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Corel Painter Essentials 5
Corel Painter Essentials 5
Price: $44.38
19 used & new from $41.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Bitmaps only. Fun toy. But basically a teaser for Corel Painter., March 3, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
PC-based graphic artists have been hit with two frustrations in recent years - Adobe's heinous new pricing scheme, and Microsoft's slightly less heinous reworking of MS Paint. I had high hopes that this program would help address the first issue. No such luck. But it's an awesome Paint program.

WRT Photoshop - the program claims Photoshop compatibility, and this is true, inasmuch as it can open .psd files. It even preserves layers. What it doesn't do is bring in anything path- or object-based -- no splines, no fills, no reshaping, no manipulations that aren't bitmap/pixel rendering. If you thought the price for this as a Photoshop replacement was too good to be true, you were right.

WRT Paint - this does everything you ever wanted from that toy. Layers (as mentioned above), a much less useless zoom feature, all sorts of fun brushes and effects (with stylus pressure support), pixel-based transforms, and even a better-designed color mixer. Sweet.

Once I stopped expecting too much from it, the program was a lot of fun to play with, with a few annoyances. First annoyance -- the help function takes you to the help files for Painter itself, not Essentials. So, you will read about this cool feature, and then, at the bottom of the page, be presented with an apologetic "Some features described in the Help are available only in Corel Painter 2015, and are not included in Painter Essentials 5. For more information about Corel Painter 2015, visit" (which is a store link). Essentials is the teaser for the more expensive program (which does support paths), and Corel makes no attempt to hide this. Second, as with all Corel's graphics programs, this software can only be installed once. Were you planning on changing machines any time soon? Well, unless the first machine fails catastrophically, you can't take this with you.

Given the relatively low price of this package, I would still recommend it to budding artists and fingerpainting kids of all ages. It's not a professional tool, however, and doesn't really claim to be.

(Note - if you're looking for a real artist tool in this price range, check out Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro. That has a much steeper learning curve, and is still bitmap-based, but does a much better job of emulating a real drawing board workflow.)

Kenwood BLM800GY Kenwood Blend-X Pro Blender, Silver
Kenwood BLM800GY Kenwood Blend-X Pro Blender, Silver
Offered by The Kitchen Clique
Price: $399.95
5 used & new from $399.00

16 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerfull motor, misleading claims, February 13, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I've been using the same Cuisinart blender for a couple of decades, because it has a glass jar, and because it lets you select the speed with a slider instead of buttons. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to get this modern equivalent to compare. I am now less ecstatic.

Form Factor:

- The machine is about eighteen inches high, so it will fit neatly under your upper kitchen cabinets.

- The non-glass parts appear to be ABS plastic, or silicone. Both are relatively innocuous plastics (unlike PVC or polycarbonate).

- The glass "goblet" is a heavy beast, actually heavier than the base, which makes the blender a bit top heavy. OTOH the goblet also has a wide bottom and is stable standing on its own, which is a feature.

- The goblet can be dishwasher-ed, but according to the instructions the blade assembly has to be hand washed (bummer).

- There is a stirring wand that fits into the hole in the lid (usually covered by the fill cap), so that, when you're making soups or smoothies, you can stir up the blender contents while the blender is running. I would have liked to see a holder for this on the side or back of the machine, but no such luck.


- Knob. When I saw the picture of the machine I was worried that the pulse function was a big button in the middle of the knob (which, given my shiny granite counters, would have left me chasing the machine all over the kitchen). Not so. The knob gets turned counter-clockwise to pulse, and clockwise to select either "on" (which activates the program buttons), or, past that, to select a range from min to max. Nicely done. HOWEVER - the labels for these settings are not incised in any way, they're simply printed onto the rim of the knob, right where your fingers are going to grip the knob to turn it. It's not clear how long those labels are going to last.

