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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
by David Shafer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.45
75 used & new from $9.95

40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars WARNING -- This Book Has No Ending!, August 27, 2014
This review is from: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Hardcover)
This is a well written, carefully crafted story set in the very near future. It deals with fascinating and important issues of technology and society that highlight some hard decisions that we homo not-so-sapiens will have to make if we are going to preserve anything like privacy and freedom. I bought it based on a glowing review in the New York Times, and for most of the book I wasn't disappointed. The writing was really quite good, and the story generally moved quickly enough to hold my interest.

However, the book does have its problems. The story seemed a bit plodding and overwrought in places, and at times it felt like the author was milking the plot. I also found that three of the four main characters simply weren't very sympathetic. Two were falling-down drunks, and they were well captured, but wading through their drunken and/or stoned episodes got to be a bit much after a couple hundred pages. A third character -- a spy who worked for the US Postal Service (seriously) -- was so poorly devleoped that he just felt like a plot mechanism to bind the others together. The true protagonist of the book is a woman of courage and integrity that I enjoyed spending time with. Unfortunately, the story bounced around among the four characters, with each chapter switching to another point of view and a different story arc. It's a standard "thriller" trick (think Tom Clancy) that must work for many readers, but I have always found it contrived and halting. Just about the time I got engaged in the narrative, I had to switch to another character with a separate story from four chapters back that I'd lost interest in. Most of the book is written this way, and it got tiresome pretty quickly.

But the real problem with this book is that it has no ending. It's the promise of a story that never gets delivered. The book drags out a huge plot, gradually weaving together the lives of the four primary characters until it eventually brings them together, all the while building toward a monster climax that... never happens. Three of the characters are left running from the bad guys while the fourth one sets out on his mission to penetrate the inner circle of the monstrous enemy. And the book just... stops.

Tastes will differ, and you may enjoy books that end without endings. To me, they feel like a rip-off. This book is basically a set-up to get you to buy the second book to find out what happens... once the author has finished it, that is. At this point, I don't care what happens. It's not worth wading through another book to find out, and I don't trust the author not to push the resolution off to a third book. It may be a good way to sell books, but to me it lacks integrity.

By the way, in case you didn't know, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is military phonetics for WTF, which is shorthand for "What The F*ck!?!" And that's exactly the feeling I had at the end of this book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 20, 2014 5:32 PM PST


Decor Grates AJH410-RB Oriental Floor Register, Rubbed Bronze, 4-Inch by 10-Inch
Decor Grates AJH410-RB Oriental Floor Register, Rubbed Bronze, 4-Inch by 10-Inch
Price: $8.88
6 used & new from $6.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Good looking but cheap construction, July 22, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I bought a bunch of these to replace all the heater registers in my house. They look even better in person than they do in the photos, so I'm happy with the appearance. However, only the top surface is metal; everything else is plastic, including the lever you use to open and close the vent. That lever is a very small, lightweight piece, and it sticks up above the grill work, which means that (a) the grill is unpleasant to walk on if you happen to step on the lever, and (b) the lever is very easily broken whenever someone steps on the grate. I installed these grills just a couple of months ago, and two of the levers have already snapped off. The second one broke just now, when I came in from the beach in my bare feet. Apparently my foot didn't quite clear the lever. Having it poke into my foot and then snap off was not a particularly pleasant experience.

Of course, once the lever is gone, the grate is close to useless. So if you want a quality grate that will last for years, this one is definitely not a good choice. It is clearly made to look good with little or no regard for longetivity or functionality. And if you do decide to buy them after reading this review, be aware that you will have to watch your step constantly to avoid that lever.

UPDATE: I went back and looked at one of the broken vents more carefully & would like to clarify one point in my review. The grate is not "close to useless" once the lever has broken off. You can still stick your finger down into one of the end slots in the vent and move the mechanism directly, so it still remains adjustable. So I would now soften that phrase to "much less convenient." That doesn't raise the product out of the one-star category, but it does give me a way to make the grates more tolerable. I'm going to snap the levers off all the vents that are in locations where someone (like me, with my bare feet) might step on them.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 8, 2014 8:06 AM PDT


