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Steven Dennis RSS Feed (Reston, VA USA)

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Ender in Exile (The Ender Quintet)
Ender in Exile (The Ender Quintet)
by Orson Scott Card
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $8.99
113 used & new from $0.01

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, but thin, thin, thin plotline, December 31, 2009
Ender's Game is my favorite novel, so read this review with that understanding. Ender's Game is not the best novel ever written, but the one I enjoyed the most because I could relate viscerally to Ender. This book doesn't reach anything close to that standard, but I found myself reading it in one day until 1 a.m., unable to sleep without finishing it. But then again, I'm an Ender lifer.
For starters, don't bother reading this if you haven't read Ender's Game and at least Ender's Shadow and Speaker for the Dead. Those are the three essential books in the Ender's Game pantheon, with the rest tending to get progressively lame. (Children of the Mind ending up in bigtime lame-o territory, sadly. Card talks in the afterward of this book about how he didn't bother to reread his old books, and I can see why! PLEASE, rewrite Xenocide and Children of the MInd! Or pay another writer to redo them.)

Back to the review: For Ender fans, Ender in Exile is a must read -- there are simply too many expository tidbits and loose ends getting tied. But the plotline is very thin. The new characters are garden variety Card staples -- young girl dealing with overbearing mother, adult who underestimates Ender (ENDER!) even after he's saved humanity, yada yada yada. Ender himself is always interesting, and keeps you reading for more. But Valentine is relegated to a bit part after a promising start. Graff makes several appearances as a sort of Father of Humanity Demigod which proves a convenient way for Card to chew through pages and adds some convenient act of god/act of Graff plot twists. But all of the characters seem like chess pieces in a puzzle of the Enderverse rather than having much in the way of depth or resonance. A lot of the book is simply Card remembering to check plot boxes -- "oh, right, I have to have Ender write The Hegemon, find The Hive Queen, yada yada yada." Perhaps the biggest problem is that very little is actually happening in Ender in Exile, although Card invents a couple of hurdles for Ender to deal with to give the book narrative momentum. But mainly we are reading to see what is going on with Ender -- how he transitions from war hero to humane Speaker for the Dead. Mostly he just seems to mope. I was hoping for a more interesting conversation between Ender and The Hive Queen, but Card is very sparing with Ender's internal thoughts, doling them out slowly to keep you wanting more.

Without giving away what actually happens in the book, it left me with a sense of deepening melancholy, and perhaps that is what Card intends? You do get the sense of intense loneliness that Ender must feel, even moreso as everything he knows save Valentine will fade into dust as he hops from world to world on his journey. Makes you want to embrace everyone you know, hard. And shed a tear for Ender.

One other thing - Card keeps fancying that he is improving as a writer with more experience, etc., and says so in his afterward as a reason not to reread his old books. I disagree. Let's face it, he has NOT improved as a writer since 1984. If anything he's gotten lazier and more arrogant in his religious/political viewpoints and stereotyping. Maybe it's time for a new editor, one who will challenge him more?
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 11, 2013 12:38 PM PDT

Capresso 464.05 CoffeeTeam GS 10-Cup Digital Coffeemaker with Conical Burr Grinder
Capresso 464.05 CoffeeTeam GS 10-Cup Digital Coffeemaker with Conical Burr Grinder
Price: $162.10
27 used & new from $98.43

376 of 383 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Grind & Brew, Although It Is a Bit Loud, October 10, 2009
I'm a Top 1000 Reviewer here at Amazon, but haven't reviewed anything in years -- until now. The Capresso 464 compelled me.
First things first. This is not my first grind and brew. My old Melitta Mill & Brew, with its faulty plastic latch long since broken had become a drag. For years I had to put a box of chicken stock on top of the grind chamber to keep it shut so it would work! And while it made pretty good coffee, it seemed to waste grounds by spraying them inside the grinder basket. And the daily cleanup ritual had started to make the whole idea of grinding and brewing in one device seem only of marginal value. And yet, the alternatives, including a best-selling Cuisinart model, have notorious bad reviews here at Amazon for being a total chore to clean.

