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A History of the World in 12 Maps
A History of the World in 12 Maps
by Jerry Brotton
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.59
61 used & new from $11.17

3.0 out of 5 stars Great idea, lacking in execution, December 13, 2014
While the concept is interesting and the material has great potential, the author failed on several points.

I must agree with other comments regarding the quality of the maps: not good.

Also, the discussions of the maps do little to help the reader understand what he/she is seeing when looking at the map. The Kangnido map is a good example. On pages 118-119, the author makes a number of statements about details included in the map. Yet looking at the map as presented in the book, it is impossible to find any of them. A "recognizable" Iberian Peninsula? Not in the book I bought. A phonetic rendering of "Alemania?" I can't see it. Alexandria "represented by a pagoda-shaped object?" Not visible.
Maybe this is only a portion of the map, but if it is, then say so. As presented the map and the discussion of it are frustratingly disconnected.

The rest of the book is the same. In addition, the author tends to get wound up in minutiae to the detriment of the overall narrative.

I got this book as a gift, and it had been marked down to $11.99. It may be worth that, but I really wouldn't buy it myself at that price.


Panasonic LUMIX G VARIO 14-42mm / F3.5-5.6 II ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S. Digital Interchangeable Zoom Lens - H-FS1442A - Black
Panasonic LUMIX G VARIO 14-42mm / F3.5-5.6 II ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S. Digital Interchangeable Zoom Lens - H-FS1442A - Black
37 used & new from $99.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Clear but distorted image, December 13, 2014
A very light and convenient lens, with good short to medium range of focal lengths.

IQ is OK, but there is some vignetting, and at the wide end (14mm) the barrel distortion is some of the most extreme I have ever seen. It can make photos look absolutely surreal, with all the trees and buildings leaning in toward the center.

I will keep it because they only charged $50 extra when I bought the package. Use sparingly, at middle focal lengths.

The uploaded image* shows the extreme tilt of objects (trees, building) toward the center. Roll mouse onto image (or click on image) for larger view.

*I have no idea why Amazon chose to remove the image, since it is an integral part of the review. I will keep posting it in the hope that they will stop removing it. Why include the option of posting an image if they are just going to remove it?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 13, 2014 10:10 AM PST


The Patriot Vampire
The Patriot Vampire
by H. L. Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.02
10 used & new from $14.12

2.0 out of 5 stars Not much here, December 8, 2014
This review is from: The Patriot Vampire (Paperback)
This book was provided to me by a well-meaning friend. It gave me another reason to avoid anything with the word "vampire" in the title.

The style is stiff and in the sort of formula often used by writers who are either inexperienced, in a hurry, or writing down to a target level. Introduce a character, give a quick description and a bit of backstory, move on to the next one. This would work as the outline of a book project or screenplay, but it is pretty clunky as an actual book.

The kind of simple, cliche-filled story (big mystery danger solved by plucky young woman) in the tradition of Nancy Drew. Good for high-school age readers, or people who like vampires and over-the-top conspiracy tales.


Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) and Charger for Panasonic DMW-BLE9, DMW-BLG10 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3, DMC-GF5, DMC-GF6, DMC-GX7
Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) and Charger for Panasonic DMW-BLE9, DMW-BLG10 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3, DMC-GF5, DMC-GF6, DMC-GX7
Price: $24.99
2 used & new from $23.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A great buy, November 21, 2014
I got this kit for the GX7, which runs batteries down pretty quickly. 2 batteries, plus charger and plug accessories, for less than the price of one Panny battery! I've used Wasabi for years and they have never disappointed. These came with some charge already on them (I hope this doesn't mean they were used sold as new) and took less than an hour to reach full charge.
They work perfectly in the GX7, including showing the little bars indicating battery life. You can charge the original Panny battery in the Wasabi charger, and you can charge the Wasabi battery in the Panny charger. As noted by another reviewer, the Panny charger goes from green (charging) to off (charged); the Wasabi charger goes from red (charging) to green (charged).
A great buy.


Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GX7KK Compact System Camera with 14-42 II Lens Kit (Black)
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GX7KK Compact System Camera with 14-42 II Lens Kit (Black)
Offered by Eagle Camera
Price: Click here to see our price
19 used & new from $479.00

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Small package, big performance, November 17, 2014
NOTE ON VIDEO: I uploaded a short video clip to show the IQ and slo-mo potential of the video. This was shot at 1080/60p (AVCHD), then slowed to 1/4 speed for a slow motion effect. I also greatly reduced the resolution since earlier attempts at uploading HD were thwarted by Amazon; the file was horribly compressed and all quality was destroyed in the process. So be forewarned: if you view this in full screen the resolution is NOT there. Even at that, however, it would still look decent at about 1/2 screen. Unfortunately, Amazon has not seen fit to make that a viewing option. Video shot hand-held with 45-175mm lens at 175mm.
........................

I have been shooting with a GH3 for the past couple of years. It's great, but I wanted something lighter. Enter the GX7. I couldn't justify spending $1100-$1200 for this camera & lens when it came out, so I waited until the price dropped.

Physical characteristics & functions
--Perfect size for me. Any smaller would be too small. (I had thought of the GM5, but glad I didn't get it for this reason--the GX7 is as small as I care to go for handling purposes. Also DxOMark rated the GX7 sensor at 70 (right next to the GH3 at 71) and the GM5 only scored 66.
--Controls are well-laid out and complete. Nice to have 2 dials, front and rear, for Aperture and Shutter speed.
--Nice to have several Fn buttons for quick access to make changes.
--Buttons and dials have a good feel and touch, firm and positive. You aren't going to turn a control dial or the mode dial by mistake.
--You can change battery and memory card with a tripod plate attached to the camera. This is a great improvement over many cameras. (But see below regarding LDC monitor screen with tripod plate.)
--Love the full Manual video, and the option of using the shutter button to shoot video.
--Extended Tele Conversion is great: unlike "Digital Zoom," the ETC uses an un-changed crop from the center of the sensor. For stills, you can get 1.4x enlargement at 8mp (you get more at lower resolutions but I don't usually want to go below 8mp). Video is even better: your 2mp video can get 2.4x enlargement. This means that shooting with a 175mm lens gives about 800mm equivalent.
*UPDATE ON "ETC"*: Although there is no reduction in resolution and no resampling with the "ETC" feature, after testing I found a slight but noticeable difference in detail and sharpness. I shot video with a 45-175mm lens set to 175mm (normal zoom mode) and again using ETC with the same lens set to 75mm to give approximately the same focal length equivalent (~2.4 x 75mm = ~175mm). The normal (non-ETC) mode was actually somewhat sharper and cleaner looking; apparently the down-sampling is very well done. For most uses this will not matter, but it is worth being aware of.
--EVF is very good for me (my right eye is dominant). Also I have not noticed the odd visual effects reported by others.
--The 14-42mm kit lens is nice and small and light. IQ is not stellar, but acceptable.
--With a 45-175mm lens, the rig is nicely balanced and still quite compact. A 14-140mm would make an ideal kit with great range, but I didn't find that lens to be satisfactory at the price point.
--Burst mode is great! You can shoot at 5-6fps indefinitely (I quit after 85 frames) in JPEG fine at full res. RAW is a little disappointing at about 10 frames, but the JPEGS are very nice and clean.
--AF: With a zoom lens, if you press [AF/AE LOCK] WHILE IN AF MODE and then turn the AF/MF lever to MF, AF will work continuously and rapidly as you zoom in and out, even though the camera is in AFS mode. This is a very nice feature (but see below)*. (It seems they have described it incorrectly in the user manual. According to the GX7 manual, p.159: "If [AF/AE LOCK] is pressed in Manual Focus, Auto Focus will work." In my experience this is not true; with a zoom lens, at least, doing as described has no effect whatsoever on focus -you are in MF mode and that is all.)
*Unfortunately this feature is hit or miss--many shots will be slightly OoF. I will not be using it; why take a chance?

