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RCA RDH705 2-Speed Dehumidifier, 70-Pint
RCA RDH705 2-Speed Dehumidifier, 70-Pint
Price: $215.99
5 used & new from $180.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Competent dehumidifier, July 24, 2014
(see for more information)

[NOTE: I received this product through the Amazon Vine program. As it was sent to me in error, Amazon removed it from my list and did not require me to post a review. Therefore, the product was not marked as coming from the Vine program. The review was not vetted with Amazon or RCA prior to posting and the opinions of the device are based on my experience with it over the past month.]

Simple dehumidifier
70-pint capacity
Easy to operate
2 fan speeds
Carry handle on water bucket
Optional drain hose
Timer function

Needs to be emptied frequently on humid days
Unit beeps loudly when the bucket is removed for emptying (no way to stop this)
No remote control
Not Energy Star certified

The RDH705 is a basic, competent dehumidifier for up to 4500 square feet.

There was the obligatory removal of tape to prevent shifting during shipping, but other than this the unit arrived completely assembled and ready to go. The unit does come with a set of instructions. (Make sure you remove the plastic drain attachment from the water compartment before operating and DO NOT remove the styrofoam float which monitors the water level.)

The unit itself is compact enough, given what it does. It stands on mobile castors about 23 inches high and is about 15.5 inches wide and 11 inches in depth. It is not a light weight piece of equipment at almost 40 lbs, so the wheels are a welcome addition. This is a larger capacity dehumidifier; the tank holds 70 pints (2.1 gallons) of water. The water compartment slides in and out easily but also snaps into place to prevent accidental spillage. As the unit is self-contained it can move anywhere you have an outlet.

If you want continuous drainage so you don't have to empty the water compartment periodically, you can use the optional drain attachment. To attach the drain, you simply remove a rubber stopper on the back of the unit and screw in the drain fixture. The hose with this attachment is only about 6 3/4 inches long, so you will need to buy an adequate length of plastic hose to attach. This drains by gravity and NOT by pump, so you have to make sure that you use a floor drain that is lower than the unit to achieve adequate flow.

The machine powers on via a control panel at the top (there is no remote supplied with this unit). There is a power button and the fan can be adjusted to two speeds (Turbo and normal). When powered on the unit can certainly be heard. Using an iPhone app it appears to throw off about 60 dB on the low fan setting and 63 db on the low setting at 10 feet. My average window air conditioner throws off around 70 dB depending on the fan setting, so this is about twice as quiet as your average air conditioner. (dBs are note a linear scale; 70 dB is about twice as loud as 60. To give you an idea, 60 dB is about the range for normal conversation. 70 dB is like driving in the average car. A normal, quiet home is about 40 dB.)

The unit seems to do a fine job of dehumidifying. On some hotter and more humid days, however, the container will fill up rather quickly. On one of the scorching, >90 F days with 80% humidity, the container filled to capacity within about 5 hours. The machine stops dehumidifying and beeps when the container is full. As above, it is simple to empty and there is is a convenient carry handle on the bucket.

The unit effectively dehumidifies, so long as you place it correctly in a room. It needs to be able to access enough airflow so that air can circulate through the unit. You cannot put the unit in a closet and expect it to work. If you place it in the basement, it would probably function best in the middle of an open space. If you are using this in your living room, it can be placed in a corner, but needs to be far enough away from the wall to have sufficient air flow.

Additionally, the unit has a timer function so that it will automatically turn off after the set time.

I am pleased with the performance of this dehumidifier. It isn't the fanciest unit or the unit with the most options, but it does its job well and at the time of the writing of this review appears to be priced competitively.

The Eternal Wonder: A Novel
The Eternal Wonder: A Novel
by Pearl S. Buck
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.88
83 used & new from $5.52

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncultured Pearl: an insight into how the author constructed her novels and still a good book in its own right, July 23, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As Edgar Walsh--Pearl S. Buck's son and manager of her literary estate--states in his excellent forward to this book, The Eternal Wonder is a literary find. Buck died in 1973 with her estate in shambles. The manuscript was taken from Buck's house and somehow ended up in a Texas storage unit. When the storage unit was abandoned, its contents went up for auction and the manuscript was serendipitously found.

It is not clear exactly when Buck wrote her final novel. What is clear, though, is that Buck was a perfectionist and this novel is far from her usual level of perfection. Walsh and the publisher worked together to edit out some of the more obvious kinks, but otherwise the novel was left untouched. Buck was clearly not finished with this manuscript and the lack of polish is evident.

Still, the book is definitely a diamond in the rough (or perhaps a better metaphor in this case, an uncultured pearl). It contains the same soaring themes that you might find in Buck's many works: the burden of being different, the individual who is both part of society yet alienated from it, the evils of oppression of minorities and women, cultural clashes between East and West, and others. It takes us from the United States to the far East; while Buck herself clearly revels in rather than criticizes the clash of cultures, Buck's characters are forced to struggle with their differences.

