Decor Tape Dog Lead, Mountain, Small
Ferplast Amigo Decor Tape Dog Lead, Mountain, Small
Price: $27.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Ferplast Amigo Dog Leash - Great For Most Dogs, With Some Caveats, November 24, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Ferplast Amigo Decor Tape Dog Lead, Mountain, Small is a great lead for your dog. I got it to replace a broken one, and this is by far one of the better options I have found. As of yet, haven’t found a convenient / cost effective way to acquire additional sleeves. But the internal mechanism, the most important part of this product, seems to be working very well so far.

PROS
++ Tape sliding system is super smooth and quiet
++ Ergonomic handle is very comfortable
++ Single soft-touch push-button is convenient and functional
++++ Pushing the stop-button down immediately stops the leash
++++ Pushing down and forward stops and holds the leash at the desired length
++ Reportedly durable internal mechanism for a long-lasting product
++ Picture / color sleeve can be changed for different looks
++ Even though my dog could have used a medium leash, the small one worked fine
++ Cord/tape can be cleaned easily by releasing it, locking it and washing it

CONS
-- Wish the total extended length was a longer
-- Many included warnings, including “not to use with dogs who are difficult to control” which is probably most dogs
-- Difficult to get different color sleeves for your leash; pricing on available alternatives is comparable to buying an entirely new lead / leash
-- The cord/tape must be dried if wet; if not it may damage the internal mechanism - unwind the lead and wait till it is completely dry before rewinding
-- Apparently no included warranty, perhaps understandable given all the warnings

CONCLUSION

This is a very good product. The many included warnings and lack of warranty are cause for concern. But as long as you are careful and observe all safety procedures, this should last you a fairly long time. Recommended.


1946: The Making of the Modern World
1946: The Making of the Modern World
by Victor Sebestyen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.12
59 used & new from $14.60

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1946 - History Come to Life, November 18, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Seldom does a book of history become a pivotal riveting must-read. This is one such book. Written in self-contained chapters that illuminate many dark corners of post World War II history, this book attempts to connect the events of 1946 to all of the arching story lines of history that have developed since. In my humble opinion, the author succeeds. But much more than that, the author manages to make the history come alive with relevance and urgency.

While Europe is necessarily the center of these vignettes, this book truly spans the whole world. The author includes tons of reference notes, though nobody who reads this will have any doubts of the research pedigree of this work. More importantly, the author has written this book in such a style that it is an engrossing read. It's a testament for a history book.

I mostly appreciated the portrayal of the deft way that Russian thinking drove foreign policy and military positioning in the middle east. Though this is by no means a new topic, the author manages to connect it well with events from during and after WWII.

I am very happy to have read this book. And I wholeheartedly recommend it to readers of every ilk.


Old Wisconsin Fast Fuel High Protein Beef Snack Stick,18 Count
Old Wisconsin Fast Fuel High Protein Beef Snack Stick,18 Count
Price: $29.21

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Old Wisconsin Jerky - Good Taste, Too Much Sodium, November 15, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I must say, I am really torn by these snacks. On the one hand, they are just kind of generic jerky snacks. But compared to most jerky, which is rarely super tasty, these are not that bad. They definitely taste like real meat more than several other jerky brands I have tried.

On the other hand, the extremely high sodium content is a worry. That's not unique to this brand, because all jerky must be high in sodium in order to remain fresh. But in the case of this brand, it just seems like the sodium is much higher than the taste would lead you to believe, which is dangerous.

According to the company, this jerky is:
• Hardwood-smoked for authentic and delicious flavor
• Crafted using only the finest ingredients and spices
• Contains No MSG, BHT, BHA, binders or extenders
• Gluten free and zero trans fat

I already consume tons of salt, and to me these did not taste too salty. They come in very long 90 calorie packs and also come in smaller packs that are about 1/3 that length.

Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if you only ate the small pack, or only ate half of the longer 1.5 ounce pack. I think I have lost that discipline. I literally wanted to eat all the samples the minute I received them. That’s either a really good endorsement of this product or a sign of how far I have fallen.

I tried two varieties. The beef was very standard beef jerky, perhaps more meaty and less spicy than Slim Jim. But the turkey contained a lot of sugar, which really showed in the flavor. Both taste good in my opinion but both are high in sodium.

CONCLUSION

If you are too young and healthy to care about how much sodium you are eating, I still recommend you get the 0.5 ounce packages instead of the 1.5 ounce ones. These are indeed a convenient and tasty snack. But for everybody else, make sure you have serious portion control discipline before diving into these.


House of Marley EM-JA008-BK Chant BT Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker, Black
House of Marley EM-JA008-BK Chant BT Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker, Black
Price: $79.97
3 used & new from $70.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars House of Marley Chant BT Bluetooth Speaker & Speakerphone – High Quality Compact Bluetooth Sound With Cool Styling, November 15, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The House of Marley EM-JA008-BK Chant BT Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker, Black is a very high quality Bluetooth portable speaker. The sound quality is significantly above average for this size unit. It's also a functional Bluetooth speakerphone. The battery is listed as having an 8 hour playback capacity, but I got about 50% more than that on my initial tests. The unit is meant to be mobile, with a denim sheath for durability and a loop / carabiner to hook on to your backpack. Only much higher end full sized Bluetooth speakers are going to offer more sound amplitude and better stereo quality than this unit.

