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Customer Reviews: 157
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Helpful Votes: 1773

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Mark Lahren RSS Feed (Bismarck, North Dakota USA)

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John Conlee: Greatest Hits by Conlee, John (1990) Audio CD
John Conlee: Greatest Hits by Conlee, John (1990) Audio CD

5.0 out of 5 stars A nice collection of classics., February 16, 2014
First off, you'll need to take this review with a grain of salt, as my primary musical interest is in European Melodic Metal music. I am an older guy in my 50's, but hard rock has appealed to me since my teenage years, with Bachman-Turner Overdrive being my first favorite band. I went on to enjoy Progressive Rock, and now, Melodic Metal.

With my musical background out of the way, you might notice one quality that runs through all of my favorite genres; Melody. I don't know exactly how it happened, but many years ago, I happened across Conlee's "She Can't Say That Anymore" on a radio station I did not normally listen to. The melody got me first, and after listening to the very thoughtful yet succinct lyrics, I thought, "This is very strange. It's kind of like Country-Noir". Yes, I made up that term specifically for that song. Loving that song, I went out and purchased my very first Country Music album, John Conlee's "Friday Night Blues". Over the following months, I played that album to death. It went totally against my hard-rock musical instincts, and yet I sincerely loved it. I still do. I really wish it could be released on CD someday, as I need to have it in my collection.

However, I did find and purchase this particular "Greatest Hits" compilation on CD a long time ago. It was not the same as having the "Friday Night Blues" album on CD, but it does contain a couple of great tunes from that album, and it also introduced me to more of Conlee's awesome songs, which proved to me that "Friday Night Blues" was not just a one-time lucky shot in the dark for Conlee. Up until I bought this Greatest Hits, I had thought for sure that "Friday Night Blues" was just by accident a great Country Concept Album (if there is such a thing). Turns out that Conlee has been turning out awesome albums for years. Between the haunting melodies, and his unique and soothing voice, are lyrics that are short and to the point, yet convey so very much depth. I've become a huge fan over the years.

I have no idea why this particular "Best Of" CD costs so much now. If I were you, I'd grab "Classics" instead, because it has all of the songs on this CD, plus 12 more. I have that one too, and the sound quality is just as good.

So, if you dare to take advice from this old Metalhead, get this CD if you can find it cheap. But failing that, you really can't go wrong with John Conlee's "Classics", which is a better overall value.

Velvet Assassin [Download]
Velvet Assassin [Download]
Price: $4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very nice game with only one drawback, October 6, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I bought and played this game about two years ago, and frankly, I was not expecting much, recalling some very mediocre magazine reviews from when it was released. But because it was priced so low, I decided to try it, since I am a stealth game fanatic, with the "Thief" games being my favorites. That said, I enjoyed this game very much, in spite of it playing nothing like "Thief". The one very big drawback to me was that "Velvet Assassin" is a very linear game, constraining you to a fairly narrow path all the way through. There are some areas that allow more freedom, and those areas were refreshing, but there were too few of them.

In spite of that negative however, I very much enjoyed playing "Velvet Assassin", and I finished it in about a week of playing every night. While not a super-long game, it was far from being a short game. It was actually what I would call "just the right length". The story, while nothing special, was actually quite good, and managed to hold my interest the entire way through. And although the game was linear, and your options usually somewhat limited, it played well enough that I really didn't mind any of that. The sneaking was fun, as were the kills I had to do when my sneaking attempts failed. I did have a lot of trial-and-error instances while playing, and though they could be frustrating, replaying the same sections multiple times didn't bother me as much as in most other games. Checkpoint saves are used, and for the most part (there were exceptions) I had no problem with their spacing, even though I'd far prefer a save anywhere system.

The graphics were surprisingly beautiful for a game this old. Well, it isn't really that old, but in PC game-time, graphics improve greatly each year, so I got a lot more than I expected from this game in the graphics department. The environments were nicely varied, with each area beautiful in a different way than the last. I don't finish many games these days (though I still buy a lot of them), but I had no problem finishing this one. In fact, each day when I came home from work, I actually looked forward to continuing this one. If I recall correctly, I believe it took me around 25 hours to finish "Velvet Assassin". And when it ended, I was satisfied with its length. I didn't feel like the game had been padded in order to make it longer. It was actually quite nicely paced.

