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Profile for Kevin L. Nenstiel > Reviews


Kevin L. Nenstiel's Profile

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Reviews Written by
Kevin L. Nenstiel "omnivore" RSS Feed (Kearney, Nebraska)

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Peterpan 60" Long Lovable, Fuzzy Plush Snake, with Cute Eyes | Made From High-quality Materials,optimum Hygiene | Whimsical Design Is Extra Cuddly, Perfect for Young Kids 36 Months and Up,green
Peterpan 60" Long Lovable, Fuzzy Plush Snake, with Cute Eyes | Made From High-quality Materials,optimum Hygiene | Whimsical Design Is Extra Cuddly, Perfect for Young Kids 36 Months and Up,green
Offered by Peter Pan Shop
Price: $39.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Great For Kids, or Kid-Hearted Adults, September 1, 2015
= Durability:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:3.0 out of 5 stars 
Length:: 2:45 Mins

I love his googly eyes, his dangling tongue, his generally goofy, bumbling appearance. He reminds me of one of my favorite cartoon characters from one of my favorite childhood animated films. I think small kids, or big kids with a sense of childlike wonder, will love this little guy too.

The manufacturer provided a sample of this toy for review purposes. As always, the opinions are entirely my own.

Sharpwriter 0.7mm Mechanical Pencils, 5-Pack
Sharpwriter 0.7mm Mechanical Pencils, 5-Pack
Offered by Think Fast
Price: $5.14
31 used & new from $0.69

3.0 out of 5 stars Reserve This Pencil Only For Very Light Uses, September 1, 2015
I purchased these pencils for use in the workplace. I work construction, and often need to mark where wood needs cut, or where screws need driven, or whatever. Ballpoint ink just isn't very good for that; in my business, we use pencil.

First I noticed the line this pencil produces is very faint. Fair enough, they're designed for use on white paper, not two-by-fours. That's my problem, not the pencil's. But then I notices the mechanism broke after two days' non-strenuous use. Not just once, either: three pencils in a row broke after two eight-hour workdays.

Sure, these are "only" classroom pencils. But I wasn't useing them under extreme or adverse conditions. They probably saw less strenuous use than they'd see in college-level mechanical drawing, or grade school arts and crafts. They shouldn't die that easily.

I reserved one for use at home, taking notes in a book I'm reading. That one still works fine. So if you only need this pencil for math or English class, it'll probably do yoy fine. But don't take it into woodshop or drawing class. If it couldn't handle my job, it can't handle your project.

Soonhua Rechargeable Home Emergency Automatic Power Failure Light Power Outage Lamps with 13LED US Plug
Soonhua Rechargeable Home Emergency Automatic Power Failure Light Power Outage Lamps with 13LED US Plug
Offered by soonhua2013
Price: $35.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Good Light, Questionable Emergency Light, August 31, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This simple plug-in device has thirteen LED bulbs with two power settings: merely bright and super-bright. You charge it by connecting the two-prong plug to any standard American AC outlet, and when it’s had some time to charge, you can get five hours of light from the “merely” bright setting, which is more than bright enough to read by, cook by, or get underneath your car and check for damages by.

So as a light, it’s good; but here’s where the problem arises. Supposedly, if you have a power failure, this device automatically activates, giving you a powerful emergency light. Well, I haven’t had a power failure since I received this device, so I cannot vouch for that, but as an experiment, I flipped the breaker connected to its power outlet. Nothing. Nada. Zip. The device completely failed to activate, giving me no confidence in an emergency.

Thus, I approve of the light; consider the photos I’ve shared with this review to see just how bright it is. If I need light during an emergency, or if I just want to negotiate a twisting hallway at midnight without turning on a light, I’d consider this a good device. But the promise, partly, was that it would provide me a halo of light the minute power went off, and unless I’m doing something wrong, nope. So it’s a split decision.

