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J. J. Kwashnak "voracious reader" RSS Feed (Houston, TX)
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Pencil by FiftyThree Digital Stylus for iPad Air, iPad Mini and iPad 3/4 - Walnut
Pencil by FiftyThree Digital Stylus for iPad Air, iPad Mini and iPad 3/4 - Walnut
Price: $49.95
2 used & new from $49.95

4.0 out of 5 stars If you use the Paper iOS drawing app, this is a very useful tool, July 10, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
53 Pencil
The beauty of the iPhone and iPad is the use of touch as an input device. Whether navigating apps, typing in notes or drawing with the various apps, touch provides a viable and superior method for input. While there are a number of apps out there for notes and drawing, one that consistently comes out at the top of reviewer lists is Paper by 53, a free app that lets you use a set of built in tools to capture and create artwork using your finger or a stylus. In order to improve upon the user experience, 53 has brought out their own stylus – the Pencil by Fifty Three. Different than most styluses you will find, this one has a wood like exterior but is shaped not like a cylinder but like a rectangular flat carpenter’s pencil. Five and a half inches long, the Pencil features a soft rubber pad at the top, and the bottom end tapers to a point, like in a pencil. The rubberized end conceals a standard stylus tip that allows you to input on the i-device and works with all screens and apps like any other stylus. Grab the tapered tip and pull, and the inside of the Pencil is revealed. Inside are circuits and a USB connector to charge the Pencil. Open up Paper and you’re ready to see the specialization of the Pencil. Turn on Bluetooth on your device, open Paper and go to a new page. On the toolbar, press and hold on the icon of the Pencil to “kiss” or pair the devices. Now you’re ready to rock. The program recognizes your Pencil and opens up a series of tools for you. Often when drawing our palm rests on the page (or the screen) but Pencil tells the program to ignore those touches. You choose your drawing tool and just draw with the Pencil. Flip it over and you can use the rubber flat end to erase – no need to choose eraser from the toolbar. Use your finger for input instead of the Pencil and it activates the smudge function letting you blend edges. In all your efficiency really starts to grow.
I’m not an artist, but I found that drawing with the Pencil to be comfortable. It has a very nice hand feel, better than most round styluses. The usage of the Bluetooth sensor freed me up from worrying about input from my hand on the screen, making it a lot easier to work with. I didn't find it necessarily any easier to write with on my drawing, but when trying to sketch or paint, it did a nicer job than other styluses I tried or my finger. The big downside is that the bells and whistles beyond a basic stylus is limited only to using Paper. If you use the app, then this is something you may find useful. The other main problem of course is the price. You have to decide you want to invest in this stylus and invest in using Paper. I did find the extra tools to be great and makes the Pencil stylus very useful. You can do a lot more with it than with you finger alone. If you have taken the time to work with the app, you will find this to be a very useful tool in your toolbox. If you are looking for something to take notes with for work or class, save your money and buy a general “dumb” stylus.


The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America's Most Progressive Era
The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America's Most Progressive Era
by Douglas R. Egerton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.69
42 used & new from $6.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reconstruction As A Continuation of the Civil War, March 25, 2014
Many books on the Civil War and the aftermath tend to treat different era as almost distinct pieces of a puzzle, instead of a continuum of events. There was the war. It ended. There was reconstruction. It ended, and so forth. Carl von Clausewitz famously posited that "War is the continuation of politics by other means," and Egerton shows that in terms of reconstruction the opposite was true, that politics was continuation of war by other means. Rather than looking at reconstruction as a series of dates and events, the author instead looks at the era as yet further battles of the Civil War, and groups his work around these political topics, or the continued war. Many books simply follow chronological history of the era from 1865-1877, Egerton looks at it topically and includes the Civil War in the topic's history and examination. The roles of battles over black codes, black soldiers, and veterans, voting rights, racial violence are examined. Issues regarding disagreement among freedmen leaders in the era reveal that there was not one unified front of voices working to improve the lot of former slaves in the south, but also a large amount of disagreement within the community and among the supporters. Egerton does weight a lot of his narrative in terms of Republicans vs. Democrats, but much of this does reflect the battles of the time as the political landscape was changing and evolving. There are no easy answers to the era - both because it does not lend itself to easy analysis and answers, but also because we always will view the issues and events through the prism of the times we live in. For a good overview that is less dry recitation of fact and a greater looking at the interweaving issues, this book gives some good ways to look at the issues.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 13, 2014 10:16 AM PDT


