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The Iron Road: An Illustrated History of the Railroad
The Iron Road: An Illustrated History of the Railroad
by Christian Wolmar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.33
47 used & new from $13.96

5.0 out of 5 stars Encyclopedic Compendium of Railroading History, June 28, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As someone with a long running interest in railroads, there's a phenomenon I've noticed when perusing books that bill themselves as being about the general history of such. There seems to be a divide between America-centric history and Euro-centric history. Wolmar's book is something different. It takes a global look at railroading, from its early beginnings in the 1800s up to the present day. Wolmar doesn't simply cover seminal events in America or England - the book looks at developments everywhere, including oft neglected places like Austria or India.

The breadth of scope of the book comes at the cost of depth, of course. Wolmar is hitting high points. There's doubtless much more to be learned about specific countries or even rail lines, but to do so would require multiple volumes. This book is a good starting point for almost anywhere rails reach. It's not just about the tracks and trains either. Wolmar covers the associated social changes, the politics, and scandals of railroading, and more up to the present day. The organization of the chapters in the book, the glossary, bibliography and index in the book make this a useful reference work that's also entertaining.

The book alternates between short chapters focused on particular topics and two page spreads devoted to photos, explanations of railroad technology, maps, etc. Given the way the book moves from region to region and topic to topic, this episodic approach facilitates reading it. There's simply no way to cover railroad history as one single narrative; it is too diverse. An additional feature is the occasional quote in large type sprinkled through the book as seem apropos, i.e. the quote from Theodore Roosevelt in a chapter on financial misdeeds "A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education he may steal the whole railroad."

If there's a fault with this book, it's that I wish it were in a larger format, the better to appreciate the maps within it. This is an outstanding work that anyone looking for an encyclopedic work on railroading will find enjoyable.

For complementary reading, I'd suggest Terry Pratchett's "Raising Steam". Set in the fantasy realm of the Discworld, it condenses the technological and socio-political elements of the rise of the railroads into a Swiftian allegory of an adventure. http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Steam-Discworld-Terry-Pratchett/dp/038553826X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1404003132&sr=8-1&keywords=Raising+Steam


Skin Game (Dresden Files)
Skin Game (Dresden Files)
by Jim Butcher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.42
113 used & new from $9.66

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another turn in the Long Game, June 14, 2014
It's been a year for Harry Dresden since he returned from the dead (for a certain value of being dead, that is).

He's discovered just how big a job he's taken on as Warden of the mysterious island in Lake Michigan, formally taken up his role as Mab's Winter Knight, dealt with an apocalyptic threat that would have left a huge hole in North America, discovered more of the Big Picture behind everything, and saw his apprentice caught up in a huge power shift among the Sidhe with life changing consequences for her.

Now? There's a thing in his head becoming more insistent; he's within days of dying from it. He's been cut off from friends and family. He's been largely alone on the island, spending the time getting in shape and familiarizing himself with the resources of the island…. and waiting. That's when Mab shows up and informs him he has a task to perform for her - and she's not giving him a choice.

To repay an old debt of Mab's, he must become part of a team being assembled by an old nemesis, a team whose goal is to retrieve an incredibly valuable relic from the top security vault of a legendary god. It will be insanely dangerous, require him to work with people and beings filled with mutual distrust and some outright hatred, and includes the certainty of lethal betrayal without warning. And he has three days to do this before his head explodes with possibly bad consequences for those he knows and loves as well.

That's just what's happening on the surface. As always, there's more going on, and if Harry can't figure it out in time to deal with it, his odds of survival are even worse than usual. Butcher puts Dresden through more soul searching: how much can he ask of his friends; how far along is he to becoming a monster in Mab's service, and what about his daughter Maggie, his apprentice Molly, his growing relationship with Karrin? And always, Mab.

Butcher is playing a long game here. Harry Dresden is like a small stone rolling down a hill, of little consequence at first - but one that begins growing into an avalanche. It may not know where it's going, or which way it will bounce next, but when it finally reaches bottom of the hill you don't want to be in its way. There have been hints all along that the major players in the larger world of magic are keeping an eye on Dresden's progress, and have great expectations of him - and a certain amount of sympathy. Events from earlier stories are revealed to have deeper connections and larger implications - and there is some foreshadowing that events in this story will have consequences down the road. There's a sense that things are getting worse in the larger world. It's not hard to suspect that Dresden is being forged into a critical pivot point on which all things will turn - even if he hasn't let himself become aware of that yet.