Fluency (Confluence Book 1)
Fluency (Confluence Book 1)
Price: $2.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good first-contact read., July 20, 2014
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I confess: I am a first-contact junkie. I will read just about any novel that gets the science reasonably right and provides me with a vicarious experience of what it might be like to meet an alien species. I'm happy to report that this book, although flawed, delivers that experience. The writing could be greatly improved by a study of the basics (example: using a strong verb is always better than throwing an adverb at a weak one), but good writing is, sadly, a rarity in current science fiction, and this book is at least above average for the genre. And the science is pretty solid, with reasonable extrapolations of how what we know today might evolve in the future. In terms of the story line, the book is at its best when it sticks to its main theme, which is how to make contact with the alien entity and secure its cooperation in solving an epic problem. I wasn't crazy about the some of the prolonged shoot-em-up scenes, and the sex scenes and fantasizing seemed pretty gratuitous. I had the uncomfortable feeling that the author was following one of those how-to-write-a-best-seller formulas, throwing in a little sex and violence to "spice up" the story. I think the story was just fine without adding anything extra.

The conclusion of the novel is clearly a setup for Book 2 of the Fluency Series, but the author handled this segue quite well. She avoided the problem that many "prequels" exhibit of slowing down the action and holding back the ideas for the next book, leaving the first one weak. At the same time, she leaves the reader on the verge of an entire universe of new adventures and ideas, so there is no obvious limit to where she can take us in the next book. In short, she leaves the reader both satisfied and hungry for more; the perfect balance.

This book is a good read, and it's easy to overlook its flaws in pursuit of the unfolding plot. I recommend it to fans of science-based fiction, and I look forward to reading Book 2 in the series. And if I'm wrong, and there isn't a Book 2, she's going to leave a lot of fans with a big empty feeling.


Edimax EW-7811Un 150Mbps 11n Wi-Fi USB Adapter, Nano Size Lets You Plug it and Forget it, Ideal for Raspberry Pi, Supports Windows, Mac OS, Linux
Edimax EW-7811Un 150Mbps 11n Wi-Fi USB Adapter, Nano Size Lets You Plug it and Forget it, Ideal for Raspberry Pi, Supports Windows, Mac OS, Linux
Offered by HometownTV Plus
Price: $8.50
42 used & new from $6.68

3.0 out of 5 stars Very limited range, June 16, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I like these because they are very small and the price is right. I get good connection speeds when I use one in the same room as the wireless router. But when I installed another one on a computer two rooms away, the speed slowed to a crawl. I tossed that one and went back to an earlier unit that is less convenient but much more powerful. You might want to reconsider using this if there is much distance or more than a single wall between the router and you PC.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 17, 2014 1:45 PM PDT


And Then I Thought I Was a Fish
And Then I Thought I Was a Fish
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping and Insightful Narrative into the Methods of Madness, June 13, 2014
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I had so many thoughts & feelings as I read this book that I'm not quite sure how to approach reviewing it. Then again, I guess that statement makes an excellent beginning: The most salient quality of this book is that it's deeply thought provoking and feeling evoking. It's not the sort of book you read lightly and then forget. In fact, I expect it will stay with me long after many other books are forgotten.

Welch is, as numerous other reviewers have pointed out, an excellent writer. He is a master of the language (as well as a grammatical libertarian, which I love), he has great pacing, and he brings a wonderfully sardonic sense of humor that helps to keep heavy material from feeling like a burden. He is also a highly educated and deeply insightful narrator of his harrowing journey into madness and back again. This is one of those rare books that holds your attention with every paragraph.

This book had an additional hook for me: being a psychologist (cognitive, not clinical), I found his portrayal of mental states, both rational and delusional, to be wonderfully detailed and closely aligned with my own views on how the mind works. His narrative also matches my own observations when I try to examine how my own mind works, including those times when it doesn't work as well as I would like it to. And I, too, went through a non-religious, "spiritual" search for meaning and higher states of consciousness and arrived at the same set of conclusions: We are physical creatures who live in a purposeless, mechanical universe, and the only meaning we find in our lives is the meaning we each give to them. And that this reality is not a cause for despair, nor is it lacking in wonder. Reality is far more fascinating and wonderful and the images we project onto it.

I also enjoyed some off-hand observations about religion: For example, that religious beliefs are essentially delusions that have been codified and culturally approved (a view that I've always regarded as one of Freud's best insights), and that it's easier for religious people to get by with being crazy because we expect less from them in terms of rationality and evidence-based thinking. A cautionary note to potential readers: If these notions disturb you, you might not find the book as fascinating as I did.

