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Acereader Elite for PC (An Enhanced Edition of Acereader Pro, 2015 Edition)
Acereader Elite for PC (An Enhanced Edition of Acereader Pro, 2015 Edition)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent. Quantifiable success., December 18, 2013
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I had purchased the 2012 version but a free upgrade to the 2014 edition is available (via the free demo feature that stays permanently if one has registered the program.

I love this. I have always been an avid reader but only average in terms of reading speed (330 words per minute). Since using Ace Reader Elite for a few weeks (despite having it for a few months), my speed has increased to 550 words per minute (faster in some cases) on a reliable basis. Within a few weeks, one should be able to read words a a much faster pace and even string them together where one used to see a blur. Because the system is automated and adjusted frequently by taking reading tests and grading comprehension, the speed of training is always challenging and improvement is visible.

The exercises are broken down into tasks that take at most a few minutes individually and thus allows one to fit some training into one's schedule. The texts used can include some really interesting subjects like the US Department of Energy's sponsoring the Human Genome Project or the rules for Cricket.

There is also a reading program where one can copy a long text and then run it through the reader so that a person can speed read what they want. I have found that I read simple texts much faster when in Ace Reader Elite than on a regular page.

There are simply so many features that a person can play around with that if you imagine it, it is probably already included.

Support is also excellent, prompt, and helpful beyond the norms of most US customer service.

American Mensa Academy [Download]
American Mensa Academy [Download]

3.0 out of 5 stars Good for kids, OK for everybody else, November 6, 2013
As a brain training program, it works on a few types of mental skills with a few (not very varied) problems with escalating difficulty. It strives to be bright, cheerful, and inviting and children will probably be more receptive to it than other brain-training programs. That said, it does not offer the most intensive or scientific computerized brain-training out there. It is a good program for younger children but insufficient for an adult.

There are a few biases (such as needing to know cooking words) and the tortoise and the hare can be indistinguishable on the higher difficulties but is otherwise a fun little program. It is cheap enough to be affordable to virtually everybody and effective enough to help a little kid. Just don't expect it to help you through law school or MIT as an adult.

Offered by Audible, Inc. (US)
10 used & new from $17.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A peek into Card's moral philosophy, November 6, 2013
This review is from: Treason (Audible Audio Edition)
A Planet Called Treason is an entertaining book filled with fun speculation of how societies would cope without large amounts of metals. It is one of Orson Scott Card's first books and reveals his considerable talents at dialogue and pacing a plot. I certainly looked forward to when I could listen to it as an audiobook and Stephan Rudniki's voice provides excellent narration. As much hatred as Orson Scott Card has received for being a Mormon and an outspoken (and slightly inflammatory) social conservative, this book shows little of it except for the abnormally powerful and determined characters operating on a moral philosophy very similar to Mormonism but never explicitly or intrudingly so.

As Lanik Mueller had looked forward to rising to the throne, he discovered an uncomfortable reality about his body. In a land where the rich had the gene treatments that allowed their bodies to repair almost any wound, his did far more than that and grew different and extra organs despite his best efforts. His inheritance of the kingdom impossible, he must go on a secret mission to find out why a rival nation has so much iron they can conquer much of the world. Along the way, the secrets of the iron, the ancestral rebels, and even his own family become key plot points told with the engaging style Card excels at.

Orson Scott Card is a talented author whose skill at creating serious, determined characters who continue to act as they think best despite adversity stands in contrast to the thousands of dull authors who feel the need to play up the dysfunctions of their characters. As refreshing as that might be, Card's protagonists almost always read as super-heroes and this is visible in Treason despite being one of his earliest works. This is relatively extreme in Treason compared to Ender's Game where Ender Wiggen only had super-intelligence (to a still improbable degree) while Lanik Mueller has regeneration, high intelligence (not as improbable), the determination of a saint, and more once he arrives in Schwatz. The skill of the writing and the setting makes this less incredible and the characters are still compelling but one can tell the author's interest in supermen.

Perhaps this can be explained by one of the key assumptions of Mormonism. The Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) teaches that humans can (and should) strive to become gods just as God is (Doctrines and Covenants 132:20). As Mormons believe that we humans will eventually become gods, the super powers his protagonists have are less incredible as they are merely an inevitable amount of power the true believers will receive as they surpass their old human selves.

More traces of Mormon theology are visible in the book (not surprising as it was prompted by a discussion of the fashion implications of extra limbs while working for a Mormon Church publication) in the form of the moral outlook of the people of Schwartz and Lanik Mueller's own moral philosophizing at the end of the book. Mormonism teaches that while Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of Life was wrong, it was also necessary for their ascent into godhood. Mormonism does not assume that what is necessary is automatically right (a position most other religions accept with caveats). Do not be put off the book because of this element, it is just that one might have a hard time understanding the protagonist's inner monologue without it.