In spite of it's flaws, Buck's characteristic voice echoes throughout the book and you can almost hear her voice, too, somewhere in the background lamenting that she didn't have a chance to polish the book before you had a chance to read it. Transitions between settings and segments of the novel are a bit choppy. Although she wraps up the story, the denouement is all too quick. But this unfinished quality does have its own allure, as you get a better idea of the process by which Buck might have written her novels.

The story, from the outset, is a bit contrived. The novel follows the life of Randolph (Rann) Colfax, a genius from birth. Of course, writing about a character who is deemed a genius is easier said than done. It is easy enough to state that your character is a genius, but it is far harder to concoct actions and dialogue that bear out this fact. Rann often states a conclusion that is rather pedestrian whereupon another character remarks that Rann is clearly exceptional. Buck certainly has Rann accomplish a lot by the end of the book; however, a lot of his adventures seem propped up and--if we just observe what Rann does and says-- Rann comes across more as being more precocious than being a true genius. My guess is that Buck knew this and might have buffed up these aspects in subsequent drafts.

Buck has her protagonist one-up Stephen Dedalus: Rann's life story begins before parturition. Prior to reading this book, I wasn't aware of my bias against novels that initiate their narrative in utero. It seems more than a bit contrived and may have been one of the parts that Buck might later have scrapped or rewritten so that it would be more compelling. The book then takes us through Rann's coming of age, the development of his sexual identity, his struggle to define himself, and finally deciding on his path in life.

The book is less timeless than some of Buck's other novels. Her choice to set this in her own era probably accounts for some of this. The book might have seemed more inflammatory had it been released in the late 60s or early 70s. Buck's ideas of racial and ethnic equality are, thankfully, no longer radical. Her descriptions of Rann's sexual coming of age, which might have been scandalous when the book was written, are tame by modern standards. And yet, even while Buck was forward thinking, some of her mores--which were definitely considered quite liberal during her lifetime--are still entrenched in the 1950s and 60s and these fall dissonant on the modern ear.

Although the prose retains Buck's classical elegance, the dialogue is often stilted and some characters, such as Rann's mother and father, are not more than cardboard props for the novelist. In this book, characters channel Buck with blatant sermonization of Buck's thoughts and philosophies. If Buck were to have to done a later revision, you might imagine that some of the paragraph length dialogue might have been cut back and the sermons might have been replaced with shorter, more subtle dialogue and actions that demonstrate rather then orate Buck's philosophies. Additionally, she would definitely have fleshed out some the characters--including the protagonist.

Flaws aside, I was still duly impressed with the effort here. I was hooked by the book for two reasons. First, it is just amazing to have unearthed a heretofore unknown novel from a major 20th century author. Second, the book offers a rare look into the building process of a novel. Finally, I'd take this first draft from Buck over many third or fourth drafts of other authors. The book may not be perfect but its still a great read.

Gutenberg's Apprentice: A Novel
Gutenberg's Apprentice: A Novel
by Alix Christie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.51

4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting novel about the invention of moveable type, July 22, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Gutenberg's Apprentice, by Alix Christie, is a historical novel about the printing of the Gutenberg Bible. Christie, a letterpress printer herself, mixes her own knowledge of the printing process with the handful of known facts, and stirs in a healthy dose of fiction. The result is a lushly written novel that, although slow at times, really gives the reader the feeling of what it must have been like to live in the 15th Century when moveable type was invented.

The major players are Johannes Gutenberg, the mercurial genius himself; Johann Fust, Gutenberg's patron and financier; and Peter Schoeffer, Fust's adopted son who becomes Gutenberg's apprentice. [Note: historically, Schoeffer was not Fust's adopted son.]

Christie's protagonist is Peter Schoeffer, the ambitious, young scribe. After learning his trade in Paris, Schoeffer comes back to Mainz, only to find out that Fust wants him to eschew the trade he has learned, work with Gutenberg, and learn about this newfangled thing called printing. We follow Schoeffer through his initial resistance to the project, his woes of working with the occasionally volatile and always unpredictable Gutenberg, and finally his mastery of the press.

As the story is framed by the reminiscence of an elderly Schoeffer, we know from the outset how the story ends: Gutenberg loses his printing press to bankruptcy and Fust buys out the business with Schoeffer as his partner, forming the first successful printing house Schoeffer & Fust.

Christie's writing is, no doubt, a thing of beauty. The prose has an archaic ring to it, as though you are reading a translated history from the 1400s. She also has a knack for capturing the sense of wonder that her characters have for the invention of moveable type, a feeling that we might compare to the invention of the internet today. Moveable type changed everything. It was a radical change and was immediately recognized as such. What people couldn't predict was how vast its influence would be in such a short time.

Given the subject matter, though, the book flounders a bit. The general plot is simple: Gutenberg and company must race against time to complete the bible. For one, the money is running out. For another, the Church authorities have an inkling that something is up and it seems clear that they want to shut down the presses. And while their beating the clock, they have to invent all the techniques needed to successfully print things.

Christie throws in a few side plots and a little romance, but since we know the ending, the mystery isn't whether the get from point A to point B but how they get there. (We know at the beginning that Gutenberg has a falling out with Schoeffer and Fust and the bible definitely gets printed--or at least I'm pretty sure of it because of its Wikipedia entry). Additionally, as much as a modern reader realizes the impact of the printed word, it's hard to get as jazzed up about it as characters in the book do.