It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens
It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens
by danah boyd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.68
91 used & new from $11.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Are Things Really That Different With Technology?, March 2, 2014
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All the time we hear talk about “teenagers today just have their face in their phones all the time,” or more kindly talk about them being “digital natives.” But are they really all that different than teenagers from earlier generations? Danah Boyd seems to think not. Her insightful book opens with an observation of teenagers at a high school football game in Nashville, where all the students are using mobile devices at the game, and then putting them away to interact face to face – contrasted with the parents in the stands who are glued to their devices, with no difference if they were there or somewhere else. Basing her book on numerous interviews conducted over the past 5-7 years Boyd comes to a rather startling conclusion – teens want to socialize (no surprise there) and want to do it face to face, but they can’t whether due to highly structured time constraints or parental restrictions on movement and gathering. So they increasingly have turned to social media as an outlet. Falling ahead of the curve, teens use social media to negotiate interpersonal interactions and do so without the prying eyes of parents who understand and use more “mainstream” social media such as Facebook and instead using Twitter, Snapschat and other services. Their postings are often encoded, expressing their feelings for those who understand, knowing that their every utterance is being watched. As Boyd explains, Teens and Social Media are In a Relationship, and “It’s Complicated.” A heart there is an almost love/hate relationship with technology and social media – it’s a chance to interact with others, but it can also be the great boogie man with parents instilling fear in teens, and themselves, with stories of online sexual predators and bullying. But it does not keep the teens from using the Internet; rather it keeps many of them hiding it from their parents. If there is a negative in the book, it is that while the author deals with the issue of technology (which can change week to week), she is relying on interviews that were conducted mainly between 2007 and 2010 – a lifetime in Internet time. While the bulk of the research probably would bear out the same conclusions, many of the stories and references can seem dated, making the reader wonder what might have changed in the intervening years. Despite this lag time, the book is an interesting view into wired teens today and certainly adds to the complicated reality of their world.


Who Owns America's Past?: The Smithsonian and the Problem of History
Who Owns America's Past?: The Smithsonian and the Problem of History
by Robert C. Post
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.19
46 used & new from $14.55

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How we remember, or don't remember, our history, February 1, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
We know the old aphorism that “History is written by the victors,” but for a good majority of people, history is really written by those who present it to popular culture – in this case the curators of our museums. What the powers at “America’s Attic” – the Smithsonian – decide to exhibit, and how, affects both how the audience sees history but also how the stakeholders of that history react. Using stories such as the kerfuffle about the Enola Gay on the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and how the heirs of Alexander Graham Bell objected to displays regarding rival telephone inventors’ work, Post delves into how history is molded by those responsible for designing exhibits, approving them, sponsoring them and the politicians and our national museum. Is it the mission of the Smithsonian to display only that which celebrates America or to use its collection as a mirror upon ourselves, showing our history, warts and all? That question has plagued a stream of officials in the museum since its founding. Focusing on the Museum of History and Technology, and to a lesser extent the National Air and Space Museum, Post, himself a former curator at the Smithsonian, looks at the ups and down of the history of presenting history, and how the view has changed over time.
Post introduces us to a long stream of movers and shakers of the museum – curators and directors, over the past half century plus. He looks at various experiences regarding the philosophies and execution of history exhibits both successful and aborted. The problem of the book is that it is presented semi-chronologically but contains the fabled cast of thousands. Curators weave in and out of the narrative, making it hard to keep track of who was who and what he or she did. There seems to be a lack of focus in the book, taking an almost scatter-shot approach to the points he wants to make. I found myself interest wandering at times. He’s written a fine institutional history for his slice of the Smithsonian, but for the casual reader, a lot of this is lost. It would have been nice if he focused down more into a few specific people and incidents, examining them fuller in their time and place of the museum, and American politics. There is a lot of valuable information in here, but you need to want to find it. I learned a lot about how the philosophy of how to develop museum exhibits has changed and I know the next time I am in a museum I will look at the layout with a different eye, but I left the book without as much understanding of the battles in the name of history that have occurred than I would have hoped.