The book does have its ups and downs. About a third of the way through, Welch wanders off his narrative path and takes us on a rather lengthy side trip into the mechanisms of the brain and how its operations are hijacked by drugs. I enjoyed this trip, particularly since it was such familiar ground that I could simply be a tourist and listen to what my guide had to say about it. But it may be a little too much detail for those who are enjoying the narrative and don't particularly want to delve into the complexities of neurotransmitters and psychopharmacology. I also felt that some of the material at the back of the book was gratuitous: Including his verbatim medical records didn't add much to his already vivid descriptions of his diagnoses and treatments, and the essays by others who have ventured into acid land didn't add much either. But all these sections are easily skimmed or skipped.

At the end of the book, after the narrative is done, Welch offers his own essay on his experiences, as well as on life, the universe, and everything, and I enjoyed that one immensely. Again, much of that enjoyment doubtless came from how closely his own conclusions match my own. If he concluded that he had discovered profoundly deeper levels of consciousness, found universal truths, or touched God, I would have wondered if he was still in the grip of some of his delusions. These are all things he experienced in his altered states, and the fact that he can leave them behind and be happy with his newfound clarity is a wonderful example of reality-oriented, evidence-based living.

One technical point : For some reason, the footnotes in this book take a *long* time to come up. We're only talking 5-10 seconds (on a new Kindle Paperwhite), but these footnotes are an integral (and highly amusing) part of his story, and many of them serve as punchlines to the episodes he describes. Having to take a time out every time I reached a footnote got old real fast. Perhaps there is a way of reformatting the book that would address this problem.


iLive iKB333S Under Cabinet Radio with Bluetooth Speakers (Silver)
iLive iKB333S Under Cabinet Radio with Bluetooth Speakers (Silver)
Price: $33.40
107 used & new from $20.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't even *think* about buying this thing., June 6, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
My bad. This is a nice looking radio, and I really liked the idea of Bluetooth connectivity. So I ignored some of the negative reviews and bought it. How bad could it be for thirty-two bucks, right?

I now know the answer: Seriously bad. Where to start? How about the display? It may well be the worst LCD display I have ever seen. It's very faint and hard to read, and it only seems to have two viewing angles: looking down on the unit from 45 degrees above it, or looking up at it from 45 degrees below. When mounted at eye level, which is what you would naturally do with a kitched under-counter radio, it's nearly impossible to read.

Next, the buttons. There are no knobs; just little bumps in the fascia which require a hard, deliberate press to activate. I know that knobs are disappearing from electronics, but we can at least aspire to buttons that work properly.

The radio has 20 presets, which is great; most cheap radios have too few. But you can't access them directly. To tune into one, you have to cycle through all 20 of them. So if you're on station 12 and want to go to 11, you have to stand there and press the button 19 times.

The sound is about what you would expect from a $30 radio, I guess. Actually, I can't really be sure how bad the sound is because the reception is so poor I can't get a clear signal to test the sound.

Unless Bluetooth is absolutely essential to you, my recommendation is that you not even consider this unit. And if Bluetooth *is* important to you, you probably enjoy your music too much to listen to it through this thing. But if after reading this review you still want to take the plunge, let me offer one more recommendation: Do as I didn't. Leave the unit sitting on the counter for a few days and give it a tryout before mounting it on the cabinet. It will be much easier to return that way.


Board Dudes 23 x 35 Inches Dual Effex Premium Pebbled Cork Board with 2-Tone Frame (12783)
Board Dudes 23 x 35 Inches Dual Effex Premium Pebbled Cork Board with 2-Tone Frame (12783)
Price: $42.75
2 used & new from $42.75

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Shipped wrong item & second one arrived damaged., June 6, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I ordered two of these boards because they looked a little more classy than the usual corkboards with imitation wood borders. When I opened the box, I found that one of the two boards was a white board rather than a cork board. I sent that one back to Amazon & got a replacement quickly enough, but the replacement board was damaged. One corner has multiple chips in the paint & small gouges that make it look like crap. This wasn't shipping damage, so it's not the fault of either Amazon or UPS: the item was well packaged in two nested cartons, neither of which was damaged. Which means they came from the factory looking like this. Whoever actually made these doors (in China, of course) has pretty poor quality control.