Although there are parts of the book that I had to push through a bit to read, I thoroughly enjoyed it overall. If you are interested in the subject matter and a historical novel of this time period, Christie has written a compelling book that definitely leaves an indelible mark. Recommended.

Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencil Set, 6 Pencils and Mono Zero Eraser, 2H, HB/B/2B/4B/6B Degrees (61002)
Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencil Set, 6 Pencils and Mono Zero Eraser, 2H, HB/B/2B/4B/6B Degrees (61002)
Price: $11.99
9 used & new from $6.33

4.0 out of 5 stars A fine set of six drawing pencils, July 14, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencil set comes in a blister pack with six 'extra-refined' graphite pencils and a 2.3 mm precision eraser. A carrying case is not included.

The pencils from hardest to softest are 2H, HB, B, 2B, 4B, and 6B. (The HB pencil is usually about the harness of your average, #2 pencil, but there are no universal hardness guides and pencils can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.)

The variety of hard and soft leads is reasonable for someone who is just starting out. However, until you have developed your own style, it makes sense to buy a set of 12 pencils. There is a Tombow set on Amazon that does not come with an eraser but has 12 pencils in a plastic box that might serve you better. It's nice that they concentrated on the softer leads, as that is where I end up doing most of my drawing because I enjoy blending.

I sharpened the pencils with a conventional sharpener (some prefer to use a craft knife). They performed as expected and compared favorably to my reliable Staedtler set. The leads seem of appropriate hardness and the pencils feel good in the hand. They are hexagonal so they don't roll away too quickly on a flat surface and have the right feel of an artists pencil.

The eraser is a reasonable point eraser. Obviously, at 2.3 mm this is not an eraser for large areas.

All and all, this is a fine set of drawing pencils for the beginner. Those who are more serious will probably want the set of 12.

Freshware Onion, Vegetable, Fruit and Cheese Chopper
Freshware Onion, Vegetable, Fruit and Cheese Chopper
Price: $14.99
2 used & new from $14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly useful kitchen gadget that does what it does exceedingly well, July 9, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Really does cut down on prep time
Chops and dices to uniform sizes
Much safer and easier to use than a mandolin type slicer
Easy clean up
Easy storage
Comes with helpful cleaning tool
Integrated measuring device

Not for large jobs
Veggies need to be cut down to size before they can be used in the device
Not suitable for softer fruits, vegetables, or cheeses or veggies that are too pulpy (e.g. soft tomatoes)
Very fibrous, not so crisp sweet potatoes were a bit of a challenge (but a crisper, less dense variety worked famously)
Cutting blades are not meant to be cleaned in dishwasher
Less versatile than a mandolin slicer
Sturdy, but not heirloom kitchen device quality

The Freshware Onion, Vegetable, and Cheese chopper is a simple kitchen tool that just does the job.

There is really nothing all that fancy here: basically the device is a simple hinge. You select from three cutting grates: large squares, small squares, or slices. You select one of the grates and place it on the base of the device, place the food on the chopper blade, and push the hinged lid closed. This forces the food through the grille and--voila--your food is chopped.

As an extra bonus, there are measuring lines drawn on the side. If you tilt the device on end, you can see if you have enough, say, chopped onions without having to use a measuring up.

Is this genius? No. Is this new, innovative, and oh-so-different than anything out there in the market? Absolutely not. However, the chopper is simple, easy to use, and light weight. Whether you are making sweet potato fries, chopping onions, or cutting harder cheeses in cubes or strips it is simple and just works. This is an easy to use, easy to clean, device that doesn't take up a lot of room, but might save you a lot of time.

The device could probably chop just about anything but, for me, worked best on larger more solid types of food. Potatoes and crisp sweet potatoes worked exceedingly well. (Note: very fibrous sweet potatoes that weren't so crisp didn't work well in the system. For some reason they were trouble. However, another crisp and seemingly less fibrous variety worked famously in the machine. You may have to experiment at first with what works.) If you want strips or slices you give them one pass. If you want cubes, you put them through for a second pass. Solid fruits, such as apples and firm pears worked well too. Onions were diced with one pass. Note, however, firmness is key. If the onion is on the riper side, it still works, but there can be some slippage. Celery, carrots, and parsnips all worked pretty well, but were less convenient as you need to cut them in strips that fit on the chopper blade and you can't really stack them.

Certain veggies, such as tomatoes, didn't work as well. Sure, if you have a more solid beefsteak tomato without a lot of seed or pulp it would probably be okay. But if your have a less meaty tomato that has a lot of pulp/seeds, you will pulverize more than you chop. The same goes for ripe pairs, bananas, softer cheeses etc. Softer things that don't hold their shape don't work as well.

Given the incredible sharpness of the blades, there was little slippage of the food while chopping. With a tiny bit of pressure, the food anchors quite well. The sharpness of the blades is also key when it comes to ease of use. You do have to apply some pressure for things like hard, firm, white potatoes to initiate the cut, but so long as you put a little of your weight into it wasn't a problem. Once again, if the blades should become dull, this might be a bit of a chore.