The Serpent of Venice: A Novel
The Serpent of Venice: A Novel
by Christopher Moore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.33
87 used & new from $11.61

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare's Dramas were Never This Funny, November 16, 2013
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Back in 2009, humor author Christopher Moore took on the Bard of Avon himself and put his own spin on the tale of King Lear, now from the point of view of (the now very bawdy) court jester or fool. The Fool, named Pocket, took the original character’s role as the voice of common sense or conscience and expanded it with hilarious results. Now both Moore and Pocket have returned to take on two more Shakespearian dramas – the Merchant of Venice and Othello. With both plays set in Venice, and both have a fool character already part of the action, Moore takes this vein and produces a mash-up of the stories, throwing a lusty dragon who has taken a protective shine to Pocket into the mix. The two stories never really merge – the book feels almost reminiscent of the sitcom trope of the main character caught between two different groups, running back and forth so each does not know of the others. This is fine though and does not detract from the enjoyment. And the book is extremely enjoyable. I felt that Fool tried a bit too hard, taking the characters over the top, and the resulting mix did not gel as well as it could. Maybe with the moving into new territory, both literarily and moving to Italy from England, but the story this time just hilariously rolls along along with little letup. Pocket becomes one of Moore’s most rollicking characters mixing clear eyed politics with bawdy humor and touches of the absurd that often evokes the image of Austin Powers in the mind’s eye. It is an example of Moore in high talent, and you can’t help putting the book down at the end and wonder just what play(s) he will mine next with his own off-kilter eye and our be-belled Fool.


The Days of Anna Madrigal: A Novel (Tales of the City)
The Days of Anna Madrigal: A Novel (Tales of the City)
by Armistead Maupin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.56
98 used & new from $4.78

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Visit from Beloved Old Friends, November 9, 2013
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Cracking open one of the Tales of the City books is like slipping into fuzzy slippers and sitting around chatting with old friends - the literary equivalent of comfort food. Author Armistead Maupin has given us the ninth, and supposedly last, novel in his series starring the diverse circle of friends, family and lovers that were, formerly, denizens of the magical house at 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco. Ever since the start, back in the 1970's, the heart of the series has been the irrepressible transgender landlady, and spiritual mother of the group, Anna Madrigal. While Anna was present more in spirit than in body in the later books, she was always a presence. And in the latest, The Days of Anna Madrigal, she moves front and center for this last outing. Now a regal 92 years old and living with her caretaker Jake Greenleaf, she doesn't fear leaving this world (though those around her do) but rather takes the time to reflect on her past, and unfinished regrets from the past involving people around her as a 16 year old boy being raised in a brothel in Winnemucca, Nevada during the depression. Taken under the wing of one of the prostitutes at the establishment, he starts to realize the feelings of expressing his true gender and start to think of escape - escape from Winnemucca, escape from being a boy, and the escape yearned by all teenagers. In the modern time Jake and others are hoping to celebrate Anna as a transgender pioneer and give her the laud that she deserves by feting her at Burning Man, the annual free spirit celebration in the Nevada desert. We've never known much about Anna before we meet her in the first book, other than her name, Anna Madrigal, is an anagram of "A man and a girl" but her name has a much deeper meaning to her. Swirling around the story are the other main characters, and they are all here - original residents Michael, Brian and May Ann as well as newer additions Brian's daughter Shawna (and his new wife, a character we met many books ago), caretaker Jake and Michael's husband Ben. And a giant rideable mechanical butterfly.

