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Belkin NetCam Wi-Fi HD+ Camera with Night Vision (The Latest Version), Works with Belkin WeMo
Belkin NetCam Wi-Fi HD+ Camera with Night Vision (The Latest Version), Works with Belkin WeMo
Price: $129.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Limited by lousy apps, July 1, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If you are going to make an IP camera that only works well with your own app, then PLEASE pay attention to the quality of that app. There are plenty of cameras out there that work with well designed third-party apps (I've had good luck with Foscam and Lorex). Belkin, though, insists that you use their apps to set up and manage your cameras, and those apps are clumsy, glitch, and just plain awkward to use.

Do yourself a favor before getting this camera: Find the iOS and/or Android apps that Belkin has created for communicating with this camera. Take a look at the reviews for those apps. Then, look up some of the third-party apps that work with cameras from a variety of manufacturers. There are some great apps out there, none of which will work with Belkin's NetCam.

I had an older NetCam (2013 model, I believe), and found it difficult to set up and manage. I was hoping that this latest version of their camera would come with a better app. No such luck. Same clumsy app, with improved camera hardware.

To be fair, there are some things I like about the camera:
* e-mail notification for motion alert worked very well. I liked that I could fine-tune the trigger (broad motion, fine motion, repeated motions, and so on)
* the image quality was decent because of the HD quality graphics. However, when set at the highest quality, the video was very choppy.
* I like that Belkin will allow you to store captured video on their "cloud" automatically, but I was disappointed that this requires a subscription to their service. Given the cost of this camera, and the fact that I am tied to Belkin's own apps to use it, I would hope that such "premium" service would be included.

Also, to be fair, I don't have any other WeMo devices installed right now. Belkin advertises that this works well with those devices (for example, camera motion could be set to trigger your lights to turn on). I can't speak to how well these features work.

In my opinion, Belkin needs to do one of two things: Either create a new app, from the ground up, that is of much better quality than their current app, or "open up" the device so that it can be used with existing third-party apps.

In the meantime, though, it is hard to recommend this updated NetCam.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 2, 2014 5:52 AM PDT


Pencil by FiftyThree - Graphite
Pencil by FiftyThree - Graphite
Price: $59.95
4 used & new from $50.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Not yet reaching its full potential (but wait for iOS 8), July 1, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In short, this is mostly "just a stylus" with the ability to do a couple neat tricks when paired with FiftyThree's "Paper" app on iOS. However, this could do a lot more, and the company promises it WILL do a lot more, once iOS 8 is released sometime in Fall 2014. You should check out the company's website to understand how this will improve with the update.

Here are some details...

First off, the "graphite" version of this stylus is handsome, with a great feel. The metallic body has just the right heft to it to make it feel substantial without being too heavy.

Second, there are way too many app-specific stylus options out there, and I'm a bit frustrated that each of them is a "basic stylus" with the ability to do a few extra things when used with a particular app. In the case of this pencil, the Paper app lets you draw with the pencil tip, and erase with the eraser end. That's about it. I do like that the stylus pairs easily with the app. Just tap-and-hold the Pencil on the designated icon in the Paper app, and the pairing is done. No fidgeting with Bluetooth settings is necessary (just make sure Bluetooth is turned on).

Third, and I think this is really important: Right now (July 2014), the tip is just a tip. But FiftyThree says that with the release of iOS 8 in the fall, you will be able to get different artistic effects depending on whether you hold the stylus straight up and down, or at an angle. That will be an impressive improvement. If it works as promised, I will owe an update to this review, because the Pencil will have taken on a whole new level of usability, and may end up feeling more like a real pencil. But for now, the tip is just a tip.

Finally, understand that you may need to buy replacement tips and erasers for this device. Typically, I think of a stylus as a device that does not have consumable parts. However, FiftyThree makes it clear that regular use requires replacement of the rubberized ends: an extra tip and eraser are included in the packaging (and more are available for purchase).

As a basic stylus with a little extra functionality when used with the Paper app, this Pencil is a bit overpriced. However, I will need to rethink that statement if FiftyThree comes through with its promised functionality when iOS 8 is released.


CobraCo 24-Inch to 36-Inch Black Adjustable and Expandable Flower Box Holder F2436-B
CobraCo 24-Inch to 36-Inch Black Adjustable and Expandable Flower Box Holder F2436-B
Price: $24.97
4 used & new from $18.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awkward, flimsy, June 19, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Despite being "adjustable", there is no good way for me to mount this on the rail surrounding my deck. (In case it matters: I have a 2-by-6 horizontal top rail, with a horizontal 2-by-4 rail centered below and parallel to it, and 5.5 inches separating the top of one from the top of the other.)