Clean up wasn't bad at all. The bulk of the device can easily be cleaned in soap and water and--I believe--is even dishwasher safe. There is a cleaning tool that will help you easily pick food pieces from the top of the device, where there is a square pattern that helps prevent slippage. Without the tool, this would be difficult to clean. The blades are dangerously sharp. There is a thick plastic frame around each, so handling isn't a problem. They generally rinsed clean well, but as far as I can tell, the blades themselves are not dishwasher safe. Be very careful when cleaning to avoid injury. (The blades are razor sharp the way blades on a mandolin slicer are sharp. The thing that makes this device safer than the mandolin-type slicers is that everything is covered while you are doing the chopping so you don't expose your fingers to injury the same way.)

Blades can be stored in the bottom of the closed chopper. This is nice, as it means that there are no exposed sharp edges to snag and cut you if you are reaching for the device in the cabinet.

One caveat: this is not the device you would use for industrial sized cooking. The area of the cutting blades is small and some larger vegetables need to be cut down to fit the size of the cutting surface. Additionally, you have to be careful about vegetable height, as the vegetable can't be too tall for the hinge. But if you're preparing dinner for 1-8 people it worked just fine. Another issue: the effectiveness of the chopper really depends on the fact that the blades are razor sharp. They will likely become dull over time and if that happens the device will be close to useless. The device--with the exception of the blades themselves--is made of hard plastic. This is not an heirloom kitchen device that you will pass on to your children, but in practice seemed sturdy enough for the job at hand.

On some level, this is a 3-trick pony: it slices and cuts strips in two sizes. It is easy to discount this as yet another superfluous kitchen device, but the fact that it is small, easy to use, and does the job quickly make it a real asset and something that I used far more than I ever thought I would. Simple things like chopping up onions for sauteeing: just strip the onions, stick them serially into the device, and--bam--you are done. No lengthy dicing and the size of the chopped onions is uniform. The same was true of making fries or cubing cheddar. It was all much faster than usual and actually justified the time it takes to clean up the machine afterwards.

I'm not a person who likes buying a kitchen device for every little chore, but although it's repertoire is limited, this one actually seems to work well and has become a go-to device in my kitchen. Surprisingly, I like this device and see myself using it a lot in the future. Recommended.

Remington Products F7-7800XCDN Men's Interceptor Foil Shaver with Charge Stand
Remington Products F7-7800XCDN Men's Interceptor Foil Shaver with Charge Stand
Price: $70.97
41 used & new from $66.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Great shave at a lower price point than the competition, July 3, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Fine shave--up there with the best of the electrics at a great price point
Better foil shaving system than last iteration
Can be used corded or uncorded
Blades are easier to clean than last model
Head be cleaned under water
5 minute quick charge feature
Digital LED charge meter
Compatible with international voltages

Louder than Panasonic and Braun models
Fit and finish not quite on par with Panasonic and Braun
No carrying case provided
Costly replacement foil at this point in time (over time, this will likely go down)

The Remington F7-7800XCD Men’s Shaver is a fine electric razor. It rounds up the top of Remington’s mid-line range of shavers and definitely does the job as well as any electric razor. I last reviewed a Remington razor in 2009 (the F-5790, which is still available on Amazon as of this writing), and since that time Remington has made a number of innovations to improve its product line. The result is an easier, faster shave and the shaver is easier to clean.

In spite of the manufacturer number F7-7800XCD, the box is labeled ‘F8.’ I’m not sure exactly why this is, but I’m happy to round up. Inside the box you will find, the shaver itself, a small stand, the power cord, a small cleaning brush, and a cover for the shaver. No carry case is provided, as you might find with other manufacturers.

The shaver itself is true to Remington’s more modern design trend. The shaver is long and has an ergonomic curve. The bulk of the shaver is made out of black plastic. All of this is sturdy enough, but this is not heirloom quality. The assumption is likely that you will replace the razor in 4 or 5 years. Atop the shaver is the pivoting foil. In the F7/F8 line this pivots front to back (in the higher FR line it also pivots side to side). The stand is attractive enough and has little more heft than a coaster. I was concerned that there would be a lot of balance problems, but the engineers clearly designed it with the shape and center of gravity of the shaver itself in mind; once attached, the shaver and base are surprisingly stable.

The cord is upgraded from the last time I had a Remington. The plug end is shaped like an oblong cylinder now and it is far lighter and smaller than my old Remington cord. Happily, the cord can either attach to the base for charging or directly to the shaver. The trend these days in less expensive electric razors is to have either a cord or a base but not both. Corded is good, because it means if the shaver is not charged you can still plug it in and use it while it is charging. A base is good because it gives you a place to park and charge the shaver while not in use. Kudos to Remington for going retro and supplying both. Of note, this shaver does adapt to international voltages (but you will need the proper adapter).

This model has an amber LED light indicating the charge. Full charge is indicated when the LED lights up to ‘60,’ as a full charge yields 60 minutes of shave time. It takes 2 hours to charge fully, but you can do a 5 minute quick charge if you are in a rush or just shave with the cord attached.