This story is relatively tightly-focused; the plot twists are largely concerned with the group and the heist. Butcher does throw in at least one major surprise, demonstrating that Dresden is learning to think, not just act and react. There's also a satisfying apotheosis for one character, and just at the right time. One of the things Dresden has to face up to is that he's had a catalyzing effect on those around him, and in his long absence while first being dead and then while in recovery, they've been compelled to step up.

I gave this tale 4 out of 5 stars mainly because of the problem with serials. Once you get a larger story going, it's hard to make the individual pieces of it shine on their own merits. This one does as well as any in the Dresden saga.


PhysiciansCare 90484 ANSI Compliant First Aid Kit with Eyewash, 78 Pieces
PhysiciansCare 90484 ANSI Compliant First Aid Kit with Eyewash, 78 Pieces

4.0 out of 5 stars Something You Never Want To Need, But If You Do..., May 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Short of having an actual medical emergency, it's problematic to rate a first aid kit. This one has some features that are of note, however. It comes with a handle/wall mount as part of the plastic case. This lets it be mounted in a prominent location, and makes it easy to grab and go in an emergency. There's a gasket around the inside of the case that makes it water and dust resistant - a good feature.

The inside of the kit is organized into pockets with a clear plastic insert - this makes it easier to find things when you're in a hurry. It lifts out. A first aid guide and a large sterile pad are underneath. (There is probably room to fit a few more thin items as well.) The scissors are nothing special; they can probably cut tape and bandages but are not going to stand up to extended use or a challenging material. The forceps are plastic; they do seem to grip pretty well. The inclusion of a bottle of eye wash is a good idea - not only can it be used for eyes, it can be used to wash dirt from a wound. It does mean you probably don't want to put this kit where it can freeze, however. On the back of the case is a chart of what items are in the kit - handy if you want to restock it, or forget what's in there.

Some caveats. Some of the other reviews are critical of the quality of the items in the kit, and suggest looking for a higher quality equivalent. This may not be unreasonable - but A) having something on hand when you need it is what really matters, and B) a First Aid kit is just that - something to treat an injury long enough to get to better help if necessary. This kit looks like a good starting point, and nothing says you can't add or upgrade it on a piece by piece basis. The important thing is to have something on hand. Dave Cunningham's review of this kit suggests additional items for a larger emergency tool kit should also include a flashlight, a multi-tool, a hand crank radio, and something that can be used to light a fire. I'd suggest checking out the other reviews of this kit as well. Different people have different needs, so their experiences with this kit may give you useful ideas of your own.

Note: some of the items in the kit have expiration dates. It would not be a bad idea to see what they are and note them somewhere on the outside of the case so you can tell when you need to replace them.

Note: if you do get this kit, take some time to look through it and make sure anyone else who might need it knows where it is and what it can and can't do. Be prepared, as the Boy Scouts say.


Coast HP1 Focusing LED Flashlight
Coast HP1 Focusing LED Flashlight
Price: Click here to see our price

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whole lot of brightness in a small package, May 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
LED flashlights are amazing; a small item like this can put out light in amounts that used to take a 4 D cell monster years ago. Even though this one is powered by a single AA battery, it is quite bright with a nice white light. I haven't had a chance to test battery life so far, but other LED flashlights I have do a lot better than the old incandescent bulb models ever did.

The focusing element is quite simple. Just push-pull the front lens housing. On wide beam, it's perfect for lighting up the inside of a tent, and small enough to hang easily. The on-off switch is built into the screw on cap on the end of the flashlight. It's a button covered by a rubberized membrane. It's the only worrisome element in the design. How well it will hold up to extended use is the question. That being said, replacement would be easy enough - just get a new cap.

The casing feels durable and has a good gripping surface. There's a pocket clip that looks like it should be sturdy enough to stand up to a fair amount of abuse. Between the size, brightness, and focusing feature, this is a flashlight that could easily be thrown in a pocket book, backpack, or anywhere else light might be needed in the dark.

Nifty!


The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War
The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War
by A. J. Baime
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.08
37 used & new from $14.47

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars this book looks at where World War II could easily have been lost - on the home front, May 4, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
While most books about war focus on the battles and the leaders, this book looks at where World War II could easily have been lost - on the home front. FDR was able to mobilize the auto industry of Detroit into "The Arsenal of Democracy", churning out tanks, guns, airplanes, and other war materials in quantities that astounded the world - and swamped the Axis powers.