The thin metal rack has adjustable brackets to fit a variety of top rails, but then there is no good way to stabilize it...it just hangs loosely on that top rail. The rack includes an extra metal section that seems to be for stability, but my railing is such that it won't actually connect to it. Probably with some extra pieces of wood, and maybe some tools to bend some of the metal on the holder, I could make it more stable, but I would rather not go to these lengths for a flower box holder.

Without some stability, this can barely hold anything except the lightest of flower boxes.

I think CobraCo has some quality products (I have a copper fire pit from them that I really like), but I don't care for this at all.


CobraCo Copper Mission Fire Pit FBCOPMISN-C
CobraCo Copper Mission Fire Pit FBCOPMISN-C
Price: $287.20
2 used & new from $255.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't expect the shine to last, June 12, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The instructions that come with the pit make it clear: you can expect the pit to discolor when you use it. All the photos highlight that new-copper shine, but after one fire, the shine quickly fades, inside and out. Not a big deal, but if you are spending extra because copper looks so pretty, you might be disappointed.

Overall, I really like the pit, and don't mind the discoloration. The included grate, and the holes in the bottom of the pit, assist with airflow...this will keep your fire burning longer without having to fuss too much with the wood. I did notice that after just one use, the metal on the grate itself had warped a bit...not a huge surprise, I guess, but I wonder what it will look like at the end of summer.

One other thing: I really appreciate the provided tool for removing the lid. I've never had a fire pit before, and maybe all pits come with such a tool, but without it I would need to keep protective gloves nearby for removing the lid during a fire.

In summary: If it's important for you to have copper, this is a fine fire pit, but you may need to do some work to keep it looking as nice as it did when you bought it.


Belkin QODE Fast Fit Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard Case for iPad mini and iPad mini with Retina Display, White/Silver (F5L153ttC01)
Belkin QODE Fast Fit Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard Case for iPad mini and iPad mini with Retina Display, White/Silver (F5L153ttC01)
Price: Click here to see our price
8 used & new from $49.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Awkward at times, but gets the job done, June 12, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I have learned that any keyboard designed to fit the iPad Mini is going to have to make a few compromises in order to get all the keys to fit. In the case of this offering from Belkin, note the following compromises:

* The semicolon key, where my right pinky would normally rest, is not there. Rather, my right pinky rests on the Enter key. That is, the "home row" of the keyboard has one fewer key than normal. As a result, I sometimes find myself pressing the Enter key when I meant to press the colon or semicolon. In order to type a colon, I need to hold down the "Fn" key along with the "K" key.
* I need a similar Fn-key combination when I want to type a quotation mark.
* The apostrophe key, of which I'm rather fond, is located to the immediate right of the space bar.

As long as I'm typing letters, I can type fairly quickly and comfortably, with not too many errors. But when it comes time to type punctuation (other than periods and commas), I really have to slow down and search the keyboard. Adding to my slowness: Some punctuation requires that I hold down the Fn key. Other punctuation requires the Shift key. I sometimes choose the wrong key because the keys are labeled with two different shades of grey to indicate which key to hold down, but those shades of grey are difficult for me to distinguish.

Aside from that...bluetooth connectivity works smoothly. The case itself is nicely designed, and easy to "latch on" to the iPad itself. When I toss it in my backpack, I do so with the confidence that the cover will stay on the iPad.

I can live with the keyboard compromises Belkin made. All in all, this has been a reliable keyboard...I wouldn't use it to write a long document, but for firing off quick e-mails or tweets, it's a good way to go.


Swingline Commercial Desk Stapler, 20 Sheets, Black (44401)
Swingline Commercial Desk Stapler, 20 Sheets, Black (44401)
Price: $7.99
55 used & new from $7.07

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I believe this is my stapler, June 3, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Yeah, so, someone took my stapler at work. Or maybe I lost it. But the point is, I needed a new stapler. And I really like Swingline staplers.

This is a solid stapler. Don't underestimate the significance of the word "Commercial" in the name of this product. Commercial products are generally sturdier and more durable than their non-commercial versions. This Swingline continues their tradition of reliable staplers. I found it easy to use (punching through a stack of several pages was trivial), and it hasn't jammed yet.

If I could make one small complaint, it would be this: the metal finish on this stapler is glossy, making it quickly reveal greasy smudges after using it a few times (I'm generally not a greasy person, as far as I know). It's not enough to lower my rating to 4 stars, but I did notice it. So maybe, I don't know, 4.5 stars?

All in all, this is a good stapler well worth considering, especially if someone takes your stapler.


