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Philip R. Heath "Gadgets, Music, & Books" RSS Feed (DFW)
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Ruins of War (A Mason Collins Novel)
Ruins of War (A Mason Collins Novel)
by John A. Connell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.86

5.0 out of 5 stars New Series Is Superb!, April 19, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I love mystery novels set in Europe during the first half of the 20th Century, and Ruins of War caught my attention. I’ve read a few of the Bernie Gunther novels, and I thought it would be interesting to read about post-war Germany.

Mason Collins is the lead in this new series from John A. Connell. He is a detective for CID in the American occupying forces. I won’t bore you with plot details that you can get from the product description, but rather I’ll focus on why this is a great book.

Connell writes in a way that brings to life the utter ruin of Germany after all of the Allied bombing raids. The plight of the German citizens that have been displaced by the war struck me in his portrayal. It gave me a better appreciation for why the U.S. doesn’t immediately pull out when a war is over. People are poor and/or homeless, and many of life’s essentials are in short supply. These are the ingredients for crime of all sorts.

In addition, some people just come unhinged from the things that they’ve either seen or done. That is the case for the killer in this story.

Collins is also an interesting character. He is a flawed hero - as many are. I thought that Connell did a good job of balancing backstory with plot. There was one scene where Collins describes a heinous ultimatum that his captors gave him during the war when he was a POW. That account made me as sad as I think I’ve ever felt reading a novel. While this is a work of fiction, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see something similar having really happened.

The story is also well written. Connell places the plot well, and the action doesn’t stop until the end. There is plenty of action, and the resolution is satisfying. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who likes period mystery novels.


Schleich Batman vs. The Joker Scenery Action Figure Pack
Schleich Batman vs. The Joker Scenery Action Figure Pack
Price: $16.78
28 used & new from $14.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Cube Dweller's Perspective, April 6, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Children aren’t the only ones who might be interested in action figures like these from Schleich. If you work in a cube farm of any sort (especially in IT), you have likely seen these in your coworker’s cubes. You might even have something like them yourself.

The question then becomes this: are the Schleich Batman and Joker figures worthy of a spot on your desk? It depends on your standards. They are lightweight plastic, and they feel kind of cheap when you pick them up. While the attention to detail on the Joker is good, I was disappointed in batman. The lines between his face and cowl are not at all precise meaning that there is flesh paint on the cowl and vice versa. They look OK from a distance, but they come up short with close inspection. You can do worse, but you can also do better. This is a very mediocre offering in my opinion.


No Title Available

3.0 out of 5 stars In A Word - Meh, April 6, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I’ve tried a couple of other varieties of bars from Vega, and I was pleased with both the quality of ingredients and the taste. The chocolate cherry almond bars only hit the mark with ingredients from. These are made with real food - no synthetics here. I like that a lot. However, the taste of these just seems off to me. I taste chocolate, but not really cherry or almond. The only way you know the almonds are there is the crunch. I also found the texture a little off putting, and I couldn’t discern any cherry flavor at all. All that adds up to “just OK” in my book - especially for what they cost.


The Lady from Zagreb (Bernie Gunther)
The Lady from Zagreb (Bernie Gunther)
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.36
69 used & new from $12.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Typical Murder Mystery, April 6, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I read a couple of the previous Bernie Gunther novels, and I enjoyed them. Thus, I decided to read The Lady from Zagreb when I came across it. The novel moves along past the midway point without a lot of mystery - at least that Bernie pursues. It is mostly straightforward narrative without intrigue or suspense. However, after Kerr had me sucked in, he delivered some explosive action over the last 150 pages or so. I had enjoyed everything prior to that because Bernie Gunther is a good character. His wit and sarcasm (both in dialog and thought) make me laugh. The Lady from Zagreb is not a typical story that builds from a single murder or series of related murders. However, I enjoyed the change of pace. Kerr also does a great job of portraying just how horrific the atrocities of World War II really were. I liked the ongoing character development with Gunther where he tries to walk the line between survival and pure villainy of his country’s leaders. This internal conflict gives him depth and believability that made me continue to root for him. I think fans of the series will enjoy this story if they are open to a different story structure.


Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale (Lean (O'Reilly))
Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale (Lean (O'Reilly))
by Jez Humble
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.47
49 used & new from $14.50

5.0 out of 5 stars IT As Strategic Enabler, March 18, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My company has been exploring enterprise agile and lean practices for a couple of years, and I have read the Poppendieck Lean Software Development Series. Lean Enterprise seemed like a logical next read in developing my understanding of lean agile principles, and I think that it is a great choice for readers who are looking to fill in the details at a higher level.

While the Lean Software Development Series primarily focuses inside the borders of the IT Department, Lean Enterprise encompasses the true Enterprise in the broader sense including Finance, HR, and GRC (Governance, Risk, and Compliance). One of the big mind shifts is moving away from IT as a cost center to IT as a strategic enabler. This is crucial for companies to realize as the world continues on a course of varied and powerfully connected devices.