The cleaning brush is the simple type with shorter bristles at one end to clean the foil and longer bristles at the other end to touch up the rest of the shaver. The included cover is opaque, black plastic, instead of the usual clear acrylic. No issues here.

Fit and finish on this shaver is pretty good, but it doesn’t live up to the fit and finish on Braun models or Panasonic models that I’ve used in the past. The seams are less smooth and the overall feel is less solid and more plasticky.

The shaver is easy to use, you simply turn it on and rub it against your face. Unlike older models with a two or three foil array, this is a two foil model with an ‘Interceptor’ component in the middle which has a more trimmer-like action. This array takes care of the longer hairs, making them shorter and more available to the foil part for shaving. The pivoting head is a nice touch, but in practice makes little difference while shaving. In past models you could activate or deactivate the pivoting. Here it pivots all the time, but once again this doesn’t seem like a big issue.

I found that the new blade array did make for a faster shave. Unlike the old Remington, this was more comparable to my Panasonic shaver. Although the results were on par with the Panasonic, the shave was a little rougher on the skin. For those not used to using an electric razor, you do get used to this. However, given its more gentle tendency, the Panasonic would make for an easier introduction to an electric shaver.

The Remington is certainly louder than my Panasonic, but not as loud as my older Remington.

The flip up trimmer is located in exactly the same place as it was on the previous model. The trimmer works just fine, but given its location and the size of the shaver itself, it takes some practice to see where you are going. If the trimmer popped out farther away from the shaver or was located at a higher level (impossible, because of the pivot) there would be fewer problems with visibility.

NOTE: you need to change the blades/foil every 6 months to a year. The foil itself for this model costs $24.99 at the time of this writing. This is a little pricey, as it does not include the replacement blades. (For reference, the total cost for replacement foil and blades for my old Remington is $18.16 at the time of this writing.) My guess is that this is a new model and that the price will go down.

Although this is not a wet-dry shaver (don’t use in the shower or with shaving cream), the body is sealed and the head of the shaver may be rinsed with water for cleaning. Remington has taken a cue from Panasonic and increased the space between the cutting blades and arranged them more in loops. The result is that the shaver is much easier to clean. You generally can take of the foil cover, rinse under the tap, and let air dry. Given the new blade design, I haven’t even had to use the brush for cleaning. Very convenient.

Unfortunately, they have not changed the design of the head array. If stray hairs get caught in the sides and corners of the head array, the foil will not snap on. If this happens, you simply need to clean out the wells and sides of the head piece and this will correct the problem. My Panasonic does not have this problem because the bottom of the head assembly is generally flat and stray hairs just wash away.

Remington has made some advances that make this shaver better than their last iteration and on par with the competition. Remington’s shaver is still bulky, a little noisy, and lacks the fit and finish of its competitors, but it now gives a comparable shave at a much lower price point. It’s well worth the look. Recommended.

Power PDF Standard, English
Power PDF Standard, English
Price: $76.24
16 used & new from $64.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Truly powerful and easy to use PDF creation and manipulation software, July 2, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Organized new interface
Impressive fidelity with importing office documents
Easier editing capabilities
Can add video, sound, 3D components to documents
More 'windowslike' in behavior
Fully functional form filling
Fully functional form creation
Incredible OCR
No crashes during testing
Can save directly to Dropbox, Evernote, or Nuance Cloud

Still note quite a fully integrated windows program
Clip art is very basic/early 2000s type of stuff
Some problems with editing
Occasionally wonky commenting/annotating features
No PDF data collection features

Nuance Power PDF standard is Nuance's latest iteration of its PDF manipulation software. Nuance has ramped up the interface and made some major improvements, making this edition a winner.

Power PDF replaces Nuance's PDF Professional line, a very powerful and competitive package with an incredibly clunky interface that didn't always play well with windows.

Adobe will still be the go-to program for the true power user--it simply is at the cutting edge and is the gold standard in the field. But in terms of ease of use and the features that most people want, Power PDF will get you there--in style--for about 1/3 of the price you will pay for Acrobat Pro. (Don't let the 'standard' in Power PDF's title fool you: it's feature set is more akin to Acrobat Pro than Acrobat Standard.)

Unlike PDF Professional, Power PDF looks slick, like you are opening another Microsoft Office program. Instead of a clunky, old-fashioned ribbon, there is a new tabbed interface. Nuance takes cues from Microsoft, giving it simple, non-skeuomorphic set of icons that are easily recognizable. But it's not just the look, the menus are organized--something sorely lacking in Nuance's last offering.

Now, I realize that some people really hate Microsoft's new tabbed approach, but when you are used to it from Office since 2008, it keeps things uniform and familiar. Moreover, the thoughtful organization makes it easier to find features.

Nuance's last offering really didn't behave like a Windows program. For example, in the past, you had to open everything from the menu bar and cut and paste was often iffy. Here you can simply throw your Office document into the PDF Professional window (or on top of it's menubar icon) and it just opens it. Additionally, the style of the window matches Windows 7 and 8.1 much better.

Not all is quite perfect in paradise, however. You can open multiple documents, but they all reside in different windows. And the style of the window fits in better with Windows' standard, but the fit is not perfect. Still, everything is placed where it should be and the style is a good enough fit to prevent icon confusion and dissonance.