This product was provided, at manufacturer expense, in exchange for an honest review. As always, the opinions are exclusively my own.
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Beyond Engagement: A Brain-Based Approach That Blends the Engagement Managers Want with the Energy Employees Need
Beyond Engagement: A Brain-Based Approach That Blends the Engagement Managers Want with the Energy Employees Need
by Brady G. Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.99
15 used & new from $11.42

4.0 out of 5 stars Good Overview, Leaves Certain Questions Unexamined, August 31, 2015
One buzzword has appeared frequently in business guidebooks I've received for review: engagement. Because authors mostly haven't defined that word, I've assumed that derives from topics taught in MBA classrooms. It's definitely something quantifiable, as it entails "engagement scores." Mostly I've shined the topic off as just another opaque metric which management consultants cite to remind us they're more educated than us peons.

Canadian consultant Brady G. Wilson believes engagement, while important, is half the continuum. Early in this book, he describes what he calls The Engagement Paradox: "the more companies focus on engagement, the more disengagement they produce." Having read something similar recently in research psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, I'll buy that. For Wilson, engagement means nothing for workplace teams lacking energy.

And whoopsie, Wilson immediately repeats that frustrating mistake from other business writers: he never defines "energy." Does he intend that workers remain frenetic, bouncy, and gregarious constantly? One recalls Susan Cain's discussion of how MBA programs prefer extroverted applicants, even when they observably don't listen or communicate reciprocally. The term "energy" is broad enough to render conflicting, even contradictory, meanings if left undefined.

Let's postpone that debate, though. Because Wilson otherwise uses sound evidence to make sound, thorough claims about ways leaders can make measurable differences in employee outcomes. He breaks his process down into ten chapters, each summarized by simple, easily memorable bromides: "Manage Energy, Not Engagement." "Trust Conversations, Not Surveys." "Meet Needs, Not Scores." It's hard to dispute Wilson's arguments.

Wilson relies heavily on up-to-date science and field research to describe how stats-driven management styles consistently disappoint, because they don't reach workers where their hearts live. In my favorite chapter, for instance, Wilson explains how too many managers rely upon in-house metrical evaluations to gauge employee engagement, when they should have conversations with their workers. I've said something similar myself previously.

Thus, Wilson crafts something seemingly paradoxical: a data-driven explanation of why smart managers shouldn't over-rely upon data. Instead, wise managers find ways, through face-to-face conversation, managed tension, and shared vision, to encourage employees' energetic investment in corporate outcomes. As Wilson observes, many workers would surprisingly rather have autonomy, flexibility, and strength left for their families, than more pay.

I'll buy all that. Even without any meaningful definition of "energy," Wilson pitches a smart case for how existing management techniques discourage committed workers and reward people who only do the minimum. He also crafts an engaging counter-proposal, a vision of corporate management focused on keeping workers energized, customers happy, and numbers high. He pitches an engaging alternative to today's tightly controlled, essentially meaningless corporatocracy.

I like Wilson's vision, within its parameters. His reliance on actual science, rather than abstract algorithms, makes a refreshing change from other consultancy handbooks. His use of relevant examples from his own portfolio gives his prose an active, personal edge. If you share Wilson's starting premises, many of which remain unvoiced, you'll find plenty to like. Just realize, not every topic he broaches gets explained.

Magnetic Therapy Bracelets (Brushed or Striped Copper) for Men and Women - 99.9% Pure Copper Bangle Holds 6 Rare Earth Magnets to Help Relieve Aches and Pains from Arthritis, Carpal Tunnel and More.
Magnetic Therapy Bracelets (Brushed or Striped Copper) for Men and Women - 99.9% Pure Copper Bangle Holds 6 Rare Earth Magnets to Help Relieve Aches and Pains from Arthritis, Carpal Tunnel and More.
Offered by Prime Products Unlimited
Price: $24.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Good-Quality Metal Alt-Medicine Accessory, August 30, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I don't know if I believe the claims about therapeutic magnets. Some people swear by them, but I cannot vouch whether they're objectively any better than placebos. That said, if you believe the anecdotes, this attractive copper cuff makes both a good-looking accessory and a potentially useful alternative medicine aide.