I'm going to keep this replacement board and touch it up myself because I'm don't want to waste any more time sending back boards and waiting for replacements. But this is a choice I shouldn't have to make. "Board Dudes," you can do better than this.

As to the quality of the boards themselves, they don't look nearly as nice in person as they do in the picture. Damage aside, the outer frames are cheaply made, with an uneven finish and poor miter joints that expose unfinished wood at the corners. The silver trim looks nice enough, and I like the muted color of the cork -- it looks much nicer to me in an office than the normal, yellowish cork color. The backing is cardboard, of course, but it's reasonably stiff so I don't think it will be a problem.

In use, it does what a cork board should do: You push pins into it and they stay there. But it takes about twice the normal effort to insert pins in this board compared to a normal cork board (I did a side by side comparison with another board to come up with that guestimate). I prefer the ease of a normal cork board, but I'll chalk the extra effort up to getting more exercize.

Lastly, the boards have stickers on them advertising that they came from "Board Dudes." This is not a really big deal, but I don't like branding on everything I own, and as long as I have black paint out to repair the corner, I'll paint them out. But there is also a principle at work here. The stickers are not shown in the photograph. That smacks of misrepresentation to me. C'mon, "Dudes." Show me what you're actually selling me so I can make an informed choice.

BTW, I keep putting "Dudes" in quotes because if these guys really were dudes they would care a lot more about their quality than they evidently do.

Anyway, I'm going to keep both of these boards and put them up just because they're here and I don't to waste any more time on corkboards. But they certainly aren't what I expected, and they are way overpriced for what they are. Definitely not recommended.


John Louis Home JLH-522 Standard 12-Inch Depth Closet Shelving System, Honey Maple
John Louis Home JLH-522 Standard 12-Inch Depth Closet Shelving System, Honey Maple
Price: $264.99
13 used & new from $224.30

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice unit but know what you are getting into., May 14, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I bought this closet system as a gift for my wife, who, like most of us, always seems to have more clothes than closet space. Only after it arrived and I started unpacking it did I discover that the $265 purchase price was only a small part of the gift. The larger part by far was installing it for her. It's a nice system, with excellent wood and very nifty metal hangers. But installation can present a number of challenges.

First, it's designed for a closet 8 feet long. It can be installed in smaller closets, but it takes a bit of creativity. The instructions include plans for 8 different configurations, but 4 of these require 8 feet and the other 4 require 10 feet (I wish!). There are suggestions for eliminating some sections to make it fit in as little as 6 feet, but my wife's closet is only 5 1/2 feet wide, so I wound up designing a simplified system that used most of the components but didn't follow any of the supplied plans.

Second, be aware that this entire system hangs off the back wall of your closet. This means that it is entirely dependent on how well you are able to fasten the metal hangers to your wallboard. The instructions recommend screwing these hangers into studs, but that's not always an option. In my case, the studs were all in the wrong places in the closet so I had to rely on the provided wall anchors. The anchors are good quality, but I couldn't bring myself to trust them with all the weight that will end up on those bars and shelves. So I modified the design to use vertical legs that transfer most the load to the floor. There weren't enough poles to do this, so I used some 1"x1" vertical strips in the back corners of the closet, then painted these to blend into the wall.

The results came out fine, and every component of the unit is now rock solid. It was just a lot fussier job than I had expected. What with the planning, measuring and cutting (there is a lot of each), it took me the better part of a day to complete the job. The result is a beautiful closet organizer, and my wife is quite happy with it. It was just one of those things that if I'd know what I was getting into, I wouldn't have done it, but now that it's done, I'm glad I did it. I'm sure you know the feeling.

In short, this is a solid, high-quality product, and I recommend it if you have a closet that can take full advantage of it and you don't mind spending a day putting it together. Just know what you're getting into and don't expect it to take a couple of hours to install.


Monoprice 10X6.25 Inch Graphic Drawing Tablet w/8 Programmable Hot Keys
Monoprice 10X6.25 Inch Graphic Drawing Tablet w/8 Programmable Hot Keys
Price: $66.70
30 used & new from $47.87

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Watch out for malware!, December 15, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I purchased this tablet to work with DrawPlus X6. DrawPlus is my favorite graphics program & it works flawlessly on my machine. I installed the drivers for the tablet from the included CD exactly as instructed and the tablet appeared to work fine, but every time I tried to use it in DrawPlus it crashed the program.