LAUNCH SALE - Best Garlic Press & Peeler Set - Solid Stainless Steel Mincer & Silicone Tube Roller To Peel And Crush Your Raw Cloves - Best Kitchen Gadgets To Easily Make Delicious, Fresh Minced Garlic Paste - Also Works Great For Mincing Ginger - Dishwasher Safe - Lifetime Guarantee!
LAUNCH SALE - Best Garlic Press & Peeler Set - Solid Stainless Steel Mincer & Silicone Tube Roller To Peel And Crush Your Raw Cloves - Best Kitchen Gadgets To Easily Make Delicious, Fresh Minced Garlic Paste - Also Works Great For Mincing Ginger - Dishwasher Safe - Lifetime Guarantee!
Offered by Alpha Grillers
Price: $60.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Works with ginger, too!, June 3, 2014
I have to admit I was skeptical when I read that this garlic press could mince ginger as well. I've tried that with other presses, and failed. But I tried it, and it works! This is one sturdy press, and I highly recommend it for garlic and ginger. The peeler is fine, as well, though not particularly noteworthy compared to other peelers.

Some details (full disclosure... I received this free for testing):

* Sturdy construction. The handle, chamber, and press are all stainless steel. Everything fits together snugly, and there's a nice "heft" to the press that makes it feel solid.

* The "chamber" is easy to clean. It's kind of hard to explain, but there are really 3 pieces to this press, all joined together at the hinge. Between the two handles is the chamber...the basket where you put the clove of garlic or chunk of ginger. It actually rotates out between the two handles to make it easy to access and clean. Some presses allow this chamber to be removed from the press entirely. I like that, on this press, the chamber stays attached to the press, but still manages to be easy to access.

* Good pressing action. Because of the solid construction, it is easy to give this press a good squeeze and not worry about squeezing too hard. As a result, it can handle garlic (peeled or unpeeled) AND ginger (peeled). Ginger is far more fibrous than garlic, and can be a problem for weaker presses. Like all presses, this one leaves a little garlic or ginger in the chamber that might go to waste. My suggestion? After pressing, open it up and use your finger to gently scrape together what's left. Then, give it one more squeeze. In this way, you'll get a little more pressed garlic or ginger AND have a little less to clean up when you are done.

* It includes a garlic peeler. I already have a similar garlic peeler. This one is no better or worse, I guess. I like garlic peelers, and I like the look and feel of this one, but I don't notice it being any better or worse than the one I've been using.

* It looks great! I own several garlic presses (I think I now have six). This is the nicest looking one of all.

There are so many other garlic presses out there that one could easily overlook this one. This one is really worth considering! It's one of the best presses I've used.


CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X7
CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X7
Price: $421.76
25 used & new from $419.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An elegant, highly respectable alternative to the Photoshop suite, June 3, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In short...

If you are currently a user of Corel's "X6" version of this graphics suite, there might not be a compelling reason to upgrade. There are the typical incremental improvements (easy font previewing, the ability to create QR codes), but nothing earth shattering. If, however, you are considering this as an alternative to Adobe's Photoshop and related tools, then Corel's suite is definitely worth considering. (Note that if you are considering this suite because it includes a website creator, then I strongly suggest you look elsewhere. Read on...)

By the way, do you realize that both Corel and Adobe allow you to download time-limited trials of their suites? I don't recommend spending a lot of money on either suite until you've gotten a chance to take one or both for a test drive.

Some details...

Personally, I'm frustrated with Adobe's "subscription" model for their software. I'm thankful that Corel has not followed suit. I'm still a fan of a one-time charge for a graphics suite. That reason alone may be enough to choose Corel's X7 Graphics Suite over Adobe's suite.

But there are other reasons to consider Corel as well:

1) Great built-in help system. Regardless of the feature I'm using, the help guide is always immediately available to clearly walk through even the most complex of tools. I'm a little disappointed that Corel no longer includes a printed guide. Previous versions included a book. I miss that.

2) Better pricing options. Note that the full retail cost of this suite is fairly high (several hundred dollars). If you are a student or an educator, the price seems to be about 80% off from the full retail price. That's hard to beat (Adobe can't beat it).

3) New to X7 is a highly configurable "workspace": Beginners might prefer uncluttered toolbars with more advanced tools hidden away. Experienced graphics artists might prefer to see all the bells and whistles all the time. Corel makes it easy to choose either of these screen layouts, or anything in between, with just a couple clicks.