It's made of a single piece of copper, designed to be opened by gently bending the metal apart by hand, then gently bending it closed around your wrist. The metal is soft enough to be malleable, yet resilient enough that I've worn it out biking or pulling weeds, and it's stayed firmly in place and resisted ordinary wear and tear. All that is to say, it's workable, but durable.

The magnets are placed just right to fit over your pulse points. (Also, if I remember some of my charts, it also corresponds with certain chi lines, but that's really outside my expertise.) Again, I don't know if I believe magnets have medicinal qualities, but I have found wearing this, particularly after a stressful workday, very cooling and relaxing.

Also, it comes in an attractive dark-navy velour gift bag, perfect for storage or for giving as a gift. So, if you want a good-looking accessory that doubles as alternative medicine, or if you just want something that takes a little edge off physical stress and hard work, maybe give this piece a try. I've had good experiences with it, and I'm a cynical skeptic. If you believe, maybe it'll do even better.

The Abduction: A Novel (Carnivia Trilogy, The)
The Abduction: A Novel (Carnivia Trilogy, The)
by Jonathan Holt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.72
100 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The Dark Side of Latin Lovers, August 30, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
An American teenager testing her limits in Venice’s salacious nightlife falls victim to kidnappers. The Carabinieri, Italy’s national police, swings into action, while American Army personnel at controversial Camp Ederle watch. But these aren’t ordinary kidnappers. While the Carabinieri fumble badly, the kidnappers begin transmitting young Mia Elston’s tortures online— tortures that look chillingly familiar to anybody who’s watched the news since 2003.

The second novel in Jonathan Holt’s Carnivia Trilogy, following last year’s The Abomination, treads similar ground while telling an altogether separate story. As before, it spotlights the collision of three worlds: Venice’s sensual nihilism, lingering Cold War repression at Ederle, and the complete shedding of limits in Carnivia, an elaborate website combining elements of Facebook, Silk Road, and Ashley Madison. Holt’s love for secrets and conspiracy continues unabated.

Following events of the previous volume, Carabinieri Captain Kat Tapo finds herself busted to menial tasks. Male colleagues leave vulgar graffiti on her stationhouse locker. Mia Elston’s kidnapping strikes Kat’s empathetic nature, yes, but it also signals an opportunity to redeem herself before the bureaucracy that’s abandoned her. So she contacts two people she believes she can trust, though she previously squandered their good graces altogether.

Lieutenant Holly Boland works the Civilian Liaison desk at Ederle, but keeps an apartment in Venice. Once Kat’s best friend, they had a bitter split, for reasons kept murky until very late. Holly believes her superiors distrust her because she gets along well with Italians, but her problems run far deeper. As Mia Elston’s kidnappers prove elusive, the Army demands Holly’s ability to straddle two cultures, but rising tensions make her situation increasingly perilous.

Daniele Barbo, genius hacker who founded Carnivia, hates everything. Childhood trauma rendered him deeply distrustful of authority, and severe facial scars make every trip outdoors an odyssey. But as it becomes increasingly obvious that Mia’s kidnappers are using Carnivia to coordinate their increasingly brutal crimes, Daniele’s deeply buried compassion stirs; he wants to trust, but has forgotten how. He finds his loyalties torn between two absolute, irreconcilable moral codes.

This tapestry of characters and situations collides violently with the kidnappers, who clearly desire to make some ill-defined point. Mia, a dedicated survivor, begins working her captors’ ideological loyalties, unpacking what makes their barbarity tick. But her kidnappers prove only the surface of a deeper scheme. Powerful, deeply connected interests are using Mia to distract Italian and international forces from a conspiracy dating to the very beginnings of the Cold War.

Jonathan Holt loves playing in the past. Though Ederle’s presence overlooking Venice seems a lingering Cold War ghost, partly outdated now that Venice isn’t the border between NATO and WARSAW, in Holt’s telling, it retains connections to the past, built partly on abandoned Nazi foundations, and present, located centrally for airlifts from North Africa and the Middle East. In Holt’s world, the past is never really gone.