--Not so good:
--EVF diopter is a slider, not a wheel as in most other cameras. This makes it hard to get it where you want it. Also it might be too easy to nudge by accident if you have the EVF turned up (although diopter wheels also can be nudged by accident).
--Side door (for plugging in USB cable, remote shutter release, etc.) is blocked by the LCD monitor. To open and close it, you must partially open the LDC monitor. A minor irritation, but could have easily been avoided.
--LCD monitor screen cannot be opened if you have a tripod plate on the camera. (You can just barely pry it open far enough to open the side door to plug in a wired remote shutter release.)
--LCD monitor screen does not fold in toward camera. As a result I have already made unintended contact with touch-screen controls on several occasions (including accidentally moving the AF point to the lower right side of the image!) Also screen is not protected. A fully articulated screen would have been much better.
--Unlike still shooting, in which the ETC adds additional range to the normal zoom focal length, the ETC in video mode is either on or off. This means that your 45-175mm lens becomes a 108-420mm lens, eliminating the focal lengths from 45mm to 108mm. It would have been much better to engineer it just like the still shooting ETC, adding to the range instead of just moving the range.

*SOLUTION*: I assigned the C1 custom dial position to ETC [ON]. That way it's always there if I want it. Basically, by turning the dial one click (Video to C1) I am changing lenses! It doesn't get any easier than that; I don't even have to take my eye away from the EFV.

--IBIS does not work with video. I have all OIS lenses, so to me this is a non-issue at present.
--IBIS does not work during composition. I don't use it, due to OIS lenses, but it seems like a poor engineering choice.

IQ is pretty good. Obviously this depends on the lens, and I don't have any prime lenses. Comparing the results obtained with the same lenses (14-42mm, 45-175mm, 100-300mm) as used on the GH3, they seem quite similar. DxOMark gave a very slight edge to GH3 with these lenses, but not by much. A surfing shot using 300mm and lossless cropped to 3415x2562 (using FastStone Image Viewer), was blown up to 20x30in and printed (all done by CostCo) and is now on my friend's wall--he does a lot of photography and he was quite impressed by the

NOTE ON THE KIT LENS (14-42mm): IQ is OK, but there is some vignetting, and at the wide end (14mm) the barrel distortion is some of the most extreme I have ever seen. It can make photos look absolutely surreal, with all the trees and buildings leaning in toward the center. I will keep it because they only charged $50 extra when I bought the package. Use sparingly, at middle focal lengths.

The JPEG engine does a great job of getting rid of noise and maintaining sharpness--so far it's often better than I have been able to do with the same image's RAW files and a lot of TLC in post. One complaint I have about the GH3 and the GX7 is that the RAW images tend to be a bit noisier than APS-C images; even at similar pixel densities. But I do a lot of pixel-level inspection since I do a lot of major cropping and enlarging. Most people aren't going to be bothered by this.

VIDEO: I haven't had a chance to really test video handling and quality since by the time I got the camera and got the battery charged up there wasn't much daylight left. More on that after I have a chance to go shoot some action.

UPDATE on video: very nice. Even under flat light conditions, gets good detail. Tried using the ETC function and a fully zoomed 100-300mm lens with video and it is amazing how you can pull things in from nearly 1/2 mile away and still get the same IQ. I will be using this feature a lot. Especially since I have assigned the C1 custom dial position to ETC [ON], allowing for instant change of focal length.

NOTE:
--I almost never use CAF with video, so have yet to try it. When I do I'll report back.