The main focus of the tale is of one of America's pre-eminent industrial families: the Fords. Henry Ford revolutionized the auto industry by making affordable cars through his mastery of mass-production (AKA Fordism). When World War II threatened, it was natural the the government would turn to Ford. The response was the legendary Willow Run bomber plant, which churned out nearly half of all the thousands of B-24 Liberator bombers built. At peak production, one was rolling out the door every hour, like clock work.

But that's only part of the story. One element is the dynastic struggles within the Ford family, something that rivals Shakespearean tragedy. Henry Ford dabbled in pacifism, anti-semitism, anti-unionism - and hated FDR with a passion. His public views caused him to be awarded a medal by a rising German politician named Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. Ford loved his heir and only child Edsel - but he humiliated him constantly, overrode his ideas, and generally made his life a living hell. Edsel chose to tough it out for the sake of the Ford company and his own sons - and when war came, literally worked himself to death to make Willow Run succeed. It was a job not made easier by a Henry Ford becoming increasingly paranoid, irrational, and even senile as the war went on.

Add to the mix labor troubles, racism, and the Great Depression. Throw in a sycophant within the Ford company who headed up a private army of thugs nominally under Henry Ford's control, but really out only for himself. Include the inherent conflict of European Ford divisions coming under control of Nazi Germany - and questions about just how closely the Ford family was cooperating with Hitler, and how much they knew. Picture talented, strong-willed men doing their best to do what had never been done before: take a brand new factory with thousands of untrained workers and a still-evolving bomber design and fine-tune it into a working marvel turning out high-quality production aircraft. Throw in snapshots of developments elsewhere, like amazing stories at Chrysler and GM; behind the scenes at the White House; events at the front. Don't forget the enigmatic/problematic Charles Lindbergh, who would end up in the thick of it all - and the ordinary men and women who made it all possible.

Author A.J. Baime tells the tale in an engaging, immediate style, drawing on the protagonists own recorded words from a number of sources to flesh out the bare bones of history. If it reads like a thriller, it's because it was. It's a look at World War II from a perspective that's little appreciated. Baime brings it to life.


Nyantomo Purr Fect Potty Hooded Box Starter Kit
Nyantomo Purr Fect Potty Hooded Box Starter Kit
Price: $39.19

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars always a good thing, and it's a little easier on the ..., May 4, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Keeping an indoor cat requires a litter box; but just because the cat (or cats) may be restricting their 'business' to a designated location doesn't mean everything is coming up roses. Controlling odors, cleaning up - these are still necessary chores. What does this design bring to the problem?

Well, the covered version here helps keep everything within limits, always a good thing, and it's a little easier on the eyes than an open litter box. (Some cats also appreciate the feeling of security.) What's different about this box is the system it uses to make clean up and odor control easier.

Instead of conventional litter or clumping litter, it uses special pellets on top of a grate. Solids get trapped on top of the pellets and can be scooped out with the included scooper for disposal. (It's suggested this should be done daily.) Liquid wastes pass through the pellets and the grate to an absorbent pad in a pull out tray underneath. The pad controls odors and is easily replaced. Separating liquid and solid wastes in this way makes both easier to deal with - less scrubbing and scraping.

According to the instructions that come with the box, a supply of pellets and pads should be enough to handle the needs of a single cat for up to a week before they need to be changed, and there's the rub. If you get this litter box, you've also got to be able to come up with replacement pellets and pads, just as you'd have to change regular litter. Before buying, find out if you can get them locally or if you're going to have to order them on-line. (Or, see if there's a compatible substitute - there are other litter boxes using pellet and pad combinations that may work.)

The question is, is the cost of these worth the expense versus regular litter boxes - and does it control odors well enough and make clean up easy enough that the costs are worth it? That's something you should consider before buying - and you might want to consult with your cat's veterinarian for their advice.