4) The ability to work with many of third-party Photoshop filters. Note that this is always a sketchy thing...not all filters work out of the box. Some will require some tweaking. But there is a large community of Corel users out there who are dedicated to finding ways to make the more stubborn Photoshop filters compatible with Corel. If you have a favorite filter that you absolutely must use, you should do a little research to find out if it is going to work with Corel X7 (don't assume that X6 compatibility means X7 compatibility).

One complaint: Corel continues to "include" their "Website Creator" as part of this package. Three problems with this:
First, it is not really included in the box. Rather, you need to download it separately. Perhaps it is not included in the box because Corel is a bit embarrassed at the quality of this product compared to the rest of the suite?

Second, even though the website creator has been updated from the previous version, the updates are mostly superficial. It is still a very awkward piece of software...especially compared to the elegance of the rest of the suite.

Third, the "help guide" for the website creator is lousy compared to the rest of the suite. I spent a good ten minutes trying to figure out how to upload a website to my web server. It was far from intuitive, and I never did find the steps needed to move my files.

In summary, there are plenty of reasons to consider this suite (the website creator is not one of those reasons). This is a highly respectable alternative to Photoshop that is worth a shot.


Teach Yourself VISUALLY Raspberry Pi
Teach Yourself VISUALLY Raspberry Pi
by Richard Wentk
Edition: Paperback
Price: $22.22
59 used & new from $15.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Great companion for new Raspberry Pi owners, June 2, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In short...
If you own a Raspberry Pi, or are thinking about getting one, I strongly recommend this "Teach Yourself" guide as a companion that will get you up and running, and will provide a good deal of inspiration to help you learn about so many things you can do with the device.

In detail...
It's hard to resist the temptation of a Raspberry Pi. For around 35 dollars, you can get your own little computer. But then what?

This book tries to answer just the "then what?" question. Without proper guidance, new Raspberry Pi owners might be stuck figuring out what to do with the thing. If you are well versed in tinkering, then maybe this book won't interest you, because there are plenty of guides and discussion boards online to give you inspiration. (Side note: I gave a Raspberry Pi to a group of high school students who liked to tinker. Within about 30 minutes, they had figured out how to use the "command line" to get, install, and play Minecraft on it...they did not need a book.)

Since there are so many answers to the "then what?" question, no book could reasonably cover EVERYTHING the Raspberry Pi can do. What this book does is gives the reader just enough to inspire more learning. The approach is this: provide enough detail to give you a "good start" on an area to explore. Then, if you like it and want more, there are tips along the way to point you in the right direction. Here's an example:

The chapter on networking first gives a birds-eye view on a number of network-related topics, briefly explaining in just two pages: ssh, Virtual Network Computing, web servers, e-mail servers, and more. Then, over the next several pages, you get clear step-by-step instructions on: setting a static IP address, setting up and ssh, setting up a web server, creating a web page, sending e-mails, and more. Along the way, practical questions are answered in the "tips" section, such as: Are there better alternatives to VNC? How can I share Raspberry Pi's files over a network if I'm using a Mac or Windows computer?

22 pages dedicated to networking with the Raspberry Pi will not make you an expert. It won't even make you an amateur. But it WILL inspire some readers to go out and learn more on their own. There are similar chapters on:

* Setting up the Raspberry Pi
* Programming with the Python programming language
* Programming with the Scratch programming language
* Working with sound and video
* Programming games with Pygame
* Creating graphics
* Adding custom hardware (such as sensors, relays, and a real-time clock)

Overall, I'm really impressed with the overall organization and level of detail in every chapter. It's a great book!
*


The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions (Wiley and SAS Business Series)
The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions (Wiley and SAS Business Series)
by Phil Simon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $33.80
58 used & new from $26.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, but a bit light on practical advice, May 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If you want the big picture on visualizing "big data", supported by real examples, then this book is a good first step. If your organization wants to take its first step into "dataviz", then this book provides the justification and inspiration that you need.

However, if you are looking for a how-to manual, look elsewhere.

There are some chapters that purport to offer practical advice, but really amount to inspiration. For example, in chapter 8, "Building the Visual Organization", it opens with a section on "Data Tips and Best Practices".
* Item #1? "When building a dataviz, it's important to consider factors, such as design, corporate culture, and technology. But remember that it all starts with data."
* Item #2? "Walk Before You Run...At Least for Now".

Given that this advice is coming two-thirds of the way through the book, I woud hope for something less inspirational and more practical. Probably the most "practical" advice for me came in the appendix, where Simon gives a short list of supplemental dataviz resources for gathering, organizing, and visualizing data.

Still, I appreciate the inspiration, and enjoy the book. But I will be looking elsewhere for more practical hands-on advice.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 26, 2014 7:55 AM PDT


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