*UPDATE ON CAF*
Continuous AF works well when panning. I didn't have any moving subjects available, so I tested by panning across an area with stationary subjects (bushes, trees, houses, cars) both near (30-40 feet) and far (100 yards). Focus was set to "Center Area." Lighting was clear mid-morning sun. The CAF worked very well, with the following observations. (1) It simply would not focus on the nearer subjects, even if nothing else was in the frame. Not full-on blur, but just OoF. These subjects normally video and photo quite well with this lens in Single Auto-focus mode. (2) As expected, it would not re-focus during panning motion. The good news is that is does NOT start searching and going all blurry (as the Sony A77ii does). The GX7 simply retains the focus it had until you pause briefly and let it see the new subject. It re-focuses quickly and smoothly, with NO searching or blurring. The focus is crystal clear. (I was using the 45-175mm at full 175mm zoom.) All in all, it did a good job, much better than some cameras I have used.

--Here is an interesting thing I have found with both the GH3 and the GX7: if you are shooting distant subjects with video, zoom all the way to the longest focal length and then focus using AF Lock (be sure to set AF Lock Hold ON in the menu first). Then you can zoom in and out and keep focus over a very wide range of focal lengths. For some reason, this does not work in reverse. (If you focus the camera at a shorter distance and then zoom out, you will quickly lose focus.) SEE ABOVE COMMENT on [AF/AE LOCK] and MF.

--For both stills and video, in flat light it really helps to use either the "Scenery" mode or curves (Highlight/Shadow, recording menu p.2) to increase contrast. The results are very nice and can save a lot of work in post.

Bottom line: very glad I bought this, and the price was right. A few quirks, as noted above, hence 4 stars and not 5. But it's a very good MFT camera. If this camera had 4K, I couldn't ask for anything more. Maybe a GX8 is coming? (In an interview given in Japanese, Panasonic representative Tadokoro Yoshifumi said that they are working on 4K 60p video and 8K HD video!) Until that happy day, I suspect the GX7 is going to be my "go-to" camera for most uses. And it will be great for travel.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 3, 2014 8:58 PM PST


Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington.
Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington.
by Sharyl Attkisson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.79
66 used & new from $11.55

40 of 214 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Cashing in on Conspiracism, November 14, 2014
"Fight for truth?"

Quote from the book description:
"The Obama Administration in particular has broken new ground in its monitoring of journalists, intimidation and harassment of opposition groups, and surveillance of private citizens."

"New ground?" She/they have conveniently overlooked Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover's various campaigns, HUAC, Hollywood blackballing, Watergate, and the massive spying and infiltration of left-wing groups, Black Panthers, Lincoln Brigade survivors, etc., during the 50s, 60s, 70s and before. And after.
..........
Near the start, the author speaks of her computers firing up by themselves at night, and says "I know this is not normal computer behavior." Nonsense. My computers do this all the time, HP, Microsoft, Oracle (Java) and other computer-related companies are always doing automatic updates, compatibility checks, and whatever other intrusive crap they do.

So already in 2 minutes with this book there is a gross distortion (if not absolute untruth) in the book description, and another in the first few pages of the book. Spies under the bed! Witches in the closet! Nonsense, but a great way to milk the fan base for money.

I went through all this in the 70s, spending time with some militia types in their hideaway survivalist HQ in the Rockies. After awhile, it starts to seem real; and every one of their Apocalyptic fantasies was "documented." And when you get lucky enough step away from it, it all seems like a bad dream.

Now, I'm sure, I will receive a torrent of nonsense from right-wing conspiracists. Or maybe just from ordinary right-wing whatevers.
==========
UPDATE: Less than one minute after posting this review, I already had one "non-helpful" vote! Wow! Am I under surveillance? Targeted by some shadowy cabal of right-wing conspiracy fans? It can't just be a coincidence, can it?
Comment Comments (33) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 14, 2014 9:00 AM PST


The Distant Land of My Father: A Novel of Shanghai
The Distant Land of My Father: A Novel of Shanghai
Price: $8.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Contrived, November 14, 2014
Caldwell has the ability to write smoothly, but too much else is contrived and obviously "staged," if you will.