It is well worth the read as an entertaining book and valuable for understanding how Orson Scott Card wrote all his other characters. It is as fun as the Enderverse but far shorter and leaving one wanting more.

Price: $9.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Dangerouly soothing, November 4, 2013
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This review is from: Miriam (MP3 Music)
This album is dangerously soothing.

I had some laundry and maintenance to do in my apartment but set this playing in the background. I lay down to better listen to it and couldn't bear to get up for hours. Her voice is beautiful, her melodies enchanting, and her tone level. This is a relaxing work of harmony without the highs and lows of her more famous song ("Wish upon a star").

I am actually scared to buy another album for fear than I would be as profoundly stunned as from this one.

The Pride of Chanur: Chanur, Book 1
The Pride of Chanur: Chanur, Book 1
Offered by Audible, Inc. (US)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, November 4, 2013
C.J. Cherryh was a classics teacher and it shows. She creates a universe where aliens do not follow the assumptions of 20th Century America or Europe. Instead of aliens that are little more than two-dimensional caricatures (Klingons as space-Vikings) or those that are little more than Canadians with a rubber forehead, her aliens have a wide variety that distinguishes her work.

The Hani (anthropomorphic lions) might immediately seem yet another felinoid alien race that exhibits the more stereotypical catlike behavior in order to communicate their strangeness is a not-very-strange way. Cherryh' brilliance lies in constructing a crew of aliens that are individuals. The captain is different from her crew, the experience spacers are different from the junior ones, and all of them have a personality the reader can believe. At no point does one have difficulty believing in the Hani characters or their actions.

The Kif are the more sinister collection of traders/thieves/pirates/cowards/backstabbers whose interests are very different from what an American reader might be familiar with and are possibly so different that the readership thinks such behavior is unbelievable. This is where Cherryh's historical and linguistic knowledge comes to the fore. She depicted credible social and political relations for the kif akin to what humans in very different societies have produced. The Kif may be the villains but they are credible because they are acting from explained prerogatives and assumptions that are logical.

The other species can be very, very weird. Methane breathers who have multi-partite brains requires suppressing one's biological skepticism but the notion of strange foreigners darting in to deposit trade goods and taking what they think is of equivalent value is something recognizable from countless ancient histories. The weird and unexplained are still credible despite the little effort put into describing them.

The shift in perspective is also powerful. The normal way authors depict aliens is from the perspective of a human. In this book, there is only one human and he is almost never a speaking character. The few times he does communicate anything, it is through painful attempts to translate his words into the alien languages. The real importance of the human is political and the (very realistic) interests of the various alien factions become clearer throughout the book. This is not a book about a human in alien lands, it is a book about aliens who must then figure out what to do with a human and the chaos it causes.

Technobabble is surprisingly scarce. The use of (presumably magnetic) tapes might date it somewhat but the limited role that computers play renders that element inconsequential. Faster than light travel is handled through "vanes" but are not explained and do not need to be. This is a book of psychology, politics, and Newtonian physics, not sorcery in the guise of technology.

The plot is communicated often by ... well, plotting by the protagonists trying to survive the competing schemes of the different factions. These are invariably logical, credible, and complicated. She manages to pull off such complicated scheming where lesser authors have failed. All plots presuppose that that the other factions are intelligent, thinking, and attentive people.

This book was a joy to read and rightly transformed Science Fiction. Do not pass up a chance to read it at least once. It has motivated me to read her other books (all but one are as compelling).

The Star Wars Holiday Special
The Star Wars Holiday Special
DVD ~ Mickey Morton

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disbelief, October 29, 2013
The suspension of disbelief is required for any fiction but more is needed as the scenarios presented diverge from real life. For the Star Wars Holiday Special, this works on several levels. One has to pretend that there really are Wookies, a planet called Kashyyyk, and Art Carney being overly social but one is also tempted to disbelieve that anybody could have produced such an astonishingly bad 97 minutes of adequate acting, terrible writing, mystifying musical interludes, bad jokes, and surreal filming. Knowing that the actress who played Leia was on cocaine during the filming raises the possibility the writers were on drugs as well (because we don't want to believe sober and sane people could come up with anything like this).

The special follows the family of Chewbacca waiting for him to return to celebrate Life Day. The meaningfulness of the day is never explained and it can only be inferred that it is similar to ordinary Americans' desire to be with their family on Thanksgiving. That the family has a mother, son, and grandfather living together in what looks to be a peaceful domestic environment certainly dates it and adds to the difficulty of accepting the scene as real. The lack of subtitles for the Wookie dialogue also means that we cannot relate to the characters based on the ideas they are trying to convey and can only guess at it from their gestures and actions. The efforts to present futuristic computer communication seems quite outdated but can be forgiven along with the melodramatic music. The costuming was excellent for the time and, apart from some stiffness in the faces, compares favorably with costumes in modern movies.