Enter the Capresso CoffeeTeam GS, which solves all of my problems with its ingenious design. No longer do you have to measure the coffee. The CoffeeTeam GS will brew from 2 to 10 cups automatically, grinding just the right amount of beans with no guesswork. Cleanup is a breeze. The filter basket swings out and is easily washed. And because the grinding occurs in a separate chamber from the filter basket, there is no wasted coffee.

The quality of the coffee is also exactly what I want -- hot, and with the full flavor of the bean preserved by the conical burr grinders. If you want stronger or weaker coffee, it's very easy to do. You can also choose finer or coarser grinds depending on the type of coffee you are using (oily coffee should be coarser, light coffee finer).

There are two items that are drawbacks, but I don't mind them so am still giving this five stars. First, the grinder is wake-up-your-wife loud. And it can go for 40 seconds if you are making a full pot. It's not so loud that it hurts your ears, but it is not pleasant, and Capresso would have done well to add some amount of noise insulation. Second, because of the design, a small amount of ground coffee is left in the machine every time. This is an issue in two respects. First, switching from one type of coffee to another is not instantaneous, because invariably there is this overlap. Second, if you leave the machine unused for more than about a week, Capresso recommends cleaning out the coffee chamber and using new coffee. That's because the coffee will get a little more stale with each passing day. But like I said, in my mind these are very minor complaints to a really great product!
Comment Comments (14) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 27, 2013 11:44 AM PDT

Hamilton Beach 04161 TrueAir HEPA Air Purifier with UV Germicidal Light
Hamilton Beach 04161 TrueAir HEPA Air Purifier with UV Germicidal Light

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great *little* HEPA!, December 21, 2006
I really like this cute little HEPA cleaner, but I should warn you that it is much smaller than I thought it would be. I also have a Honeywell and Kenmore HEPA units that are much larger and move a lot more air. However, for a small room, the Hamilton Beach unit provides quiet, efficient air cleaning in a compact unit. The Germicidal light is a nice touch.

Koolvac KV-1 Robotic Vacuum
Koolvac KV-1 Robotic Vacuum

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Knockoff bites, March 14, 2006
Don't buy this vacuum -- it is a blatant ripoff of the original Roomba vacuum -- which iRobot has since dramatically upgraded with the Discovery series. You can get a Roomba Red for about the same price, with double the suction and much better reliability.

No Title Available

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Last of its breed goes out in style, August 11, 2005
This likely final version of Apple's 12" G4 iBook -- before next year's switch to Intel processors -- has everything you need in a super-portable laptop. It's about 10 percent faster than the 1.2 Ghz model it replaces, and now includes Bluetooth in addition to Wireless-G (aka Airport Extreme), 512MB standard (finally!), a roomier 40GB hard drive (and a better buffer should you drop it).

The iBook features a brilliant, small screen, 4+hour battery, 4.9 pounds, an array of fast ports, industry-leading styling and the best repair record in the industry, according to Consumer Reports. Reliability and service are especially important with temperamental laptops. Apple laptops also never come with the cheap integrated graphics you will find on similarly priced PC products. The new model has been upgraded with a Radeon 9550 -- much better than you'll find on most bargain-basement PCs.

There also are the usual Mac bennies: No viruses to worry about, no spyware, no pop-up ads with Safari, faster, cleaner, smarter software, painless connections to printers and networks, and the coolness factor to boot.

You can even snag a copy of Office for OSX (for students and teachers) for under a hundred smackers, and if you're heading to college, Apple also has a deal on its site offering a discount plus a free iPod Mini for the next few weeks or so...

The only cautionary point is that Apple will be switching to Intel designs next year, and although they promise a smooth transition, interoperability of software, et al, you are taking a bit of a risk. (I might add, you are also taking a similar risk if you buy a Windows XP machine given that Windows Vista is supposedly just around the corner!)...