So if you're in the mood to take the role of a female assassin in beautifully-rendered WW2 settings, I can easily recommend this game if you can overlook its linearity and checkpoint saves. The game was very stable, and never crashed during my playthrough. My system at the time I played this: Windows 7, Core i7 870 with 8 gigs ram, and a 1 gig GeForce GTX 460 video card. I should also mention that I purchased this game from Amazon's download system, and it came with no DRM or activation whatsoever. I know that many games purchased this way come with Amazon's activation wrapper, but this one didn't. I got the entire game with no strings attached. For those of you that prefer Steam, I believe (but cannot verify as I don't own that version) that the retail box version does use Steam. If you have any interest in the WW2 settings, or stealth-kill gameplay, I do not believe you will be disappointed, especially at the current bargain price.

Price: $1.99

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, September 21, 2013
This review is from: Enigma (Amazon Instant Video)
I picked this film to watch at random, knowing absolutely nothing about it. My girlfriend saw part of it, declared it worthless, and left the room, while I continued watching. It was clear to me that this was an indie-type film, so I was intrigued as to where it would go. The acting, while not exactly first-rate, was actually good enough to keep me interested, as was the story. The set-pieces and special effects though were really first-rate, and deserve special mention, as does the moody photography, lighting, and editing. And while I can see where some other viewers would be disappointed if they went into this expecting a big-budget blockbuster, the only real disappointment I had was that I did not know this was going to be a short film (I literally did not read one iota of info on it before I clicked "Play"), and thus I wished for a more complex story and a full-length feature. For what it was, I thought it was really well-done overall, and look forward to see what these guys do next.

Murder By Decree
Murder By Decree

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy film for both Holmes and Ripper buffs., September 12, 2013
While I have seen better Sherlock Holmes films over the years (and I've seen most of them), this one still ranks pretty high, mostly due to strong acting all-around. But what really took my interest was the Ripper theory presented here. It was really quite unique and intriguing, and would never have occurred to me. Believable? In theory, yes. In reality, questionable, but no more so than a lot of others I've heard. This premise was the movie's strongest point, along with Christopher Plummer's amazing and heartfelt performance, especially at the end, where he gives a lengthy and emotional delivery that was quite powerful and moving.

The film is very slow to start, but gathers momentum gradually. So gradually, that I can't really say at what point it had me absolutely hooked, which I was. The sets were fantastic, giving a real feel for the period. Obviously not a low-budget film. A great amount of attention was paid to visual detail. While there were some exciting moments, I derived most of my pleasure from this film as I do from most Holmes films; by relaxing and letting the story unfold. Very enjoyable when taken on its own merits. If you like fast-paced drama and a lot of action, you won't find much here. But if you like to sit back, relax, and be told a good story, then by all means, give it a go. While I won't be watching it again anytime soon, I don't regret seeing it in the slightest, and it's not a film I'll ever forget.

Land Of The Free - Part II
Land Of The Free - Part II
Price: $17.32
33 used & new from $8.95

5.0 out of 5 stars How did I go all these years without Gamma Ray?, July 4, 2013
I was introduced to Gamma Ray after following a recommendation from someone here on Amazon. After Buying The "Skeletons & Majesties" 2 DVD set, I loved it, and promptly went on an expensive buying spree, during which I bought all their CDs and any DVD concert I could find. I've been slowly working my way through all of their studio work lately, and just today got to my copy of "Land Of The Free II".

Wow. Just wow. This one really blew me away. Looking at the track listing, I was only really familiar with the last track, "Insurrection", so I put in my player thinking that at least I had that song to look forward to at the end. I did not expect that every single track would be absolutely excellent. That's right, there is not one track on here that is less than stellar. All leading up to the final track, "Insurrection", which is one of my favorite Gamma Ray tracks.

The recording throughout is very clear. I had just come from listening to my Japanese CD of "Somewhere Out In Space", and while I liked the songs on that disk, I thought the mixing was quite thick and murky, so the clarity on "Land Of The Free II" really took me by surprise. Kudos to whoever engineered this one.

Song composition is just wonderful here, and Gamma Ray has outdone themselves with their performances as well. I won't go track by track. Instead, I'll just repeat how thoroughly impressed I am with the entire album from beginning to end. I have many hundreds of CDs, and this one just rocketed to the top of the pack. Best I've ever heard? I don't know about that, as making that statement would require some serious evaluation against many other favorites, but it's right up there. Suffice it to say that if you love this genre of music, you cannot possibly go wrong with this album.