The Empire obviously wants to catch Han Solo, Chewbacca, and any Rebels they can. This would seem more of a threat if the Imperial troopers tried acting calm. Instead, one watches an overweight Imperial officer get distracted by the entertainment of the family they are searching, wander around without minimal attention to security, and random and senseless acts vandalism without realistic or dramatic justification.

The overarching plot of the family waiting for Chewbacca and getting harassed by the Empire is only a vehicle for the writers to insert all sorts of little acts into the show. These include an awkward semi-pornographic "singing" interlude with a holograph of Dianne Caroll (in a children's show no less), a comedic take on Julia Child presented by Harvey Korman, a video assembly guide presented by Korman acting as a robot, another appearance of Korman, the Mos Eisly Cantina somehow appearing on Kashyyyk due to sloppy editing, and an appearance of Art Carney (whose acting comes as a relief despite the bad writing). These are largely unconnected scenes strung together with the flimsiest of excuses.

There are moments in the special which are better than the show's reputation but which are still bad, just not the abysmal wreck the show is remembered as. The cartoon that is the first introduction of Bobba Fett is not actually well written, it is however one of the best parts of special despite some very odd animation of Han Solo and has developed a following. Harvey Korman's acts and the Cantina song deserved some credit for good acting but the context of their scenes destroyed any quality they might have had.

The ending with a surreal (and unexplained) celebration of Life Day coupled with Leia singing platitudes in a drug-induced haze reminds one of the inexplicable ending to 2001: A space Odyssey and jolts the viewer out of any connection to the scene that might have remained.

Individual acts deserve better than one star but the terrible writing, bad editing, and abused format deserve no stars. This is most useful as a study in how not to produce a show and may its failures teach future generations what to avoid. Certainly George Lucas learned his lesson.

The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law
The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law
by Nathaniel Burney
Edition: Paperback
Price: $22.46
3 used & new from $22.46

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading for Anybody, October 25, 2013
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The theory of Law is as alien to most people as magic. The comparison becomes more evident when people fear lawyers as they are subtle and quick to anger. The lawyer/wizard evokes great and mysterious powers that can help or hinder in mysterious ways but who are too dangerous to be around safely. As the wizard was once hated, the lawyer is so despised. As important legal cases go on, everybody has an opinion but few understand the legal questions at work as questions of how society should be organized.

Standards of proof, intent, authority, and the limits of punishment are inherent to Law but are arcane to much of the population. Society and people are the worse for such ignorance. I have seen people walk into traffic in the expectation that their death by jaywalking will bring a punitive award against the bus company or motorist who couldn't stop in time. The reality is that the law stands clearly against reckless behavior and such deaths or injuries would be in vain. Their ignorance may very well kill them.

It in light (a dark one indeed) that The Illustrated Guide to Law is so welcome. It explains basic legal concepts with short stories that highlight the principles in question without the baggage of many other factors as the law schools encounter in the casebook method. This is Law for the common man and it is made all the more accessible by the humor with which cases are presented. The Illustrated Guide to Law started out as a webcomic and that shows in the artistic evolution through the book (but far less than in the online version).

As much as I love the simplicity and accessibility of the work, I can only give it 4.5 stars (rounded up because I recognize nothing is perfect). The author views deterrence as a negligible force in Law either in power or as a basis. This is understandable as his time as a prosecutor as brought him into contact with the people who weren't deterred and their decided lack of planning or impulse control. Despite that, the real victory of deterrence is in ensuring that the people who do have the ability to plan or control themselves decide that crime is not worth their time. This might not be evident in a particularly stable society but is painfully obvious in the unsettled regions of D.C. where many residents viewed crime as a legitimate career choice (as I know from living among them).

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the book is the failure to include new content in the printed version. The website itself not only contains the wonderful comic but also the very helpful and interesting comments and debates of readers with the author expanding on the concepts more. I hope that the second book will take advantage of the questions in the comments to expand upon the points in the comic.

None of this is to discourage you from getting the book. I bought it and am sure of making good use of it. It would be ideal for civics classes, journalists, law enforcement or security personnel, and practically anybody else with a need to understand the impact of Law.