No Title Available

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Batman, and comic book movies, get an overhaul..., July 29, 2005
After the Batman franchise started to become as fermented and corrupt as Gotham itself, devolving into silliness and big men in small tights (think Arnold Schwarzenneger's Mr. Freeze), and with comic book movies in general becoming ever more formulaic and predictable in the quest of the almighty mass market buck, it was refreshing to see Hollywood and Warner Bros. wipe away the old franchise and start anew, handing it to an auteur director, Christopher Nolan; an intense mid-level star known more for his serious work (the excellent Christian Bale) than for his comedy (Keaton) or his looks (Clooney, Kilmer); and to give them a budget, script and the acting muscle (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson) to pull it off.

This is a quieter, more thoughtful, darker Batman, but not a kindler, gentler one. By seeing more of the back story, there are layers in complexity to the brooding and the cartoon becomes less, well, cartoonish and feels far more real. I want to particularly laud the script, which involves an intricate and deep plot that weaves delightful circles and surprises that I won't give away here. Unlike in 'Spiderman' -- which at the time was probably the best of the genre despite its formula-driven story -- this is thankfully no 'coming of age' tale of another awkward teenboy, this is about the chiseling of a young man full of anger and guilt into a benevolent creature of the night. Which is far more believable and definitely more satisfying.


Other notes. Sadly, despite all of the praise I heap upon the movie, I still didn't get as lost in it as I would have when I was younger. This is not the movie's fault. I mourn for my lost youth, that magical time when you could instantly believe everything that you saw on the screen and not get caught up in analyzing how the movie makers made it happen. I guess that's a sign I'm leaving the 18-34 demographic and entering the 35-49?

And I also wanted to say a kind word about Katie Holmes. She may be a nutcase for marrying Tom Cruise, but I thought she came off well here, and provided a necessary feminine heart and counterpoint to the darkness of the movie (not that there's much romance to speak of). She comes across as sweet, sharp and brave -- exactly the kind of woman that Batman would want to protect.


Tora! Tora! Tora!
Tora! Tora! Tora!
DVD ~ Martin Balsam
Offered by Cherokee Books
Price: $13.98
93 used & new from $0.01

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living history...., July 27, 2005
This review is from: Tora! Tora! Tora! (DVD)
Unlike the mediocre and Disneyfied 'Pearl Harbor' with its cheesy love story and splashy special effects, Tora! Tora! Tora! actually has the feel that you are reliving history. The drama of the moment when the United States is dragged into World War II does not need embellishment, and the filmmakers here are wise in their use of restraint. You are struck by the missed clues that doomed thousands, the all-too-slow teletypes and relaxation that turns into realization and then to horror. This is a movie that honors the dead, and yet seeks to understand the Japanese as well and portray them realistically.

The heroics on the ground in the face of daunting odds and total surprise are inspiring even in their futility. As is the end of the movie, which doesn't feel compelled (unlike in Pearl Harbor) to tell you what happened next. We know what happened next. The country was ripped from its complacency, and was changed forever. And mushroom clouds eventually came to Japan. There is a solemnity to the whole enterprise, an understanding of the tragedy that befell the Navy that day that will live in infamy. You cannot help but be swept away by it.

DVD ~ George C. Scott
Offered by Hermosa Creek Films
Price: $8.29
102 used & new from $0.01

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful portrait is a must-see, July 27, 2005
This review is from: Patton (DVD)
'Patton' is more than a thrill ride, more than a spectacle, more than just your garden variety WWII epic. In addition to the virtuoso acting of George C. Scott -- which somehow never seems to fall into melodrama despite his bombast -- the film explores perhaps better than any other the attraction and the repulsion we feel towards the bloodthirsty glory hound warrior that Patton epitomized. At first blush, we see Patton before the flag in a powerful speech where he is larger than life -- an American counterpoint to Hitler and the awful pomp of the Nazis that seduced millions into evil. Patton surely has the capacity for evil -- note his preoccupation with Napoleon and his putting victory and glory over the blood of his men, and his absolute love of war and destruction. But throughout the film he inspires, cajoles and whips his men into an efficient fighting machine. We are both attracted by this and repelled at the same time. Patton becomes a valuable weapon, but must be muzzled at the end because he does not know how to stop and has no patience for civility. A man like Patton, if he had become president instead of Eisenhower, could have destroyed worlds if it meant his name writ large in the history books. And yet, men like Patton protected and served the country well, and indeed were essential to winning the war.