ViewSonic VP2770-LED 27-Inch SuperClear IPS LED-Lit Professional Monitor, WQHD 2560x1440, Pre-Calibrated, 1.07b Colors
ViewSonic VP2770-LED 27-Inch SuperClear IPS LED-Lit Professional Monitor, WQHD 2560x1440, Pre-Calibrated, 1.07b Colors
Price: $640.20
59 used & new from $576.18

57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent monitor after making one single adjustment, May 23, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
When I first received this monitor, I was extremely pleased with every aspect of it. Brilliant colors, and no dead or odd pixels at all. It appeared perfect, until I viewed an all-black screen to test the backlight bleedthrough. There, I noticed that both right-hand corners had some noticeable bleedthrough, which was pretty upsetting considering what I paid to have a brand-name display. Also, after about a half-hour of trying out a few games, I noticed that my eyes were starting to hurt, and my girlfriend walked by and remarked, "How can you stand it? It's so bright, I can only look at it for two seconds before I have to look away!"

I then went to TFT Central, where I read a very thorough review of this monitor. They mentioned that the monitor comes factory pre-set at 100% brightness, with a luminance of 300 cd/m2, which they said was far too bright. They recommended setting the brightness down to 18%, which would bring the luminance to 121 cd/m2, which they consider optimal. A setting of 18% seemed very radical to me, and I had severe doubts, but I tried it, and after only a few seconds, it seemed just perfect, and still does. My eyes no longer hurt, and my girlfriend agrees that it looks "just right" now. Also, that setting also resulted in the elimination of my backlight bleedthrough problem. That single adjustment has resulted in a perfect monitor for me. So please keep this in mind, as I was considering returning the monitor because of this.

My previous monitor was a Samsung T240, which was capable of "only" 1920 x 1200, so I was worried that the jump up to this 2560 x 1440 monitor would be too much for my GTX570 video card to handle as far as gaming. So I tested it with a few modern games at 2560 x 1440, while leaving all other in-game settings as they were, and did notice a framerate drop, but not nearly as severe as I'd feared. I lost an average of around 30% frames per second, but some in-game tweaking could bring that back, although I probably won't do that since I'm still getting around 40 fps in most modern games (such as "Bioshock: Infinite" and "Ghost Warrior 2") with most settings cranked fairly high. It's not *quite* as smooth as I'd like, but everything is still very playable as-is. That said, I wouldn't want to play modern games at 2560 x 1440 with much less than the aforementioned GTX570 (or ATI equivalent), as I think the GTX570 is about at the low end of what I'm comfortable with for that resolution. Of course, you could always lower the resolution in-game, but I swear, once you've seen "Bioshock: Infinite" running at 2560 x 1440 with most options set to high, you'll have a hard time turning it down to anything lower. It looks glorious!

One drawback for some people might be that the stand for this monitor is quite large. I was a little concerned about this when I ordered it, but I've found it not to be much of a problem, as the two "front" feet stick mostly far to the sides (as opposed to foreward - see photos), thus still leaving me plenty of deskspace for spreading out papers. I did leave the shorter back foot sticking a bit off the back of my desk, increasing the deskspace in front. And it's still very stable. This monitor is never going to tip over.

Also, I was very pleased that Viewsonic included every cable for every hook-up the monitor supports. One thing I did wrong was assume I could just use the same DVI cable I'd been using with my other monitor for this one. When I did, I got an extremely bad picture. Turns out you NEED to use the DVI-D cable that comes with the monitor. The one that came with my other monitor was a DVI-I cable, which will not work properly with this monitor. Don't worry though. The included DVI-D cable will plug right in to your DVI port on your videocard. So details like including every cable you might possibly need was a big selling point for me. There's nothing like hooking up a piece of tech in the middle of the night, only to find out you can't use it for lack of a simple cable. No such worries here, as they've included them all. A CD with drivers is also included, but not necessary, as they were found online, and installed automatically. The only thing I used the CD for was to view the pdf manual.

So overall, I am extremely happy with this monitor. I bought the Viewsonic brand based on my positive experiences with them in the 1990's, and it appears they still know what it takes to make a great one. The only thing that really puzzles me is why in the world they chose to ship these out with the brightness set at 100%. Other than that however, I can find no fault with this excellent monitor.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 8, 2013 8:31 AM PDT

Master of Confusion
Master of Confusion
Price: $15.51
55 used & new from $6.07

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My review as a new fan, April 5, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Master of Confusion (Audio CD)
I'm a 52-year-old guy who just recently acquired a taste for "melodic metal" from enjoying Avantasia, and subsequently, Edguy. It's been an exciting journey since then, discovering many more bands with the melodic metal sound that I enjoy so much. A few weeks ago, someone here on Amazon suggested that I check out Gamma Ray, which I did. My first Gamma Ray purchase was their awesome "Skeletons & Majesties" live DVD (recorded at Pratteln, Switzerland). I've since bought many more of their CDs, and while I'm still new to this band, I've heard enough that I know I really enjoy them. Kai Hansen is one of the best frontmen I've ever seen (naturally friendly, warm and relaxed, yet confident at the same time).