The other critical question is the end user. Will your cat take to this system if it's accustomed to regular cat litter? Be prepared to help your cat make adjustments - the instructions have some suggestions, but it's still up to the cat. The instructions claim most cats adjust very quickly - but your cat's 'mileage' may vary.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 10, 2014 5:23 AM PDT


Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies
Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies
by Lawrence Goldstone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.62
53 used & new from $16.23

5.0 out of 5 stars An Epic Accounting of Triumphs and Tragedies on the Road to Conquer the Skies, April 25, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If all you know about the early history of flight is that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, you're in for a fascinating exploration of the wide cast of characters (and some of them were real characters) who all played a role in the conquest of the air. There are heroes, idealists, scoundrels, adventurers, fanatics, lawyers, capitalists, and fools. Some were in it for fame and fortune, some for science, some because it looked like a profitable racket, some wanting to make the world better; the cast is almost Shakespearean in scope.

The legend of the Wright Brothers has largely obscured the real story over the years. While they did take the steps that led to the first practical heavier than air flying machine, they were working from a large base of knowledge created and freely shared by others. Less well known is how, having invented a successful flying machine, they turned from seeking to improve it and advance the state of the art, and instead attempted to use patent law to establish a monopoly on all flying machines anywhere. In effect, they declared war on all others in the aviation field - and none more so than their arch-nemesis Glenn H. Curtiss.

Curtiss had originally approached them as potential buyers of his line of light and powerful engines for their flyers. The heart of the conflict goes back to a fateful meeting with the Wrights early on; what happened there is still in dispute. Did Curtiss learn enough from them to 'steal' their secrets? Did he see enough to enable him to find his own way forward? Curtiss began building and flying his own airplanes - and soon began to surpass the Wrights, who had thrown all their efforts into legal battles in the U.S. and Europe to protect the monopoly they thought was their just due. It would eventually cost the Wrights their technological lead, destroy Wilbur's health, and cripple the U.S. aviation industry for years while Europe surged ahead. Curtiss would come to be known as the father of Naval Aviation; the Wrights never really advanced beyond their original vision and their own shortcomings betrayed them as much as anything.

Goldstone does quite a job laying out the cast of characters - a who's who table would be useful - and their motivations, as best as can be inferred at this late date. People like Chanute, Langley, Quimby, Beachy, Herring - names perhaps as not well known, but notable none the less. He covers the garish spectacle of touring flying circuses, and the thousands who would turn out for the spectacle of seeing daring feats of flying skill - and the quite likely event of a fatal crash or two. Venal politicians, financiers, the military, the press; all of these and more are part of the great tale of the early years of Aviation.

It's an engrossing read, and would make one heck of a miniseries. Some of the people were by definition larger than life - even if it was short and fleeting for too many of them. Recommended.


Inside Marine One: Four U.S. Presidents, One Proud Marine, and the World's Most Amazing Helicopter
Inside Marine One: Four U.S. Presidents, One Proud Marine, and the World's Most Amazing Helicopter
by Lee Kelley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.09
72 used & new from $8.54

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insider View of History, and a Great Job to Have, April 6, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Colonel L'Heureux's story is an entertaining tale of a man whose career in the Marines led him to a rather exclusive seat on history. While the cover blurb mentions "the World's Most Amazing Helicopter", the actual story is a bit short on details about the aircraft. "Frenchy" talks a bit about the various helicopters he's flown, but doesn't do a lot of what pilots call hangar flying.

The story is more a biography of the Colonel, describing how he went from being an aviation-mad boy to a Marine, and then a Marine Aviator and Officer. He had tours in several different squadrons of the Marine Corps, but the key sections of the book are about his time in Squadron HMX1, working his way up to be one of the few pilots trusted to fly the President, split between the terms of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He moved on from there and managed to rack up the right career experiences to return to HMX1 as its commander, taking responsibility for the entire operations of the unit - which included piloting for George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

HMX1 is responsible for flying the president and other VIPs when helicopters are part of travel plans - and they nearly always are. This includes flights anywhere around the world; the squadron is responsible for getting its helicopters to wherever they are needed, with all of the logistics that implies. HMX1 is also responsible for testing new technology and tactics for the Marine Corps helicopter operations, and has a fifty year record of unblemished safety to its credit.

The story lacks some excitement - L'Heureux's career never included any combat time for one thing. (An accident of history; his son also became a Marine and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.) Further, the ideal for military aviation is to avoid all unnecessary risk - and never more so than for HMX1 and the fleet of special white top helicopters it flies. And, of course, much of the details of the job understandably are classified. That being said, much of the book is about people; the people who shaped L'Heureux's career, the people he flew with, and the people under his command. You get a sense of how demanding the job is, and the kind of effort it takes to do it.