The narrator's experiences as a child in Shanghai: we aren't told her age, but she is so young she still can't read very well yet--and yet she acts like a child of 10 or 12 at times. At other times, she acts much younger, almost babyish. Her father is bilingual, loves Shanghai, makes her memorize details of geography and buildings, they have Chinese servants--but she can't speak or understand more than a couple of words of Chinese.

The little incident with the Japanese money which she hides is an obvious "plant" (to use the film term for calling the audience's attention to something which will later lead to something else).

There is international conflict, and at one point her father is kidnapped and beaten, yet they stay on, and continue with most of their routine. When open war breaks out--Japanese marines coming ashore; shells and bombs falling on the city--they decide to go to a wedding reception. And even after driving through the downtown zone after a bombing and/or shelling that leaves buildings in ruins and the streets littered with burned and bloody corpses and groaning wounded, on they go to the wedding reception.

I know that the foreign community in Shanghai felt an unrealistic sense of entitlement vis-a-vis the Chinese, but the cluelessness here as the bombs and shells are flying is just too much. Also having just read another story, written by a Japanese woman (Yoshiko Yamaguchi, AKA Ri Ko Ran) who was raised in China (becoming totally bilingual in the process) and lived there through the events mentioned (and being not much older than the narrator of Caldwell's novel), the contrast with how real people actually on the scene reacted is just too strong to make this book by Caldwell either credible or enjoyable. Just not able to attain the willing suspension of disbelief.

Clearly a lot of research went into this book (although I wish she had just gone ahead and used pinyin instead of deliberately using an archaic and clumsy spelling system for Chinese and Japanese words) but it's too much another outsider's view, when the narrator really would have been at least partially an insider.


Ri Koran watakushi no hansei (Japanese Edition)
Ri Koran watakushi no hansei (Japanese Edition)
by Sakuya Fujiwara
Edition: Tankobon Hardcover
15 used & new from $12.09

3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting but flawed book, November 2, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I had previously read "Jidai ni tsutaetai koto: rekishi no kataribe Ri Koran no hansei" by the same author. That work is very short (under 100 pages) and is taken from a series of lectures given to Japanese college students.

I expected this book to be more or less an expanded version of the shorter book. It is, but unfortunately the expansion includes much material that removes the feeling of the socio-political forces and movements that made the shorter version so compelling.

This book is interesting, no doubt about that. But the author spends far too much time on trivial detail (like giving her full street address from a childhood residence, or listing the names of all the movie theaters she went to in one of the cities she lived in as a child). The result is long stretches of rather ego-centric "narrative" (with zero action or insight). And the focus in these passages is so narrow that she might as well be describing a theme park--there is nothing of the surrounding environment and society. It's not a picture of life in China, nor in Japan, nor even in selected locales. Just her.

If you're willing to make inferences and look up some of the people and places she mentions in passing (often it seems like name-dropping) you can learn a lot on the side, but not directly.

Bottom line for me: an interesting "base camp" for further research; an interestingly idiosyncratic use of many kanji (perhaps chosen for their old-style implications, perhaps personal choice for elegant variation) accompanied by an equally idiosyncratic use of hiragana when kanji would be both acceptable and more clear. And some interesting glimpses of parts of Chinese culture and history--but only as it touched on her. Sadly, not enough effort to change focus and use hindsight to provide a larger picture.


Panasonic Lumix G Vario  14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens (Black)
Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens (Black)
Price: $527.99
8 used & new from $491.03

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great range but disappointing issues, October 28, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I suspect that this evaluation may not be popular, but that's not what reviews are for.

My honest assessment:

I was excited about this lens. I have been shooting with a 100-300mm and a 45-175mm on my GH3, and the 14-140mm would be the perfect complement--decent wide angle and enough reach to cover most of what I would do with the 45-175mm (the latter has power zoom, so I would still prefer it for video).

--This lens is light and compact (although the 45-175mm is much more so).

--The appearance isn't quite as...elegant(?)...as the other lenses, due to the shiny black finish on the barrel nearest the camera. But if it works well, that's a non-issue.