So today, after a bit of a delay, "Master Of Confusion" finally arrived in the mail. I wasn't really expecting all that much, since it is technically an EP. But wow, I've only listened to it once all the way through, and I was astounded. The two original new studio tracks are great, of course. The title track's intro sounds a LOT like Helloween's "I Want Out" intro, even to my newbie ears, but that's not a real detraction, as the song itself is great.

Next up are two cover tracks, "Death Or Glory" and "Lost Angels". I'd never heard the original "Death Or Glory" before, but I can say that Gamma Ray's version sounds really good. But what really caught my ear was their faithful (pretty much note-for-note) re-creation of the classic Sweet track "Lost Angels". Speaking now as an old dude, Sweet was my favorite band when I was a young dude, and hearing "Lost Angels" again after all these years was a true nostalgia trip. And while it was a note-for-note replica, Gamma Ray has breathed new life into it, giving it a lot of heart in the performance, and even making it sound better through improved recording techniques. It really blew me away, and took me by surprise.

Then we have six more songs, recorded live at Zeche, Bochum (a small indoor venue in Germany). "The Spirit", "Wings Of Destiny", "Gamma Ray", "Farewell", "Time To Break Free" (with Michael Kiske doing a brilliant job on lead vocals), and "Insurrection". All of these songs can also be found on the "Skeletons & Majesties" CD set, however, the songs here are from a different performance, and thus have a different flavor to them. In fact, to me they sound even better here. Again, I was very pleasantly surprised, not expecting such high quality. Note that the Zeche, Bochum versions of these six songs are included on the Bonus DVD on the 2-DVD "Skeletons & Majesties" set, but NOT included on the 2-CD set, which features only the Pratteln performance.

So, while yes, this may be technically an EP, you get a full hour of stellar music from beginning to end. A must-have for fans of course, but I also consider this CD a great place to start as a sampler for someone new to the band, as it has a great combination of new studio tracks, cover tracks, and live tracks from their past, each and every track executed flawlessly. I also thought the mixing and mastering were outstanding. I cranked it up on my living room stereo system, and could find no fault. This release has far exceeded my expectations.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 10, 2013 9:54 AM PDT

Logitech Wireless Gaming Mouse G700
Logitech Wireless Gaming Mouse G700
Offered by Eonline
Price: $119.99
24 used & new from $43.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice physical design, but one minor and one major problem., February 28, 2013
I had been using exclusively Logitech mice for upwards of 10 years on all of my computers. And for the first few days, I was happy with the G700 as well. It has a nice shape and feel (as do all my other Logitechs), but not quite as nice as my old favorite, the G7.

After a few days, the first problem appeared. Mine came with a single AA Sony Eneloop battery, which in my case lasted about three days before needing a recharge. This was after using it for only about an hour a day. Turns out there is an on/off switch on the bottom that you must use to shut off the mouse each time if you want to preserve battery life. After using G7s for about five years prior to this mouse, this was unacceptable. The G7s had an auto shut-off feature, which worked flawlessly, so I don't understand the need for an on/off switch on the G700. As I could not be bothered to shut the mouse off each and every time I was done using it for the night, I eventually just left it plugged in to the cord constantly, which gave me a decent corded mouse with a stiff cord. Okay, that problem was very irritating, but I could live with it.

The second problem was the killer for me. After about 6 months of use, it developed a double-click whenever a single-click was pressed. For gaming, this was not a problem, but for web-surfing, it became a nightmare. I'd have one browser open over the top of another browser session, and I'd click to close the top browser, it would register the click as two clicks, and close both. The double-click issue was a problem in several other examples (any time I'd have one program with an 'X' to close the program running over the top of another program using the 'X' to close it in the same location), but I list this one because it was most noticeable when it happened then. No amount of fussing with the settings would fix this.

The G7, which preceeded this mouse, had also developed the same double-click problem after about 6 months. To be fair, Logitech's support was fantastic, and replaced the G7 twice, but both replacements (brand new in the box) also developed the problem after about 6 months. In the 5 years I lived with the G7s, it was still my favorite gaming mouse, so I ended up using a G7 in tandem with a 10-year-old Logitech, which after 10 years of use did not have the double-clicking issue. I'd use the G7 or the G700 for gaming, and the 10-year-old Logitech for everything else. I could leave both mice plugged in at the same time and use whichever I wanted without any problems. A clunky solution, but it worked.