In practice, almost all PDF manipulation programs (Adobe included) behave in a somewhat alien fashion compared to usual Windows programs. It is unclear why this is, but it happens to be true.

This can now be done with a right click of the mouse and a simple save. Even better, you have several options for right click conversion, including three different quality levels (standard, draft, publishing), company confidential, tagged PDF, MRC compression, or save as a searchable PDF. Or you can just throw the document in the Power PDF window and edit before saving.

The results are actually some of the best I've ever seen. I tried converting many different kinds of documents and the fidelity was actually stunning. Most processed to PDF without a glitch, whether they were Word, Powerpoint, or Excel. Colors were unchanged and even layered graphics/text came out to near perfection.

Nuance has actually made some great advances in editing. For one thing, their old program had a tendency to crash a lot with editing. This one seems rock stable.

For another, many PDF programs have problems with mucked up spacing or paragraphing when you try to edit. Changing a few characters can mess up all the paragraphing below the correction. Power PDF recognizes characters as characters. It basically places each line of text in its own text box, so that correcting one line will not affect any others.

One major glitch on the editing, which only happened in a PDF I tried to edit that was made in Apple's Pages--if the font you wish to edit has no analogous font; you can erase text in that section but if you try to type text, Power PDF pops up an error window and will not allow you add text to edit that section. There may be a work around, but I am not aware of it. (The best I could do was to erase the line altogether and add my own text. Adding text can be done using the typing tool or going under the forms tab and adding a text field. It's all a bit clunky, but such is the world of PDFs.)

There is no way to 'paint on' a format to change the entire body of text to a font that Power PDF understands so that you can have full-featured editing. On the one hand, it is nice that Power PDF can display the font effectively and even handle it like text even though it doesn't have the font available. On the other hand, it puts you in a sticky editing situation, where you can delete letters but you can't replace them.

Pictures and graphics are easily removed, replaced, or resized. This even works with more complicated, layered graphics, although unless you select all the layers you will have to move them separately.

There are no 'extra' types of formatting available. No shadows, glow, fanciful colors, or 3D effects, but these kinds of things aren't standard

There are easy ways to add watermarks, rearrange pages, and bookmark pages/locations within the document.

There are a variety of features for annotating PDFs that generally work well. The pop-up, sticky note feature for changes works easily and as expected.

Underlines, cross-outs, and highlighting, however, can be wonky. There were no problems in documents with simple layouts, but in more complicated ones are times where you try to underline, cross-out, or highlight and, instead of affecting the intended single word or line, you actually end up affecting a whole section. Most of the time, you can fidget with it and get it to look right, but this should be a little easier.

There are some advanced features, such as 'draw tools,' that allow you to place a 'pencil' mark, draw an oval, or box off an area that you want to comment on. There are even 'callout' boxes with arrows that point to problem text. So-called active mark up allows the allows you to annotate an area and at the same time a sticky note pops up titled with the moniker (e.g.'underline') that describes what the sticky note pertains to. There are other options for this as well if you highlight a word or section and right click a mouse you can cross-out text and choose a pop up that will say 'replace text' or 'insert text at cursor.' Definitely a useful feature.

As Nuance makes Dragon Naturally Speaking, you can even click on 'Dragon Notes' and dictate into your annotation boxes. A nice feature.

Power PDF does a reasonable job at filling in and creating PDF forms is straightforward and very similar to other PDF programs.

Adobe still reigns supreme here, with more specific types of forms that can be added (e.g. date forms with a pop-up calendar). There is probably some way to program these in Java and have them for use in Power PDF, but that would be beyond the scope of my ability.

The form fields available here are the standard button field, text field, check box, radio button, combo box, list box, and digital signature. You can change the properties of the boxes with a right click or double click. Most properties can be changed for multiple boxes, if you shift-click. This will select multiple boxes in a row. Oddly, you need to hit control-RIGHT click to select multiple, non-contiguous boxes. A bit strange, but it works.

In theory, you could produce forms from scratch using the program. In practice, this would be difficult, as this program (and most PDF programs) lack the elegance and ease of use of a standard word processor.

That said, Power PDF does an excellent job of picking up form fields correctly. Lines become text fields and squares or circles will become check boxes (these would have to be changed to radio buttons if you only want to select one item out of a list). On the whole, though, for simple forms, it makes things easier.

There is an interesting compare option (for some reason under the home tab) that allows you to compare two PDFs. The program will highlight the differences in the color of your choice.

Documents may be made more secure using itms in the security tabs. This allows you to set signatures, encrypt the documents contents, add password only access, require certificates, etc. These are fairly straightforward.

Save options include Dropbox, Evernote, and Nuance Cloud Connector.

If you are using PDF forms to collect specific PDF data, this program may not be the one for you. Try as I may, I couldn't find any PDF data collection forms or a way to output PDF form data on to a spreadsheet. That doesn't mean that it can't be done, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to do it. My guess is that this kind of feature is reserved for the Pro edition.

In the past, Nuance has been criticized for poor customer support and difficulties regarding draconian security procedures leading to the dreaded activation issues.