PROS
++ Very good sound quality with a dedicated subwoofer
++++ 2” (52MM) Active + Passive Sound driver
++++ Vented base for low level (bass) sound separation
++ Above average battery life for 8 hours of play time (actually got 12-14 hours when playing down from full charge on initial tests)
++ Great amplitude (maximum sound output) for a portable wireless speaker
++ Nice speaker and microphone sound quality for phone calls
++ Highly up to date Bluetooth version 4.1 + EDR, A2DP mono audio
++ Pairing is fast and simple: just hold the power button and search for it on your device
++ There is also a Bluetooth button that acts as a Play / Pause button for music or a Call button to pick up / hang up calls
++ Large buttons are simple and functional
++ Indicator light is easy to see
++ Easy to switch between an incoming phone call & music
++ Includes a 3.5mm auxiliary port to connect non-Bluetooth devices
++ Rechargeable battery has 2000 mAh capacity and can be factory replaced in some countries
++ Battery stand-by life also seems good
++ Functional belt loop lets you grab the Chant BT and go
++ Solid base with four feet
++ Attractive unit with sustainable materials used in assembly:
++++ Blended bio-plastic, silicone and recyclable aluminum housings
++++ Bamboo trim ring (not wood) painted an attractive red
++++ Exclusive REWIND cloth wrap (denim)
++ Includes a short USB cable for charging
++ Limited 2 year warranty (see the product website for full details)

CONS
-- No BT FF / RR play controls; headphones can have play controls, why not BT speakers?
-- BT button works to pause / play but it’s not intuitive
-- No included aux cable for non BT devices
-- No included USB power wall adapter
-- Documentation is minimal
-- A carrying case / cover to protect against water and sand at the beach would have been nice
-- Higher end price than many compact wireless speakers
-- Not as powerful as full-sized wireless speakers

CONCLUSION

This unit is very powerful for its size. More than just loudness, there is a lot of nice nuance to the sound quality. It may not be the most value oriented Bluetooth speaker on the market. But if you want quality components and a compact size, it’s hard to find many better options. I recommend this device.


Scharffen Berger Assortment Gift Box, 24 Ounce
Scharffen Berger Assortment Gift Box, 24 Ounce
Price: $42.82

3.0 out of 5 stars Scharffen Berger Gift Box – High Quality, But Imbalanced Flavors, November 12, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
FLAVOR BALANCE

Not everybody loves dark chocolate, but this is a brand I have used in the past. Their dark chocolate is the highest quality, and not nearly as bitter as similarly potent bars from competitors. Milk chocolate is of course more accessible to more people, but with dark chocolate it’s easier to tell what quality of chocolate you are dealing with.

The main issue I have with this chocolate is that the salt profile is slightly out of balance with the dark chocolates. I am normally the person adding salt to my food. And I love salted chocolates. These simply have too sharp of a salt level for most dark chocolate lovers.

The reality is that getting the salt to taste right in a packaged good is nearly impossible. It’s better to buy plain dark chocolate bars and salt them yourself for taste. If you love pairing dark chocolates with deep red wines, you will know exactly what I mean. And Scharffen Berger sells plenty of other varieties without this emphasis on sea salt.

FLAVORS

The gift box includes eight 3 ounce chocolate bars, two of each flavor:

-- Scharffen Berger Milk Chocolate with Toasted Coconut & Macadamia
-- Scharffen Berger Milk Chocolate with Sea Salted Almonds
-- Scharffen Berger Dark Chocolate with Sea Salted Pistachios
-- Scharffen Berger Dark Chocolate with Raspberries & Sea Salted Almonds

NUTRITIONAL DATA

Both dark chocolates contain 72% cacao by volume, near the highest cacao content percentage available in consumer dark chocolate. The milk chocolate and sea salted almonds variety contains 41% cacao, and the toasted almond and macadamia nut variety is the lowest at 33% cacao. But it is also the creamiest and the sweetest.

Each bar has nutritional facts based on containing 2 servings. Each bar is 240 calories per serving, thus 480 calories for the total bar. The only exception is the milk chocolate with sea salted almonds variety, which is listed at 220 calories per serving, or 440 calories for the complete bar.

It should be noted that these are completely “Gluten free.” In fact all this company’s products are. However, if you try to limit your milk intake please note the following: both milk chocolates have milk as one of the top 3 ingredients, and the dark chocolates have it as the last ingredient by volume.

VALUE

Chocolate lovers have been hit by many price hikes over the last few years. Literally every ingredient has gone up in price. While this is clearly comes at a premium, it is by no mean out of line. In fact compare this product on an ounce by ounce basis to premium makers like Cailler, and you will see it is a relative bargain.

BACKGROUND

The company’s bio notes that “chocolate connoisseur Robert Steinberg and winemaker John Scharffenberger founded SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate Maker in 1997.” So in less than 20 years they established a premium confectionary brand and managed to be bought out by a big player, Hershey’s. That is impressive. They seem to maintain their own manufacturing, and include a higher degree of quality ingredients.

CONCLUSION

This is a premium product made with high quality ingredients. I personally felt the salt profile was too high, but everybody has a different palate. I recommend you review other varieties before selecting this gift box. Enjoy.


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