- Buttons. Once the knob is set to "on," the six program buttons light up. Once a button is pushed, that button will remain lit while the program runs its course, and the others will temporarily darken - all will turn back on again once the program is done. Since the programs stop and re-start the motor, I strongly suggest you train yourself to check the button lights to see if a program is done, not just listen to the motor noise and look at the goblet contents, lest you open the goblet prematurely and be rudely surprised.


- Leakage. The motor is powerful enough to torque the machine sideways when starting up, which I thought was pretty cool, until, after about 20 minutes of putting the blender through its paces, I noticed my counter (and floor) filling with water. The motor is also powerful enough to loosen the blade assembly from the bottom of the goblet - if you are going to do several blends one after the other, I suggest you stop periodically to retighten everything. There is what appears to be a vent hole on the lower back of the base, which, it turns out, is actually a drain for the goblet socket. (Much better to have liquid pouring out the bottom of the base than potentially running into the motor). There does not appear to be any way to get into that channel to clean it, if your leak involves something other than water. I fear for what the starting jerk is going to do to the plastic chassis in the long run.

- Capacity. The promo picture for this blender shows it full of neatly cracked ice. Which I'm assuming the photographer got from the ice machine down the hallway. According to the included instructions, the machine's "max. recommend capacity" for crushing ice is 200 grams, or seven ounces. This will get you one margarita. The capacity is the same for grinding nuts, spices, and coffee beans, and slightly higher (250 grams/nine ounces) for chopping vegetables. Only cold liquids can be blended at the full (more than 1.5 quart) capacity of the machine. As a side note, the instructions are kind enough to translate the Metric grams into ounces for us Americans, but those ounces refer to weight not volume.

- Performance. Other reviewers have already sung the praises of the blender when making cream soups and smoothies. Since the machine will also grind spices and coffee beans, I tried it out with some dry rice on that setting to see if I could get a coarse rice meal to make idli. The result was excellent - coarser than rice flour, but a bit finer than commercial cream of rice cereal, and very consistent. Trying to crack rice to make jook was less wonderful, inasmuch as I used the pulse function, and got lots of whole grains mixed in with the pieces. In both cases, the seven ounce limit means the process will be a tad frustrating.

If this were a hundred dollar blender, I would have no qualms about giving it five stars. For this price, however, given the machine's limitations, I can't recommend it to someone looking for a versatile kitchen appliance. If all you wanted was a really pretty smoothie maker, go for it.
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A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction
A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.86

4.0 out of 5 stars A great gift for the budding SF writer in your life, January 31, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It's not unusual for an anthology to span a writer's career. Somewhat more unusual for it to start in high school. This one does, and, as the author himself admits, the early stuff is terrible. (I'm not complaining mind you - the first couple of stories are actually charming, in a teenaged author kind of way).

Each story in this collection starts with a bit of commentary: sometimes a self-critique, sometimes a note about the real-world inspiration for the piece, sometimes a bit of context. Budding writers will enjoy reading about someone else's underpinnings, and misgivings. Authors are people too.

The timeline of the stories runs from 1963 to 2009. Roughly the last third of the book is set in Discworld, including some previously unpublished outtakes.


OXO Good Grips All-in-Reach Shower Shelf
OXO Good Grips All-in-Reach Shower Shelf
Offered by WineStuff
Price: $41.72
3 used & new from $34.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Works great with my Aquasana water filter. And my extra-tall partner., January 6, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
We have a complicated shower - there's an Aquasana water filter attached to the showerhead, a handshower with a hose, and a border on the (fake, acrylic) tiles that sticks out a bit from the wall. In addition, there is a Very Tall Person using the shower who really wants his shelves and such to be a bit higher than typical. So, I was a bit concerned that this Oxo Shower Shelf wouldn't fit.

It fits beautifully. There's plenty of clearance for the filter. The wire support doesn't interfere with the hose (though the filter pushes the clamp forward a bit, which also helps). And the whole thing sits a little bit away from the wall, due to the thickness of the suction cups, which is just enough to clear the tile border.