I have not tried customer support for this product, but their policies have much improved. It used to be that you were only allowed a single phone call regarding Dragon Naturally Speaking products and over the past few years, they have been better about 30 day support. Their website has a reasonably organized FAQ section and there is a vast user-contributed database of answers to common and not so common questions.

As to security and activation issues, in my experience these things have been largely solved. Over the past four years, I have not had a problem with a Nuance product (e.g. Dragon or PDF Professional 8) that refused to boot up after I swapped out a hard drive or connected/disconnected a multitude of USB devices. I even seamlessly migrated a version of Dragon for the PC from one office computer to the other--the only caveat is that you MUST uninstall the program from machine #1 before you install it on machine #2.

That said, there have been activation issue horror stories in the past with Nuance products. I cannot deny them, I can only tell you that I have not personally experienced them.

Power PDF is Nuances' slickest and best PDF creation and manipulation software to date. Although Adobe Acrobat Professional remains the gold standard in the field, Nuance has come up with a program that has 98% of the features that most of us are looking for and is actually a whole lot easier to use than Adobe's offering. Recommended.

Belkin QODE Universal Portable Keyboard for 7-Inch and 8-Inch Tablets (Compatible with iPad mini and Galaxy Tab 4)(F5L154ttBLK)
Belkin QODE Universal Portable Keyboard for 7-Inch and 8-Inch Tablets (Compatible with iPad mini and Galaxy Tab 4)(F5L154ttBLK)
Offered by Tech1
Price: $59.53
7 used & new from $50.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Crowded keyboard and poor tactile experience, June 30, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Keyboard integrated with case
Long battery life
Bluetooth connects easily
Universal fit for 7-8 inch tablets with different dimensions

Frustrating to use for the touch typist
Poor tactile feel
Too cramped for fast touch typing
Poor layout choices hobble fast touch typing
Little ability to change the angle of the keyboard

The Belkin QODE Universal Portable Keyboard is a serviceable, Bluetooth keyboard for 7-8 inch tablets. It works reasonably well as a case and the keyboard is faster than typing directly on to the screen, but in the end the keyboard is just too small to allow for quick, touch typing.

The case itself is a simple, portfolio case. The style of the flat, powder dull, black case mimics the Apple iPad smart and does reasonably well in terms of not showing too much in the way of fingerprints. However, there is definitely something a little cheap about the feel. The workmanship is okay, but the production values are clearly not at the highest industry standard, with the edges not perfectly aligned. The inside surfaces of the case have a soft, microfiber texture and keyboard is recessed enough to protect your screen from scratches. The battery life is acceptably long, reportedly 155 hours between charges.

The tablet is secured by four rubber brackets, which are connected to the case with elastic bands and thus can accommodate tablets with slightly different dimensions. It was easy to secure the tablet and, once secured, it was easy to remove it from the case. In concept, I thought that the system would be a bit dodgy, but once secured, the iPad mini stayed in place. The case can be configured on a table so that the tablet sits like a laptop. There is little you can do to adjust the angle at this level. You can make it really shallow, but that was a poor angle to type with. Even so, the angle was good for sitting and typing. The case kept the tablet stable at the selected angle, so there were no worries about the tablet flopping around while you were typing. Along with the viewing angle, it would be nice if there was some way to angle the keyboard while typing to help with position/wrist strain. I have not seen a case where you can actually angle the keyboard itself, but this is a feature that would definitely be helpful.

Bluetooth connection was straightforward and they keyboard connected easily to my iPad mini.

The major problem with the case is the keyboard itself. The first thing you notice when you try to type, is that this is a very cramped, chiclet keyboard. Belkin made some bad choices when downsizing the keyboard. First and foremost, they did not use the full width of the case. Had the keyboard even been 1 inch wider, it would have been easier to type on. Second, they fit in more keys at the bottom of the case by shrinking the space bar. Not a bad compromise, as most people only use the inner part of the space bar anyway, but they went a little too far. There is really very little space bar real estate and I found myself hitting the command or the the ?/ keys, which flank the space bar, when trying to touch type. The same can be said for the shift keys. The left shift key poses less of a problem, but arrow-up is right below the right shift key and this causes some frustrating typing errors.

The keys themselves are smaller than their large, chiclet key counterparts, which makes them very small targets, indeed. Given the size of the keyboard, they are crowded close together, leading to further typing errors. Moreover, they are more mushy than clicky, making for a poor tactile experience.

Even a small amount of expansion would have been welcome. Oddly, there is space above and below the keyboard which could have been used to expand the size of the keyboard vertically and there is plenty or space beyond the sides of the keyboard for horizontal expansion. I still don't understand why Belkin decided to make the keyboard so small, when there was ample room to expand without changing the dimensions of the case.

Even the keyboard from my ancient HP2133 would have almost fit within the constraints of this case, and the HP2133 keyboard is actually quite easy to type on. Just small changes in dimensions and a better quality keyboard could have made all the difference.

For now, I will continue to use a spare Bluetooth, iMac keyboard that I have, as this is a full size keyboard and works much better than any keyboard case that I have tried in the past. (It's also not all that heavy and can be taken on the go, if necessary.)