Holt tells a gripping story. While his characters face the absolute implacability of awful people doing terrible things to a defenseless girl, they must persevere through their own interior struggles. Every principal character has scars lingering from the previous novel. Each also faces stubborn rules established by their respective bureaucracies. If our protagonists hope to rescue Mia, they must first overcome their own circumstances.

That said, this novel isn’t perfect. Besides his story, Holt has a point he hopes readers remember, a point regarding how realpolitik creates a gulf between a people’s ideals and its practices. He occasionally stops the narrative to lecture readers about his message, with increasing frequency as the story progresses. If your text has a thesis statement, consider, please, whether you’d rather write nonfiction than a political thriller.

Some early readers have criticized Holt’s storytelling because he views American global involvement very dimly. Some say this story makes America the “bad guy.” I disagree: though American military leadership emerges shamefaced from Holt’s story, so does the Carabinieri, the EU, and the international justice system. Holt, a political liberal but social conservative, clearly dislikes governments broadly. That just happens to include America’s. Anti-state Republicans may find their loyalties torn.

Essentially, Holt wants to cobble a realistic political thriller from a medley of real-world and fictional elements. He mostly succeeds. If he intermittently feels compelled to remind readers how we ought to receive his message, that’s high-handed, but in light of his gripping narrative, forgivable. Because his characters and situations are undeniably engaging, and his lectures short, the story proceeds apace. Overall, the story readers come seeking, they will find.

The Guise of Another
The Guise of Another
by Allen Eskens
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.77

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Promising Premise; Flawed Execution, August 26, 2015
This review is from: The Guise of Another (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A fluke accident kills James Putnam on a midnight Minneapolis byway, everything seems normal. Putnam lived quietly, made no waves, and vanished as noiselessly as he lived. Except a crooked trial lawyer discovers that the deceased isn’t James Putnam. Now disgraced detective Alexander Rupert, busted to Frauds Division, has a genuine mystery to unravel. And fake James Putnam’s lies may only represent the merest shadow of the real horror.

Allen Eskens’ second novel provides an interesting dualism. His concept, about the ways everybody assumes false identities, brims with potential. As Detective Rupert investigates fake Putnam, he also struggles with his own pending corruption investigation. He confronts his possibly unfaithful wife. His wife strives to appear rich, and failing that, strives to act single. Distraught, Rupert vanishes into fake Putnam’s mysterious girlfriend, who appears strangely un-bereaved.

But while Eskens proffers this interesting theme, he writes in very prosaic, declarative tones. Nearly every scene of dialog involves two people in a room. Virtually all exposition comes in blocks, many of which take up entire chapters (which are very short, averaging barely four pages). Eskins describes Rupert’s discovery of his wife’s likely infidelity in the same blunt tones as a witness in a prior chapter describing a fifteen-year-old crime.

This creates tension between Eskens’ smart, rich themes, and his leaden storytelling. Eskens’ press bio says he’s enjoyed a twenty-year defense attorney career, which probably explains plenty. Lawyers strive to excise ambiguity and subjectivity from language, creating something everyone can agree upon as clearly defined, the dialect known as “legal-ese.” In this novel, as in business contracts, all meaning exists, immune from debate, right at the surface.

Not that that’s always bad. This actually serves the subplot regarding Rupert’s pending corruption investigation. Thought caught in an overly broad dragnet, Rupert must nevertheless prove his innocence versus his blatantly corrupt ex-partner. Rupert’s brother Max, a senior detective, coaches Rupert in answering questions in ways that crafty lawyers cannot entrap him later. It forces Rupert into domains of honesty that make him deeply uncomfortable.

But elsewhere, this law-minded approach doesn’t work equally well. Eskens describes a world divided into camps of good and evil. Rupert, a Medal of Valor winner before his disgrace, is undeniably good. Eskens pits him against a ruthless assassin, Drago Basta, who is undeniably bad. Not only does Eskens describe Drago’s ruthless glee in violence, and his first-resort reliance on killing, he explicitly describes Drago as having “no soul.”