The designers didn't build in any height adjustment. What we did (which seems to be working) is to snap off the hook/clamp that's supposed to be at the top, to attach to your showerhead pipe, and move it to the wire on the side. This gave us a couple of inches, though it does mean the shelf is a tad off-center.

I do wish there was a real way to adjust the height, or even other versions of the shelf for higher or lower placements. So 4.5 stars. But for you average folks, this is recommended.
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Kyocera Ceramic CP-11 BK Vertical Double Edge Blade Peeler, Black
Kyocera Ceramic CP-11 BK Vertical Double Edge Blade Peeler, Black
Price: $17.71

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, December 29, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I adore my Kyocera Vertical Peeler, but it only has a blade on one side (Your kitchen will need a left-handed cook for carrots, and a right-handed cook for potatoes). So I was thrilled to discover that Kyocera had added this gadget to its line.

Unfortunately, the peeler is a disappointment. First, because the peels themselves are quite thick, which is great for rutabagas and celery root, where you want to take off a lot of skin, but terrible for carrots and potatoes, where you wind up with half your vegetable in the sink strainer. Second, because the handle is weirdly uncomfortable. The notch for your forefinger is just a bit too far away from the blade, and the handle is at an odd angle, which makes peeling round things held in the other hand feel just a bit awkward.

I adore the Kyocera blades, and I really hope they'll come out with a two-side version of the old peeler. I use this one for thick-skinned veggies, but I wouldn't buy it again.

Cyberlink PowerDirector 13 Ultimate
Cyberlink PowerDirector 13 Ultimate
Price: Click here to see our price
18 used & new from $69.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars But is it worth it to get the Ultimate version?, December 24, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As Andy Warhol once said, in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. I don't think he expected us to be doing our own production work, however.

This software lets you start with your own video, and then cut, paste, crop, enhance, tweak, title, correct, voice over, scene transition, etc. The program is quite usable once you get used to the "rooms" paradigm, and there's also a Wizard version that is even simpler, if you're willing to give up some creative control, as well as a simple slideshow maker. There is also a QR link to download a free (simpler) version of the video editor for tablets. (That version has more handholding, and will be a good starting point if you are new to this kind of program, and also own a tablet to run it on). Unlike the video editors I grew up with, this one will access your system's camera and microphone directly, so you can also record video/audio on the fly. Cool.

In addition to the Power Director video editor, there are other applications and add-ons associated with this package, and here the confusion starts. Do you want Delux, Ultra, Ultimate, or Ultimate Suite? "Delux" is apparently the basic version, with some kinds of video formats not supported. "Ultra" and "Ultimate" include a simple stand-alone audio editor, called "WaveEditor 2", but Ultimate has more add-ons in the package (listed below). "Ultimate Suite" has a more sophisticated audio editor, called "AudioDirector," as well as color grading software - "ColorDirector."

PowerDirector Ultimate includes the following additional features over PowerDirector Ultra, all nicely presented on the Cyberlink website -

- NewBlue Video Essential 1, and NewBlue Video Essential 5 (all the various packages are at

- NewBlue Video Titler Pro v1 (

- proDAD Adorage Filter ( - I'm only getting one effect showing up - it's not clear which items are actually included)

- CyberLink Wedding Pack (

- CyberLink Holiday Pack 5 (

Ultimate Suite also includes a Travel Pack, and perhaps some other features I haven't figured out yet. Which version is best? Well, were you the kid who had to have the 64 box of crayons, or were you satisfied with the 24? Me too. Would I get the 96 or the 150 box? Not clear. But I wish there was a less confusing way to decide - maybe one "suite" that had everything, and one basic package that came with a coupon for your choice of two upgrade packs. (Just a suggestion folks, but really).

Moral Development: Theory and Applications
Moral Development: Theory and Applications
by Elizabeth C. Vozzola
Edition: Paperback
Price: $39.45
52 used & new from $23.54

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very readable, December 11, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Tortuous obfuscation via superfluous excess is a common foible among textbooks in the social sciences. I was pleased to find that this text was quite readable, even chatty.