Crashes like this are often due to outdated drivers, so I followed the usual procedure and located the latest drivers for the tablet online (the tablet is actually a rebranded UC-Logic tablet) and attempted to install them. Norton Antivirus immediately reported suspected malware in the zip file and removed one of the files from my machine. However, Norton must have been a step behind the malware because all the entries in my start menu have been wiped out. From my subsequent Web searches, this appears to be a common thing for malware to do, and there are lots of free programs out there that promise to repair the damage. But somehow I find myself reluctant to download software that promises to repair the damage done by other software I downloaded.

Needless to say, I returned the tablet to Amazon and want nothing more to do with it. As to the physical product itself, it looked and felt like what it is -- a remarkably inexpensive tablet with a lot of functionality. Yes, it felt a bit cheap, but it *was* cheap, so no complaints there. I certainly would have kept it and used it if it had worked.

My experience may have been an isolated incident and others may be fine with the downloaded drivers. But be aware that you may be risking the health of your machine by doing so.

Now, what to do about that start menu without placing my system at *further* risk...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 1, 2014 9:15 PM PST


Instant Pygame for Python Game Development How-to
Instant Pygame for Python Game Development How-to
by Ivan Idris
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Largely useless and immensely frustrating, December 6, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I found this book immensely frustrating. I bought it last March along with a couple other books on PyGame (that's about all there are) so I could learn how to use the PyGame library. My first disappointment was how thin this volume is: it has a grand total of 52 pages of actual content. I also found the book to be nearly inscrutable for someone who doesn't know PyGame. I was appalled that I had spent $18 for a little booklet and disappointed that I couldn't learn from the book, but the description on Amazon promised so much from the book that I set it aside to look at later and turned to the other books.

Recently I came back to this book. I have now read several books on PyGame and am able to write simple games in it, so I thought it might be a good time to tackle the booklet. From my new perspective, I can now see that the problem wasn't me -- this book is awful. I don't say such things lightly: I read every page and did my best to learn from it. But it wasn't easy, and it wasn't very useful. Here is a quick summary of the problems I encountered.

[] The book is not written for the stated audience. The description says that a knowledge of Python is assumed but no prior experience with game development is assumed. I can't imagine anyone who doesn't already know PyGame getting much from the book.Also, the book is aimed specifically at Linux developers. The first chapter pays lip service to Windows and Mac environments, but all the examples use Linux command lines with arguments to install and run the various packages that the book mentions. Trying to follow these examples in a Windows environment was an exercise in frustration I soon abandoned.

[] The book doesn't cover the stated topic. The title claims it's a how-to book for Python game development. It does, in fact, briefly describe a few of PyGame's many capabilities, but these descriptions are limited to a handful of 3-4 page sections that give you a sense of what PyGame code looks like but not much more. In reality, the book is a motley collection of ways to use PyGame in conjunction with other software. Right off the bat, the author brings in NumPy -- a totally separate library that has its own learning curve -- and uses it throughout the examples. He also brings in Matplotlib, scikit-learn, cprofile, puDB, Twisted, and PGS4A. I won't bore you with what all these packages do; they are all high-quality, useful tools for Python developers. But they are covered in 4-7 page sections (there are no chapters as such), so we don't actually learn much about any of them. Mostly it's just a quick tour of tools that an experienced PyGame developer might want to consider using.

[] The examples are really lame. Most of them involve moving a single image around the screen. That image is the profile of a man with the top of his head chopped off. I do not kid you. There is a second image in one of the examples: a blob that looks vaguely like a hammer that you are supposed to use to pound on the already decorticate head. Very strange, and not at all useful.

[] The code is very hard to read. The main problem is that line wraps aren't treated as they would be in actual code, so long lines simply run onto the next line, out-dented to the left margin. Proper indentation is absolutely essential in Python, which has no end-of-line markers. This is just plain sloppy work.

[] Many of the explanations are either uninformative or confusing. The explanation of the get_rect() method is that it "gets a rectangle," get_surface() "gets a surface," and so on. No mention of how and why these methods are used, or even the arguments they require.

There's more, but you get the idea. If you are an experienced PyGame developer working on Linux who wants a quick idea of how you might bring in other packages to expand the scope of your games, this book could be useful to you. Anyone else is likely to find it as frustrating as I did.


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