The keyboard will work for you if you just want an upgrade from the onscreen, keyboard input. However, it is more amenable to the hunt-and-peck typist than someone who is a fast touch typist. For most touch typists, this keyboard will really slow you down given a combination of the crowded spacing of the keys, some poor choices in keyboard layout, and poor tactile feel of the keyboard.

Hollow World
Hollow World
by Michael J. Sullivan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.93
49 used & new from $8.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A lighter look into a dystopian utopian future, June 25, 2014
This review is from: Hollow World (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When Ellis Rogers retires, his marriage was on the rocks, his best friend had betrayed him, and he was just been diagnosed with cancer. Rather than wallow in misery, he uses his engineering skills and some misunderstood equations developed by a forgotten scientist, builds himself a time machine, and whisks himself away into the future.

The Hollow World, by Michael Sullivan, follows Ellis' adventures in the utopian world that he has found. Avoiding any spoilers, suffice it to say that Ellis is not only unprepared for what he finds but is also the only one equipped to root out an evil plot that threatens this gentle, future world.

Some aspects of Sullivan's future world are unique but others are horribly cliched. There are a few inconsistencies as well. But okay. This may not be genius level science fiction, but for me it was an engaging read from start to finish. And just when you think that Sullivan might be writing too predictably, he throws in a plot twist that changes everything.

The book sometimes wanders a bit and you may not find yourself impressed by the depth of the characters, but Sullivan is a craftsman when it comes to writing an overarching plot and that is really what keeps the book moving.

This may not be the book for someone who doesn't love a quick sci fi novel, but I'm a junky and Sullivan gave me my fix. On the whole, a great effort and something that piqued my interest: I'll be looking for the next adventure in the Hollow World. So if you are a fan of pulp sci fi, the kind that still tries to make you think at least a bit, this one may be for you. For the right person (a person like me), I'd recommend it.

Dangerous Odds: My Secret Life Inside an Illegal Billion Dollar Sports Betting Operation
Dangerous Odds: My Secret Life Inside an Illegal Billion Dollar Sports Betting Operation
by Marisa Lankester
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.93
53 used & new from $10.94

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The odds may be dangerous, but they do favor this book, June 24, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Without revealing spoilers or too much detail, Lankester recounts turbulent events that transpired after she unwittingly joined Ron 'the cigar' Sacco's illegal, California bookmaking operation in 1986. As Lankester tells the story, she was really looking to become a race car driver in the CanAMex car rally. Her racing partner, Jim Arnold, happened to work as a telephone and security technician for Sacco. Using his connections, Arnold got Lankester a job as a bet taker so she could support herself until her racing career picked up. This was the start of an 8 year roller-coaster ride, with the Sacco organization on the run and Lankester in tow, until the whole operation was taken down in 1994.

Lankester is actually quite a good writer. She concentrates less on description and motivation, saving most of the narrative for the action. The book is rife with guns, intrigue, run ins with the law, love, sex, betrayal, bathos without a lot of pathos,a few bodies left behind, and very little time for serious self reflection. But you get the idea that that was how things were for Lankester in 1986-1994. She doesn't glorify. She doesn't justify. She just tells. And she is quite a good teller.

With the exception of a short hiatus after a big bust in 1987, when Lankester and her husband tried to settle down and become a dull, suburban couple, the book is all go, go, go. This is a fast and intriguing read; well worth the price of admission.

While the book is a great read, there is one major caveat here: it is hard to completely trust Lankester as a narrator. In a first person narrative, you take it for granted that you get a one-sided point of view. I realize that memoir writers are not always interested in telling the whole truth, but Lankester paints a very selective picture and throughout the narrative seems far too naive.

I have a hard time believing that she didn't understand why the US Government would want to shut down a $100 million per month, $1.2 billion dollar per year, illegal, gambling enterprise. Did she really believe that there wasn't a crueler side to Sacco's organization? Did she really believe that the government didn't care about Sacco recklessly flouting the law and not paying taxes? Did she really think that Sacco didn't have any ties to the mob when it was clear that he had to be working with the mob? I understand that when Lankester started off she didn't know the whole story. I understand that she was in it neck deep by the end. But the fact that she stuck to it for so long hints that she might have been just a bit more than a telephone operator: Enquiring minds want to know. You get the idea that Lankester softens her role in the operation in an attempt to avoid any kind of instigation that might arise after publishing the book.

It is also a little disconcerting to see that the people that are benefiting from the story of the bust the most are Lankester and the FBI-hired conspirators who helped bring down Sacco's organization in California. The two conspirators have since incorporated as a private investigation firm--touting their success in bringing down the entire Sacco operation (err... well, for at least a year before Sacco opened shop elsewhere) and that the two were almost certainly skimming money 'off the books' during the sting operation, all the while getting paid handsomely by the FBI. When the most unlikely people seem to use a story to their own advantage and for their own purposes, it makes you wonder about how straight the narrative really is.

Still, Lankester has lived a life that is better than fiction. After reading the book, it is hard to imagine that this is an orthodox, historical account of the events, but, even so, it is still a great read. Recommended.

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