The Chronology of Water: A Memoir
The Chronology of Water: A Memoir
by Lidia Yuknavitch
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.79
58 used & new from $8.39

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Horror, The Horror, March 23, 2013
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Obviously, this book is highly regarded by many. Some of them are literature instructors who love the stylistic means used to simulate the mindset of the author at various times of her life, others are promiscuous in their compassion and flock to a person with so much suffering in the first (and accessible) few pages. Still others praise the boldness with which the author displayed a nipple, used obscenities, and badmouthed any authority figure who had to interact with (see her time at the university for examples).

As should be obvious by now, she is an extremely dysfunctional and maladaptive person. That she was reportedly sexually abused by her father does not change the horrible behavior she engaged in later. She engaged in rampant drug use in high-school, college, after flunking out of college, and bitterly resented the people at the rehab centers she had to go to. Alcohol abuse was likewise severe including a drunk driving accident involving hitting a pregnant woman. She pressured her overly meek boyfriend to break into people's houses, have sex in their rooms, steal alcohol, drugs, and even hit him at least once. Her promiscuity began by high-school where she was deeply disappointed that a homosexual boy wouldn't sleep with her. She also had three abortions (the other reviewer was off by one) but she only talks about the miscarriage in detail and regret(to the massive sympathy of many reviewers).

Her dysfunctional life saw her kicked out of college as she went from strong high-school athletic swimmer to flabby druggie who failed a competition because she was high. As a grad student, she sleep with three professors. As a professor, she slept with her grad student (and ended up marrying him). Of more worry than the drug use is her lack of respect for other people. That is the most common threat running though the entire book and the most disturbing. Her entire pattern of behavior gives off a narcissistic personality disorder vibe with strong undertones of serial killer. For those who try to say that her sexual abuse caused PTSD that in turn caused her to engage in such horrible behavior, PTSD doesn't work that way. We human beings still have free will and moral agency.

As a literary work, she comes from a school of though that argues written obscenities and the grossness of the worst of life are more real than the good, clean or orderly. She managed to write in a tone mimicking her emotional and intellectual state at various times in her life but had refused to write her memoir chronologically. All one gets (until the very end) is a series of mostly disconnected scenes without the context to allow the reader to evaluate the full meaning of them.

She spends her time feeling sorry for herself having learned little from her self-inflicted odyssey of short-term pleasure and long-term misery. She even pretends to have been mistreated when the University she taught at fired her for sleeping with her student. Eventually, in something akin to a happy ending, she married an (apparently) decent man, had a child, and has a respectable job. Her saying her son looks like a retard is a worrying note.

All that indicates something, the reader definitely connects with the author. In my case, reading the book was horrendously painful as I stared into the face of dysfunction and saw a person. The organization and language are obscene but attractive to a certain school of literary thought. If you are a literature instructor, please do not inflict this on your class. If you are a person of unquestioning sympathy, you will enjoy the book. For the eternal cynic and skeptics, stay away.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2013 7:46 PM PDT

Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia
Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia
by Blake Butler
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.60
90 used & new from $0.01

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, March 23, 2013
Reading this was not voluntary on my part and, had I known I would have had to read this, I likely wouldn't have signed up for the course. The damage is done, now it is time to review the impact. Perhaps in a bout of irony, I constantly felt tired when reading the book.

The author seems to be attempting to combine a memoir with some scientific observations and poetic license for the dream scenes. One of the difficulties in reading the book is that the author deliberately tries to mix up the descriptive aspects of the book with the stylistic efforts to replicate the thoughts of an insomniac in his less cogent states. While perhaps entertaining to a person with an interest in experimental writing, it makes it excruciatingly hard for the read to follow a coherent train of though (even if there is one). It isn't as if such tortured writing is necessary to convey the deterioration of thought processes under sleep deprivation (something I know from my own military experience) and the author seems more interested in playing around stylistically than actually conveying useful information.

The various sections are short memoir pieces, some scientific or historical pieces on insomnia and the quest for sleep, and dream pieces inserted without warning. The dream accounts are the most annoying to this reader as then he has to backtrack to see exactly where the factual ends and the fictional begins. His choice of words is both excessively verbose when discussing his obsessions about sleep, sex, and dreams but sparse in the extreme when talking about other people. One does not come away from the book seeing a healthy or decent person.

The final scene is melodramatic (like something from a cheaply written horror story) and, unless one likes recursive literary styles, likely to be rushed through. While there may be a market for this among insomniacs, the only people likely to enjoy it are those literary people interesting in finding new and unusual ways to torture sentences.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Special Edition
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Special Edition
Price: $15.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some very moving songs, December 23, 2012
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Some of the songs so beautiful I was driven to tears (in public even). The singing voices were excellent and the word likewise moving. The movie itself may have some bad points but the music (especially the Song of the Lonely Mountain) does not. It would be even better had there been more vocal songs.

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