No book this slim could be comprehensive, and even the author doesn't claim that this book is. But it will be a good resource in a survey or discussion class when supplemented by individual readings.

Water Bobble Sport Filtered Water Bottle, 22-Ounce, Blue
Water Bobble Sport Filtered Water Bottle, 22-Ounce, Blue
Price: $11.99
4 used & new from $7.30

4.0 out of 5 stars Nice bottle, iffy cover., December 2, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Inasmuch as our municipal water supply adds chloramine, I was happy to find this much greener alternative to buying bottled water when I'm on the go. The setup is a good idea, but still has some bugs to work out.

FORM FACTOR - The bottle is polypro (number 5 plastic), and about as thick as a milk jug, with a slightly narrowed waist to make it more gripable. The sport cap is pretty typical - pull up to open, push down to close. I think it's HDPE, but there's no marking on it. The filter itself consists of a hollow charcoal cylinder with a plastic cage to hold it. This snaps onto the bottom of the sport cap. There is also a silicone cover that goes over the sport cap, and this is a mixed blessing - on the one hand, it's soft and squeezable enough to use to open and close the sport cap without having to use your teeth (nice if your hands aren't particularly clean, and you don't want to touch the drinking nozzle). On the other hand, it's a very smooth silicone, which is not very grippy. I would be happier if there were some ridges or nubbies to help when pulling it off.

CLEANING - I usually clean sport bottles by putting some soapy water in them, and then squeezing it out through the drinking cap to clean it. I was worried I wouldn't be able to do that here, but the plastic holder for the filter does snap off and on, so all good. I recommend rinsing the charcoal cylinder by itself under the tap before using it, not just pushing a bottle full of water through the filter and cap assembly like they say in the instructions (this won't clear the bigger bits of grit). The bottle claims to be dishwasher safe, but given the small mouth size of the bottle, your dishwasher will need to have very good aim.

USE - Tap water really does seem to taste better coming through this thing, and it is nicely portable, so all good. My only objection is that sucking on the sport cap brings in a lot of air with the water, so it's better to squeeze the bottle into an open mouth, in small squeezes, which is frustrating if you wanted to drink a lot at once. The bottle is also somewhat stiff to squeeze - not very arthritis friendly. I also note that the filter will trap a little bit of water when the bottle is empty, so you will have to be diligent about taking apart and rinsing all the various parts before storage - I wouldn't want to just leave a used bottle to sit for a few days, lest you get a moldy filter.

Overall, this is a useful device. I do hope the next iteration fixes the cover (and maybe has a wider mouth on the bottle).

Dell Venue 8 Pro 3000 Series 32GB Windows Tablet (Newest Version)
Dell Venue 8 Pro 3000 Series 32GB Windows Tablet (Newest Version)
Offered by DIGJUNGLE
Price: $155.00
45 used & new from $90.99

20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Do you want fries with that?, November 25, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
(NOTE: This review is for the Dell Venue Pro, 1 GB RAM, 1.33 GHz, 32 bit OS. 32 Gb disk, though the system analysis claims only 19.7 is available).

I got my first convertible tablet (a Fujitzu Lifebook) back in Windows XP days. But the "tablet" part was always an afterthought - really just a tweak of a notebook. So I was thrilled to get this Dell non-notebook with Windows 8.1 (with Bing!) to evaluate.

FORM FACTOR: The tablet has an eight-inch diagonal screen, but that small size is belied by the relatively large margins on the short sides, making the actual dimensions more like 5" x 8-1/2". This looks oddly oblong at first, but feels quite comfortable in the hands in landscape mode. Many onscreen features of Windows 8.x that are bizarre on a laptop work well here - the popup split keyboard is thumb-friendly, the tiles on the Start page aren't a humongous waste of screen real estate, the side-swipe to switch between applications really is easier than clicking on a window, and many other gestures and layouts are now less absurd. And, if all else fails, you can always switch into desktop mode (I'll be abbreviating that to SIDM).