The story is as readable and enjoyable as previous books. A problem with having a palette of so many wonderful characters is that, short of writing a tome the size of Les Miserables, most characters have to share the spotlight for a bit while someone gets the focus. Here the spotlight is shining on Anna, with some nice side stories. It's about time that Anna got the spotlight and I relished her being able to have it and share her story with us. I just wish there was a bit more with some of the threads that, for a final book, were left ambiguous. Some readers may quibble with the ending quarter of the book, where the characters are moving rapidly towards a grand collective climax, which never really happens. But this is probably more satisfying and appropriate, because the series was, if nothing else, simply about life, and in truth life is never that neat. And life doesn't end with the last page - it continues on with or without us. And that is what Maupin leaves us with - a story that we visited, but one that continues on past last period. I fervently wish this is not, as billed, the last visit to our aging characters, but if it is, at least we got to have the time together with them all.


ASUS X200CA-DB01T Touchscreen Notebook 12-Inch Intel Celeron 1007U (1.5GHz, 2GB Memory 320GB HDD Intel HD Graphics, Windows 8 64-Bit) (Black) (OLD VERSION)
ASUS X200CA-DB01T Touchscreen Notebook 12-Inch Intel Celeron 1007U (1.5GHz, 2GB Memory 320GB HDD Intel HD Graphics, Windows 8 64-Bit) (Black) (OLD VERSION)
Offered by E Stars LLC
Price: $268.90
52 used & new from $200.00

113 of 135 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not really a laptop but a touch screen netbook, October 13, 2013
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The hot trend in terms of Windows Laptops is Windows 8 and touch screens. The Asus VivoBook X200CA is one such foray into the market, but it is one that is lacking. It is not as much a laptop than it is a touch screen enabled Windows 8 netbook - that class of small, lightweight and unfortunately underpowered machines that emphasize portability and battery life over power. While a fun experiment and a great way to get your feet wet with Windows 8 and a touch screen, the machine comes up lacking for any real regular use.

As I am writing this, I am running the machine with the default McAfee security program and Open Office, and I'm currently using 75% of my memory. Part of that is that the system is downloading updates and the included McAfee is scanning it as it downloads but as someone who multi-tasks work, this is going to be a problem. The light memory (only 2 GB) and the beyond weak processor (a Pentium Celeron 1.5 Ghz) prevents this machine from living up to potential. Unfortunately, laptops need a bit more oomph, because unless you leave it on or you use it every day, when you boot the laptop, you need to compete with updates and downloads before you can get started on your work. Which is too bad because otherwise there is a lot of potential here. Sleek and lightweight, the machine weighs in a very light 2.6 lbs. with a bright 11.6 inch touch screen. It is built for portability - there is no optical drive but the machine boasts two USB 2.0 ports on one side and a USB 3.0 port on the other side. Video has both a VGA and an HDMI output on the left hand side to give options to hook up to a larger display. Networking is either the built in 801.11 bgn wireless, but also has a sleek expanding Ethernet port for wired networking if needed. The hard drive is a decent 320 GB, which is probably going to be much more space than you need for this type of machine, unless you use this as a portable movie media device and download a lot of files (since you do not have an included optical drive to watch from)

The keyboard is fairly nice to type on featuring a well laid out collection of keys for the size of the keyboard, with the keys the raised Chiclet style that give nicely under the fingers for tactile typing, as well as an on-screen keyboard for touch screen use. At the bottom of the screen is a rather large trackpad that is set up for multi-touch gestures, allowing the user to navigate through programs and the Windows 8 screens with multi-finger gestures. The gestures take some getting used to but overall they can be used for a speedy response without having to move from the keyboard to the screen and back.

The warranty and battery life are not bad at one year, and a reported 5 hours of life. Unfortunately, the battery seems to be inside the body which means that it is not easily replaceable, nor is it possible to get a longer lived battery.