Like Churchill, Patton was cast off after the war. The people here and in Britain seemed to understand that a far different kind of leadership is needed in peacetime than in war.


As for the movie, the war scenes themselves are merely scene-setters rather than scene-stealers the way it would be if it were done today. This isn't the Bridge on the River Kwai or Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor. There are relatively few on-the-battlefield action scenes of consequence, and the soldiers themselves come off not as human beings so much as props for the generals, pieces on a chessboard. But that's all to the well and good. Patton didn't see his men as individuals so much as a means to an end. Because we don't get to know them too closely, it helps us understand, a bit, how Patton was able to spend their lives so easily as he focused on his goals of victory and glory.

No Title Available

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good little toaster with a few issues..., July 26, 2005
I've had this baby for about a month, and have some first observations.

It toasts well, but rather slowly, particularly for bread. That seems to be because of its wide slots that keep the bread relatively far from the wires. That helps ensure even toasting, although some people prefer a texture of crispiness on the outside and tenderness on the inside of the toast. That's not possible with this toaster, which crunchifies the whole piece of toast, right through. I personally like my toast this way, so it's not a problem.

This is also an extremely simple toaster. It's only dial is for crispiness (we set ours on 4.5 out of 6). There is no frozen setting (unlike our fancier older Farberware model that started to degrade) so you have to toast frozen items longer manually. The toaster is also **VERY** light. Half the time that I push the toast down, it lifts the back end of the toaster. That's a bit nerve-wracking at the start, but you get used to it.

For the money, I think this is a good deal, but because of the issues, I don't think it quite warrants five stars.

No Title Available

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed summer 'thriller', July 26, 2005
When you see the giant title 'War of the Worlds' and Steven Spielberg directs, you expect a certain kind of movie -- with auteur moments and touches, and major impact. Spielberg delivers two-thirds of a great movie, and then totally botches the ending.

Perhaps after all the criticism of A.I.'s multiple endings, he decided that it would be better to have no real ending at all? It's deus machina taken to an anticlimactic extreme. I won't spoil it beyond saying you should have very low expectations for an ending, and you'll still be disappointed. It may be true to the book, but it just doesn't work for a big budget summer action movie called 'War of the Worlds'...

The opening of the movie, by contrast, is compelling, and the movie is worth watching simply for the first contact and the initial terror that comes. Spielberg decided consciously to make a movie about how an alien invasion affects one family unit, rather than how it affects the planet. That's not such a bad idea, except that this family is so ridiculously screwed up in such a Hollywoody way. There's the bad ex-husband who doesn't know that his daughter is allergic to peanut butter, and the bratty teen kid who inexplicably would rather run off to see (fight? yeah right!) the aliens than help save his little sister, who is merely a shameless plot device (think the kids in Jurassic Park). The movie is at its best when the family is on the run and being hunted. It'll remind you of Jurassic Park and the velociraptors. In fact, Spielberg doesn't appear to have learned too many new tricks. Although there are a few big action scenes that will spark terror and wonder, teen girls in the seats behind me had to stifle laughter at some of the plot developments that were clearly not intended to be humorous.

Also, unlike most other Spielberg works (but similar to A.I.), there is a depressing worldview and view of humans that pervades the whole movie -- that seems to emphasize the futility of humanity itself. That we fight and strive to be more than that in the face of futility has an admirable quality to it, and has a certain appeal, but is ultimately a bit of a bummer.

In some ways, a movie about the rebuilding of the planet after the devastation would have been more interesting...

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