Even excepting the theological implications of such nonsense, this Manichean gulf rings hollow. As Eskens unspools Drago’s personal history, I felt remarkable sympathy. Born amid violence, he survived by wits, grit, and refusal to let fear rule him. But after the war ended, the tools that kept him alive proved maladaptive to peacetime. In another novel, possibly by William Morrell, Drago would’ve been the protagonist, or a worthy antihero anyway.

Sadly, this represents Eskens’ entire approach. His story occupies entirely black-and-white ethical space, exemplified by characters’ names. The brother Rupert considers the ultimate barometer of goodness and order is named Max. As James Putnam’s wall of lies collapses, the investigation turns to someone named Jericho Pope. (Men with JP initials are weirdly common.) And Rupert battles Drago Basta, whose name is an obvious cognate for “Dragon Bastard.”

I wanted to like this book. I persevered through Eskens’ laboured prose, perforated with chapters so short you could practically see the camera cuts and crossfades, because I found his premise interesting. I wanted to see how he’d continue unpacking his themes of dishonesty, false faces, and the gap between who we want to be and how others receive us. Eskens’ ideas are, without qualification, quite good.

But his writing is a blunt instrument. He doesn’t tease out the implications of his themes, leading his audience on a journey; he declares the discoveries and their points. At times, as with Drago Basta’s morally ambiguous backstory, Eskens’ attempts to steer our perceptions (“he felt the last trace of his soul leave his body”) made me balk. I wanted to scream: that’s not what your story actually says!

Perhaps this book works for audiences who prefer to exclude ambiguity. Perhaps some readers like being told what to think. But Eskens’ committed core audience reads mysteries and thrillers regularly, and would, I believe, prefer authors who take them on a journey. This is less like exploring Eskens’ world, more like a theme park attraction, everything prescreened and controlled. I reached the end, put the book down, and merely shrugged.

V-LIGHT LED Energy-Efficient Ultra-Slim Desk Lamp with Adjustable Arms (VSL188NC)
V-LIGHT LED Energy-Efficient Ultra-Slim Desk Lamp with Adjustable Arms (VSL188NC)
Price: $39.99
2 used & new from $33.00

5.0 out of 5 stars White Like Sunlight, August 26, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Though the manufacturers advertise this as a desk lamp, I keep mine on my bedside table as a reading lamp. Its 36 bright white LED bulbs create an ambient glow almost the same color as full sunlight, making reading off a white page, or a reflective (non-backlit) surface like a Kindle, much more of a pleasure and much less of an eye strain than reading in yellowish incandescent light. The swing arm has three points of adjustment, and the head rotates a full 180 degrees, making positioning this light for utmost reading clarity both easy and pleasant. And since LED burns less energy than incandescent bulbs, without flooding the room with light as my fluorescent bulbs do, it's great for users like me who want to consume less energy. I consider this device a winning package all around.
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Wagan EL8324 Wagan Tech Solar e Charger Dex
Wagan EL8324 Wagan Tech Solar e Charger Dex
Price: $49.90
6 used & new from $37.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Cheap, Plentiful Power, August 25, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is not the first solar-powered phone charger I've received. It is, however, the first one I've received that works the way I expected. I can set it on my porch when I leave for work in the morning, then plug my phone into it when I get home, and it powers up quickly. This has sufficient power storage that, after I had my phone charged up, I successfully charged two Bluetooth devices, giving me enough power to stream media as I wound down for the evening. As someone always looking for ways to reduce my carbon consumption, I'm already finding this device an attractive option.

Sauder Orchard Hills Night Stand, Carolina Oak Finish
Sauder Orchard Hills Night Stand, Carolina Oak Finish
Price: $72.99
9 used & new from $72.67

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Built, With Readable Instructions, August 25, 2015
Length:: 2:45 Mins

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