Unfortunately in the end I have a very hard time getting past the lack of memory and power. I understand that is part of the reason the price is more in line with what we were paying for netbooks, but I have a hard time recommending this machine beyond as either an entry level laptop for year or so, or as a supplemental, very portable machine for on the go. Otherwise, if you are able, up your budget $200 and look for full powered notebooks with AMD or Intel's i3 or i5 line of processors and a decent amount of memory. In the end, you truly get what you pay for.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 17, 2014 8:24 AM PDT


Belkin Travel 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub
Belkin Travel 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub
Offered by Ocean Reef Electronics
Price: Click here to see our price
53 used & new from $3.47

4.0 out of 5 stars USB Hub on the Go, September 21, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
USB hubs are the Volvos of technology - they are reliable and not usually thought of as sexy. This USB hub is what it claims to be - a simple USB portable hub. No more. No less. But it's a decent one. Hockey puck shaped and sized, it features four USB ports and a connected USB cable to connect to your computer. When not in use, the cable fits into a groove on the perimeter of the hub and the cable plugs back into the hub itself, meaning when you toss it into your pocket or bag; it's not going to get tangled up. Unpowered, it is not going to let you quickly charge a bunch of USB devices. The one detriment, and one of the reasons for the price, is that it is only USB 2.0 ports, so you're not going to get the speed boost for your USB 3.0 devices. But for the average user, it's a good way to expand your ports when you are on the go.


Perilous Land (The Fall of Lida Azhad Book 1)
Perilous Land (The Fall of Lida Azhad Book 1)
Price: $2.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing merging of nautical and fantasy literature., August 18, 2013
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If Patrick O'Brian had merged his knowledge of military tradition and discipline into a fantasy novel with ships and weapons enhanced by the power of the magically written word, it might have turned out like this. With Perilous Land, it was a nice surprise reading an adventure like this starring/featuring/focused on two strong and nuanced female protagonists who spar verbally and physically, each burdened by her past, each with her own agenda. The pacing builds steadily throughout the book, but I appreciated having the time to get to know the characters and their world first. Once the action started, it was easier to follow battles around a ship and crew I was able to visualize. A problem experienced by a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels lies in world building - creating a believable and nuanced setting and culture for the protagonists. This novel has a good balance between character development, action sequences, and descriptive prose which builds into a detailed world with a thorough history, multiple nationalities and cultures, and politics. The one piece of advice I need to impart to those picking up the book - be a patient reader. Don't be thrown off by the lead characters' accents. There's an intriguing rhythmic writing style that draws you in and holds your attention once you give it a chance. The book requires a bit more attention and investment than some other examples of the genre, but once you are in the author's rhythm the payoff is worth is and you will be rewarded by a unique reading experience. This is a really strong and enjoyable debut novel.


Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era)
Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era)
by Caroline E. Janney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.37
56 used & new from $17.05

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Examining the complex topic of how we remember, July 17, 2013
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When you look through material on the end of the Civil War, usually there will be a coda showing clasping of hands between former enemies at one of the reunions on the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and for many people this vision of reunion is the what they know about how the nation reacted and tried to "heal" in the years following Appomattox. Many people, especially the federal government seemed to want that vision of reconciliation to dominate and endure. The truth, however, was different. Caroline Janney delves into the more complex truth of the era between the Civil War and the subsequent 50 plus years afterwards. Recent scholarship has taken a harder look at how we remember the war and how the memories were shaped, rewritten and nudged into the still fractured message we hear today. Most notable among these is David Blight's "Race and Reunion" which Janney uses as a launching point for several chapters. But she goes beyond this work, and others, to try and mine new understandings of remembrance. The subtitle is "Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation" and this nicely summarizes her thesis - contrary to what many authors have written, the postwar era say reunion, but for many who lived through the era there was no ground for reconciliation. That the nation would, as far as they are concerned, remain two nations, grudgingly, made one again. Janney looks at various schools of thought on the war - emancipation and union, lost cause, slavery - and looks at how the message and actions of participants helped form, and belie the message of the Civil War. If the adage is that "history is written by the victors" the south tried it's best to make sure this didn't happen. One especially strong part of the book is where Janney builds upon her own prior work "Burying the Dead but Not the Past" and looks at the role women, both from the north and the south, we instrumental in shaping and controlling the postwar message and, to some extent, extend the hostilities on new non-shooting fronts. Extensively researched and footnoted, she builds upon primary sources as well as more recent scholarship to continue looking into this timely topic as the country will continue to wrestle with how we remember the war long after the current sesquicentennial is over.


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