I bought the G700 hoping that they had fixed the problem with the redesign, but apparently they are still using the same cheap microswitches (which I'm assuming are at fault for this). After reading the first few pages of reviews here, I'm surprised no one else has mentioned it. Google it if you don't believe me, or even check at Logitech's forums, where the canned response is to not press down so hard on the buttons. Huh? I've been using mice since 1993, and have never had a similar problem until Logitech's products beginning around 2005.

And yes, I'm certain I could have gone through the warranty replacement procedure yet again for the G700, but I'm equally certain they would have sent me yet another brand new mouse that would develop the same problem, so I didn't even bother. Instead, it now sits in a drawer with my G7s, awaiting the day I am brave enough to take them apart and repair them (there are several sites online that take you step by step through the procedure, but it looks complex).

I have no idea if Logitech ever did fix this problem (to be fair, other brands have suffered the same fate, such as Microsoft and Razer, apparently because they use the same microswitch manufacturer). All I know is that after doing a ton of research, I "think" I finally found a mouse that doesn't have this problem: The Corsair M60. I am not certain of this however, as I've only owned the Corsair for 7 months thus far, but so far it's been very solid. Please, at least do yourself a favor before purchasing any mouse, and Google "double-clicking mouse problem" before you buy. You'll be amazed at how many brands are affected, and how common it is.

To sum up, if you've had a Logitech mouse built since 2005, and you have never had the double-click issue, and you are confident that the 4 instances I've listed are rare, and won't happen to you, then go ahead and order one, because otherwise, I have no real complaints. The wireless connection was solid (in the weeks before I switched to using it corded all the time), it has a nice shape, feel, and weight, and it looks good. Also, I believe you can rest assured that if this problem would happen to you, Logitech would honor its warranty (they did with me, but that was several years ago, when they were replacing my G7 every 6 months - at that time, the warranty service was stellar). If I could ever be assured that Logitech has ever finally gotten this fixed, I'd go back to them. But after 7 years of reading complaints about this, and after having the last 4 of my own Logitechs in a row develop this problem, I'm not real confident.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2013 5:49 PM PST

Agents of Fortune
Agents of Fortune
16 used & new from $39.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sounds awesome, but..., April 14, 2012
This review is from: Agents of Fortune (Audio CD)
There is indeed an improved audio quality with this Mobile Fidelity Gold version, but whether it's worth the substantial extra cost is up to you. I bought my copy many years ago when it was first released, and I can tell a definite difference in sound quality between this one and the other two CD versions of "Agents" that I own. However, the difference is pretty subtle on "Agents Of Fortune", whereas the quality difference is much more pronounced on the Mobile Fidelity Gold version of the 2-in-1 CD "Blue Oyster Cult/Tyranny And Mutation". I'm not an audiophile, but the words I'd use to describe the difference is both cases are "warmer" and "more full", with more distinction audible between instruments. If I did not have the regular CDs to compare them to, I'm not sure if I'd have noticed much difference at all. I paid normal price for these Mobile Fidelity releases back in the day, and wouldn't give them up for anything, but I don't know if I'd pay the huge prices these collector's items are getting now. But if you're a big fan or an audiophile, and if you can afford it, then go for it. There is a difference.

Antec EarthWatts EA-750 750 Watt NVIDIA SLI 80 PLUS Power Supply
Antec EarthWatts EA-750 750 Watt NVIDIA SLI 80 PLUS Power Supply

5.0 out of 5 stars Good, reliable power supply, March 17, 2012
I bought this power supply over a year ago, in December, 2010. I had just bought an off-the-shelf Dell computer and a video card to go with it, and needed a power supply to power the new video card. As the computer store had no decent power supplies on hand, and I needed one right then to complete my install, I ended up buying this power supply at an office supply store, even though I could have saved money by buying it through Amazon. The unit is a standard ATX size, and fit perfectly into my Dell case, and the screw holes lined up perfectly.

My computer specs: Standard Dell Studio XPS desktop case, Windows 7 64 bit Home Premium, Intel Core i7 870, 8 gigs system ram, Seagate 1.5 TB primary hard drive, Western Digital Black 2 TB secondary hard drive, GTX 570 video card, (this) Antec EarthWatts 750 watt power supply.

The power supply has 2 PCI-E connectors, each of which uses one of the unit's 4 rails. My 570 uses both PCI-E connectors, and I was glad that each used a separate rail, for more even power distribution. The other 2 rails are used for everything else.

So, after a 16 months of daily use (I don't leave my computer on contantly; it gets shut off and turned on once per day, so there is a start-up load put on the PSU every day), primarily for heavy FPS gaming, I am happy to report that this power supply unit is still working just as well as it did when it was brand new. Not a single problem, and it's always been very quiet.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 24, 2012 9:09 PM PDT

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