I found two main ideas central to the book - product development and organizational transformation. Product development has two distinct phases of explore and exploit. Organizations have to understand how these relate to each other. The focus (strategic vs. tactical) is different, and the leadership and governance requirements need to change as products move through the lifecycle. However, companies will be unlikely to realize effective product development without an organizational culture to enable and support it on an ongoing basis. Toyota is the familiar model that others have referenced before, and many of the concepts were familiar. However, I appreciated the extensive use of case studies from past projects and the holistic treatment of the organization beyond IT.

Overall, Lean Enterprise is a book that created tension for me. Personally, the material resonated with me in a strong way. While I learned a lot, it fit with my worldview nicely. However, it is daunting when I think about these principles in the context of a larger organization. The shift will be large, but I intend to follow the advice of the last chapter and “Start Where I Am”. Lean Enterprise is a thought provoking book, and I strongly encourage anyone who cares about their IT organization to read it.


Sterling Silver Stabilized Turquoise Pendant Necklace, 18"
Sterling Silver Stabilized Turquoise Pendant Necklace, 18"
Price: $40.36

4.0 out of 5 stars Wife Likes It, March 15, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I selected this necklace based on Amazon’s recommendation after I purchased my wife an aquamarine necklace for her birthday. I am no expert when it comes to picking jewelry, but I am thankful for recommendations to help me find new ideas for her. This necklace comes in a nice box, and it matched the picture. When I gave it to her, she was delighted that it goes with a set of earrings that she has. It seems of comparable quality to other necklaces in its price range. It does have the typical clasp that is hard to open, but otherwise we have no complaints.


Lenox L-22504 Steak Knives, Silver, 4-Pack
Lenox L-22504 Steak Knives, Silver, 4-Pack
Price: $60.24

4.0 out of 5 stars Quality Steak Knives, March 15, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This set of steak knives from Lenox are a great find. The non-serrated part of the knife cuts meat like a hot knife through butter. They seem big in the box, but the handle is comfortable and natural to use. They washed up easily in the sink with regular dish soap, and they have a convenient box with sheaths for storage. The box has a magnetic closure for convenience. If you haven’t used quality steak knives before, you are in for a treat with these. I definitely recommend them.


Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Potato and Kangaroo Dry Dog Food, 6/4-Pound
Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Potato and Kangaroo Dry Dog Food, 6/4-Pound
Price: $19.99
7 used & new from $15.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Natural Balance Does It Again!, March 11, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My dogs have tried most of the other varieties of Natural Balance L.I.D. kibble, and I thought that they might like this one too. This one is another hit with them, and I am pleased to have another option when it comes time to purchase. One of my dogs has a sensitive stomach, but the Natural Balance limited ingredient line keeps things under control. There hasn’t been a formula in this line that they don’t like, and I ultimately decide which one to buy based on price. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants quality ingredients for their dog.


BDD in Action: Behavior-driven development for the whole software lifecycle
BDD in Action: Behavior-driven development for the whole software lifecycle
by John Ferguson Smart
Edition: Paperback
Price: $45.49
51 used & new from $26.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive Guide To BDD, March 2, 2015
BDD in Action by John Ferguson Smart is a comprehensive work on business-focused automated testing. Smart does a great job presenting the subject to various roles - business analysts, software developers, and testers among them. He begins by grounding the reader in the concepts of behavior driven development as a cross-functional collaboration with goal of reaching a shared understanding of user story acceptance criteria. He also makes clear transitions between the nuts and bolts chapters on tools and the collaboration/concept chapters. I also thought that he did a good job covering a wide variety of tools including JBehave, Cucumber, and SpecFlow. While it does add some volume to the text, I appreciated that he covered the specific tools that my company uses - JBehave and Selenium.

However, this book is not just about acceptance or functional tests at a high level. Smart brings these concepts and applies them to the unit test level as well by introducing Spock as a BDD-style unit testing tool. This is important because it decouples the unit tests from the implementation. He also gives an introduction to his company’s open source tool - Thucydidies (which has been rebranded Serenity BDD). This tool provides advanced reporting capabilities, higher level Selenium abstractions, and JIRA integration which all look promising.

Overall, this is a great soup to nuts book on BDD. Smart builds a solid conceptual foundation, and he follows this with an excellent illustration of the various tools to implement BDD. I recommend this as a starting book for the patient or as an excellent follow-up to Markus Gartner’s ATDD by Example (which is more of a fast paced primer).


Sentry 3 Count Fiproguard Plus for Dogs Squeeze-On, 4-22-Pound
Sentry 3 Count Fiproguard Plus for Dogs Squeeze-On, 4-22-Pound
Price: $19.88
12 used & new from $13.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Frontline Clone In Almost Every Sense, March 2, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Sentry Fiproguard Plus is a competitor to Frontline for flea and tick prevention. The formulas have the same key ingredients, and the price is about the same. The performance is also comparable between the two products. It is a coin toss in every sense of the word. While I have historically used Frontline, price will be my deciding factor between these two products in the future. Choice and competition is good for consumers.


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