--The zoom is stiffer than either of the other lenses (the 100-300mm telescopes when zooming; the 45-175mm is internal zoom). It's a bit of a hindrance, not as smooth. You notice it; with the other lenses I don't.

--No way to set a shot for, say, exactly 100mm focal length. You can come close with the numbers on the barrel, but my experience is that you'll be a bit off. (There's nothing in the VF to indicate focal length.) I'm an intuitive shooter anyway, so this doesn't bother me, but if you're doing precision work and need shots at a precise focal length it could be a problem.

--The IQ is somewhat erratic, ranging from very good to OK. Both of the other lenses are consistently sharper; you notice it right away. I took a series of shots of various subjects at various distances with various zoom, and none are really outstanding. With either of the other lenses, you could get some very clear shots.
UPDATE: did some more shooting today, with strong mid-morning light. Ideal conditions, and the lens (not surprisingly) did much better. Got some very crisp images, at various focal lengths, that compare well with those taken with the other lenses. With this lens the focal length seems less important than the texture of the subject. It does very well on palm trees, bamboo groves, structural beams, tile or shingle roofs, and the like. It does not do well with dense leafy foliage, even when well-illuminated. In other words, it prefers sharply-defined objects. This is not surprising, but both of the other lenses do better.

--Focus: at 140mm, with focus set to "center area" (my usual setting)at times the focus was actually clearest on objects well to the right of the subject (which was about 80 yards away) and considerably closer (maybe 40 yards away). (This may have been true in other areas of the image, but there was no comparable object in other areas of the image, so I don't know.) I don't know if this is the lens or the sensor, but I never noticed this with the other lenses.

--Serious CA (purple fringing) in high-contrast zones, such as the darkish trunk of a tree against the brighter sky.
UPDATE: with mid-morning light, this issue virtually disappeared. But neither of the other lenses has this issue at all.

--The video shows jitter. I shot hand held, OIS on, 1080/60p (which is what I always shoot), shutter speed 1/125. I held the camera still, aimed at one point, and shot about 1 minute. The jitter isn't a lot, but it's there. Sort of a slight quivering or vibration, just a couple of pixels. The focal length was about 60mm, and the jitter might well be worse at longer focal lengths. (I'll test this later.) I usually shoot action video so this won't normally be a problem, but I don't like the idea of a built-in limitation. What if I do want to shoot stationary objects or scenes?

VIDEO UPDATE: I made some test vids at 140mm. Handheld, the jitter was worse than at 60mm (as anticipated). The motion was larger, and it almost seemed as if the OIS was exaggerating the slightest hand motion (I shoot almost everything hand-held and have never had this issue before).
I also tried putting the camera on the deck railing and doing a "hands-off" video at 140mm. Zero jitter. This is surprising, since the conventional wisdom is that for tripod shooting (the railing was a substitute for a tripod) the OIS should be off to keep the system from trying to compensate for non-existent vibration.
I had thought that maybe the jitter--which is very slight--was actually an artifact of line skipping in the video recording. But the zero jitter in the railing shot seems to rule that out.
Summary: it almost looks like the OIS is working in reverse, amplifying existing small vibrations. I will try shooting vid with no OIS and report back.

UPDATE: Tried the "no OIS" vid (1080/60p, 1/125). I have a pretty steady hand, but the lack of OIS was very obvious. If there was jitter, you would never find it due to the wandering of the camera! :-)

I'll add to this as I do more shooting.

Right now I'm still not sure I want to keep it.
=====================
UPDATE
After spending more time with this lens, I sent it back. It had some good moments, but the the sharpness wasn't enough in stills, and the lurking jitter issue in video didn't make it a keeper. Maybe a future firmware update or improved version will fix this issue.


Meditex Silicone Toe Tube
Meditex Silicone Toe Tube
Offered by VeriBrands
Price: $6.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Not worth it, October 18, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Meditex Silicone Toe Tube
Overpriced for what you get. Too much trouble to use; hard to get on over toe. I'll wear sandals instead.


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