The micro USB charging port can also be used as a USB 2.0 connection (with the purchase of the optional adapter). That port is on one of the long sides near the corner, and right next to the volume rocker and Windows button, which makes it pretty much impossible to use this device in a charging stand.

GETTING STARTED: Upon first startup, the tablet presents you with an EULA the size of a small novel (actually two EULAs side-by-side, one for Dell and one for Microsoft). I'm pleased to report that those are also available online, for those of us who prefer a larger font, but I wish those URLs had been presented at the *top* of the text. You are also prompted to connect to a wireless network, and I strongly suggest you do that immediately. Many application links on the Start page are really just stubs, with additional software to be downloaded. I note here that apps downloaded from the Store can only be installed to the internal hard drive, which is a paltry 32Gb, not onto an add-on SD card. You can put other kinds of files such as photos and MP3s on the SD card, or Microsoft offers cloud storage via OneDrive (free for a small amount of storage to get you started, with an easy subscription plan when you need more space).

PRODUCTIVITY: The ribbon menus that are now ubiquitous in Microsoft Office again make sense in this context - the icons are thumb-friendly, and things like Read mode in Word put the onscreen arrow keys in just the right place. For extended work sessions the onscreen keyboard would get tedious, both because it blocks almost half the screen, and because for some applications you have to explicitly open and dismiss it, which kinda interrupts the flow. For on-the-go tweaking of docs and presentations, however, this device is just the thing. The tablet comes with a year's subscription to MS Office Personal (after which there is an easy subscription plan when you need to add more time).

If you want to use non-MicroSoft applications, you can always SIDM. I note that the 1.33 GHz processor and 1 gig of RAM is just barely enough to run Acrobat, and won't be enough to run most graphics programs. For other software you might need a stylus for the menus, or really skinny thumbs. My cheapie no-name passive stylus works fine here as a pointing device, but doesn't give me full mouse-button functionality. I'm getting conflicting information about whether or not the fancy Dell Active Stylus will actually work. (The stylus can be purchased as an optional accessory).

GAMES: Clicking on the game controller icon in Start brings you to Xbox Games (Would you like to create an Xbox Live account now?). The slow processor and small screen preclude most high-graphics games, but the tablet had no problem with smaller stuff like solitaire and Bejeweled. Upon SIDM and downloading a few games from Big Fish, however, I was dismayed to discover I couldn't start some of them - games that start in full screen mode have no way to pull up the keyboard, and therefore no way to enter a username.

READING: Acrobat Reader is quite palatable in full-screen mode (three taps to get back out, since the swipe-down gesture that Windows uses to close an app will be re-purposed to scroll). The Zinio app is too frustrating to use, inasmuch as it doesn't really support portrait mode, thus making the full-screen text size for magazines too tiny to read without constant zooming in and out. The Kindle app works really well - when in landscape mode you can set it to show two columns side-by-side, book-like, the font size is adjustable, and again the arrow keys to turn the page land conveniently under your thumb. There is a bit of screen glare, and I'm looking forward to getting a screen protector to address that. (The link to the Kindle store isn't too obtrusive).

MUSIC: The speaker on this tablet is mono, on one side only, and underwhelming. For real music listening most people use headphones, however, and both Bluetooth and jack-in are supported. The volume rocker, as noted, is on the upper left corner in landscape mode, right next to the Windows button, which I have now pushed accidentally several times. The headphone icon in the Start screen brings you right to Xbox Music, which had no trouble dealing with my SD card full of MP3s, once I told it where to look. Xbox Music also gives you the opportunity to "explore" music in the Store (Buy album for only $9.99.). Or you can SIDM and use another music service.

WEB SURFING: Internet Explorer is nicely showcased on the Start page. Or, you can SIDM and download another browser. I note that IE doesn't overlap the task bar, but Firefox does, which can be a pain with the browser in full-screen mode. You will want to turn the tablet to portrait orientation to navigate login screens, inasmuch as the keyboard tends to cover key fields, like "password."