There's also the peculiar intimacy of the job. Of necessity it involves contact with the President, his family, other VIPs, the press, and the news cycle - and yet it demands total apoliticalness. Of the four presidents L'Heureux served, his most compelling tales are of George W. Bush. The relationship spelled out is kept within strict limits, and yet does have moments that stand out. Presidents remain people, and there's a noblesse oblige that goes both ways. Each President has their own style, and adapting to it is one of the challenges of the job.

The book is a bit thin on some details. While L'Heureux is married and has two children, his family life is hardly mentioned. There are some hints about having to move every so often, putting the kids in different schools, and a schedule that put a lot of the burden of child raising on his wife - but not much beyond that. The focus is on the job. One of the things that comes through is L'Heureux's recognition of how special the job was, and how fortunate he was to be selected for it.

There's one chapter that is largely about HMX1, how unique the squadron is, and what it takes to operate a fleet of helicopters tasked with flying some of the most important people in the world. The strict attention to safety, to maintenance, procedures, squadron morale, and the overriding demands for excellence every day are described in enough detail to paint an impressive picture. Speaking of pictures, the copy I reviewed was an advance copy without anything beyond the cover photograph. The final edition has a section of photographs, and I expect they should add quite a bit to the tale.

All in all, it's an interesting story of one of the most unique flying jobs in the world.


Suave Professionals Men 2 In 1 Anti Dandruff Classic Clean Shampoo and Conditioner, 12.6 Ounce
Suave Professionals Men 2 In 1 Anti Dandruff Classic Clean Shampoo and Conditioner, 12.6 Ounce
Price: $1.98
4 used & new from $1.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Nice combo, April 6, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When I wash what remains of my thinning hair, it's nice to have a product like this that leaves it feeling clean without having all the body stripped out of it. The balance between shampoo and conditioner seems to be just about right for me - and the anti dandruff feature is a bonus which, although I don't really need it, does not seem to add any harshness or unpleasant odor to the mix.

All in all, I'm pleased with the job it does and would recommend it to others.


CamelBak Relay Pitcher, Charcoal/Clear
CamelBak Relay Pitcher, Charcoal/Clear
Price: $31.61
6 used & new from $25.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Filtered Water, the CamelBak Way, March 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I was curious to see how the CamelBak Relay Pitcher would compare with the other filter pitchers we have; so far I'm pleased.

The design of this pitcher is decidedly different. I have the impression CamelBak spent a fair amount of time reviewing what was already in the market before determining how to differentiate themselves - and they have. The filter is completely in the lid, and it's a one-piece two-stage system. There's a flip-up door on top towards the handle secured by a magnet. To fill the pitcher, all you need do is flip it open and let water run in. The inlet filter has a large surface area and once it's gotten wet filters very quickly. The second stage filter is in the outlet flow - water passes through it on its way to the pouring spout. I found the flow rate to be fine.

The lid is secured to the body of the pitcher by flaps on either side that snap into place; a rubber gasket makes a water tight seal between the lid and the pitcher. While I have some questions about how well the snap flaps will hold up over time, in practice the only time you do anything with them is when you have to change the filter - otherwise the top can stay on for months. Wear is not going to be an immediate problem.

The filter comes sealed in plastic which comes off easily enough. Rinsing both sides for 15 seconds before installing is recommended - then just put it in place and snap the top down on it. The instructions claim the filter is good for 80 gallons or 128 full refills of the pitcher - which works out to just over 4 months of one pitcher a day.(10 cups) Run less water through it, it will last longer of course. Filters can be discarded with ordinary household trash.

One of the things I like about this pitcher is that the filter is NOT sitting in the water all the time. As long as you don't overfill it, the only time water comes in contact with it is while being poured in or out. Another thing I like about the pitcher is that the flip up door makes filling it easy - you don't have to take the lid apart. A third feature that's nice is a little dial on top of the filler door that you can turn to the month you installed the filter - and it shows you the next three months as well so you can see when to think about replacing the filter.

I detected no problems with taste or odor - the water coming out is good. I'm currently keeping it on the kitchen counter so it's readily available for cooking water. Depending on your needs, the key factor to consider before buying this pitcher, beyond the initial purchase price, is how much you're going to pay for the filters, and where you can find them. On the whole, I find it quite satisfactory.


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