VIDEO: Clicking on the Video icon on the Start page brings you to Xbox Video, which consists of the Movie Store and the TV Store. The Start page also includes a nice link to Hulu Plus (Only $7.99/month. Cancellable at any time!) but not to Hulu, which is free. There is also a tile for YouTube (Get the full version for only $2.99 a month, start your free trial now.). Or, you can SIDM and go to the actual web pages for those services. I was dismayed to find out that Amazon's own video player doesn't work on this device, because of a hardware incompatibility. So much for my Prime streaming video. (Kumar at customer support was very apologetic). I found occasional freezing for the other services, but nothing I would call a dealbreaker. I also got caught a few times in a "Press ESC to exit full screen mode" situation, with no ESC key. Swipe doesn't always play well with others. (If you want to *take* video you need to tap the still camera icon, and then select the video icon within that app. After a panicked search you will find your videos, not in the "Videos" directory, but instead in the "Pictures" directory, because Microsoft).

PHOTOS: The tablet has the now-typical two lenses, forward and backward facing. I found no obvious complaints with the quality of either, however the lens on the back is in the center of one of the short sides - appropriate when in portrait mode, but unworkable in landscape mode, inasmuch as your fingers are a little too likely to cover the lens. There is a small picture-fixing app for things like color correct and skew. For fancier stuff like adding text or graphics you'll have to SIDM and use Paint, which works really awfully on an eight-inch screen, inasmuch as the menus are tiny, and there aren't obvious things like "Zoom to fit". Once you do have some photos you can upload them to Dropbox, which has a nice link on the Start page (do I really need to say it?).

INTEGRATION: Upon registering the tablet, and providing my Microsoft ID, I was delighted to see it had automatically pulled my desktop wallpaper (a personal photo) in from my "real" computer, a Lenovo Yoga running Windows 8. Foibles and frustrations aside, the ability to share data via the cloud really is impressive. Some apps now show up on both machines, license permitting.

Overall, I think this tablet will be useful for road warriors who don't want to shlep a laptop or notebook, but who need more than a phone. I wouldn't get it as a primary computing device. Also, as noted, Microsoft has taken more than one page from Apple's business plan. Kudos for the thumb-friendly UI and network integration. Not so much for the constant upsell.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 26, 2014 9:36 PM PST

Post-it 4 x 3 Feet Dry Erase Surface (DEF4x3)
Post-it 4 x 3 Feet Dry Erase Surface (DEF4x3)
Price: Click here to see our price
13 used & new from $41.43

4.0 out of 5 stars Geek bait, November 19, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
You can never have too many creative outlets, so I was happy to get this boardless Whiteboard to review. It does what it claims - namely, lets you turn any flat surface into a dry erase board.

Since the surface is cuttable, I tested a piece of it on a painted steel door, and another piece on a sheet of interior-grade plywood, lightly sanded. I wiped both surfaces down with some rubbing alcohol to make sure they were clean and dry, and burnished the dry erase surface well once it was in position. The dry erase surface had no problem sticking to either base surface, and was immediately repositionable on both (not sure if it will still be repositionable a month from now, or how many times you can do that).

Some further observations:

- Small flaws in the underlying wall (or whatever) will be evident, but this doesn't effect the function of the board.

- Be careful not to sharply bend the surface when installing it, or you will get a lasting divot.

- The instructions say to use a straightedge to cut the surface, but the backing has a light diamond pattern, and if you have a good light and a good eye you can just follow that to get a straight line (printed lines would be welcome here).

- The surface is actually a bit too smooth (though this may fade with age). I tried both Marks-a-Lot dry erase markers and some fine-point Japanese ones from Daiso, and both slipped around a tad too easily.

- The instructions end with "recycle the box and the backing", but the backing has no recycle marks (probably HDPE). It's actually a nice sturdy sheet of plastic - I think I'll put it under some plants.

- If you (or one of your coworkers) is the kind of person who writes past the edges of the whiteboard, a duct tape frame will act as a speedbump, and insure a clean-looking edge.

Overall, I'm impressed by this product. 4.5 stars.

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