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Matthew T. Weflen "Matthew Weflen" RSS Feed (Chicago, IL)
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Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray] (2012)
Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray] (2012)
DVD ~ Alfred Hitchcock
Price: $113.99
63 used & new from $99.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great set with some significant flaws, October 23, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
***Content***

I won't spend a lot of time discussing content. These are Hitchcock's US films that are currently held by Universal Studios. Is it a complete catalog of Hitchcock's classics? No. Missing are "The Wrong Man," "Notorious," "Dial M For Murder," and "Strangers on a Train," among others. But this set does contain his very best: Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, North By Northwest (under license from WB), Rope, Shadow of a Doubt, etc.

The question, content-wise, is whether you would be justified purchasing this set when the much cheaper "Essentials" collection contains the first five of the very best films listed above. I think the answer depends on what sort of fan you are. If you want the cream of the crop and aren't particularly interested in diving in to his lesser-known catalog and watching his evolution as a film-maker both before and after that peak period, then save yourself seventy bucks and pick up the "Essentials" set. They're exactly the same discs, albeit with cheaper packaging. But if you really want to learn about movies, and be entertained, and watch a prolific director change with the times, this set still provides a lot of value for the dollar. Fifteen movies at an average of seven or eight dollars apiece is a pretty healthy bargain.

Extras are copious on the "greats" and bit less so on the catalog pieces. Almost all of them are ported over from prior DVDs, and so are low-res letterboxed/pillarboxed presentations. Sigh.

***Packaging***

The set is contained in a relatively sturdy box, and includes a nice softcover book of about 60 pages that shows movie posters, production drawings, and contains some info about each movie. The binder containing the discs is a bit more problematic. Each disc gets its own page in the binder, with graphics similar to the packed in book. But the sleeves are quite flimsy. Where, say, the Star Wars set or the Alien Anthology set were made of thick foam boards that housed each disc, these are very thin paperboard sleeves. Several of my sleeves have already started to let discs slip through the bottom where the glue should be stronger, as opposed to holding the discs securely inside. So although the box, book, and binder are all quite handsome from a graphical standpoint, the binder ends up coming off cheap.

***A/V Quality***

These video transfers are a real mixed bag. A few of them rank up with the best blu-ray discs from similar periods: Vertigo, North By Northwest, and The Trouble With Harry each offer superb detail, rich color, and a very film like experience. Others like Rear Window and Rope are pretty good, but suffer from strange digital noise owing to the way these prints were processed. Some, though, are absolutely wretched. Family Plot and Frenzy are edge-enhanced messes crawling with strange digital noise but also smoothed to heck with DNR. The Man Who Knew Too Much offers up totally bizarre colors, with several actors looking gray and ashen.

Audio is mostly excellent. When soundtracks have been "upgraded" to 5.1 channel, they sound respectful and accurate. When we have stereo or mono tracks, dialogue is clear and no undue noise seems evident.

***Conclusion***

This is a great set, and will be thoroughly enjoyed by Hitchcock fans and fans of great cinema. But it has some serious flaws. The packaging stinks and fully a third of the movies look terrible by the standards set by other Blu-Ray transfers of movies from the 30s through the 70s. As long as a customer goes in knowing this, I think tey will ultimately be satisfied.


Mega Bloks First Builders Fast Tracks Raceway
Mega Bloks First Builders Fast Tracks Raceway
Offered by TheNewMall
Price: $22.04
9 used & new from $22.04

3.0 out of 5 stars Decent set with some irritating flaws, October 14, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
On the plus side, the cars are neat, and they are reminiscent (probably intentionally) of the Pixar car characters, which ought to please the toddler set. Our son enjoyed playing with them and racing them down the ramps. There are a lot of pieces, giving the builder flexibility in creating stands for the ramps, or even bridges, since there are four of the ramp connector pieces included.

There are a few flaws with this set, though.

First of all, don't let the box fool you, there is no container for these pieces. So you're on your own when you want to put it away. Secondly, I'm not a big fan of including stickers. It's clearly just a cost saving strategy by the company. Have you ever tried to apply tiny little stickers to blocks in the presence of a 3 year-old? Thirdly, the instructions follow a really weird convention in which the prior steps' blocks are grayed out, presumably to make things easier to follow, but in fact making it difficult to see where the current step's blocks go. Also, the instructions are small photographs taken from a strange angle, and would be somewhat difficult to follow even without the odd color scheme. The suggested configuration of blocks isn't terribly stable, using small "one dot" blocks next to each other as supports, which is never very sturdy.

So all in all, I give this set 3 stars, meaning an "OK," average, middle of the road toy. A box and better instructions would have made it a 4. Better customized pieces with paint instead of stickers would have made it a 5.


Kobi Electric K8L6 6-watt (40-Watt) Straight Tip Candle LED 2700K Warm White Indoor Candelabra Light Bulb, Dimmable
Kobi Electric K8L6 6-watt (40-Watt) Straight Tip Candle LED 2700K Warm White Indoor Candelabra Light Bulb, Dimmable
Price: $13.94
4 used & new from $12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb light dispersal on an otherwise average LED candelabra bulb, October 10, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Kobi Straight Tip Candle LED is an E12 "Candelabra" base bulb with a tall tip. AS far as build quality goes, this seems nice enough, though the top point has a slightly rough edge instead of a smooth taper (only really noticeable on the finger, not by sight). Heat generation is present but negligible compared to CFL and incandescent candelabra bulbs. The bulb is dimmable to about 10% brightness, which is typical for most current generation LEDs.

Using a Kill-A-Watt meter, this bulb measured in at 5.9 watts used with a power factor of 82. This means that you are getting 77 lumens per watt, a good solid number considering this current generation of LED bulbs.

Where this bulb really shines (so to speak) is in light dispersal. The dispersal is really even and wide, much better than the Lighting Ever LEDs I currently have in my ceiling fan. It's really best of breed from what I've see of LED candelabra bulbs.

Definitely recommended.


Contigo Cortland Water Bottle, 24-Ounce, Greyed Jade
Contigo Cortland Water Bottle, 24-Ounce, Greyed Jade
Price: $12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Durable, quiet, svelte, October 9, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I am replacing a Nalgene Tritan OTG BPA free bottle, which had a fragile cap (it broke within a year or so of light use). My typical use case for a water bottle is while teaching, needing water for wetting my whistle so that I can keep speaking. So I want to replicate the function of the Nalgene (easy one handed drinking, no noise, not too large) and still have a dishwasher safe bottle that won't break.

I am already more confident in the durability of this bottle. There is no hinge, which was the failure point of the Nalgene's cap. The Contigo has a very sturdy screw top that seems immune to the kind of breakage that dropping or jostling the bottle might create. There is a spring mechanism with the spout seal, but it is entirely contained inside the cap, so I think it will last long term.

As far as drinking goes, the Contigo makes no sucking noise (as some straw based bottles like Camelbak do). When the button is depressed, water flows through by gravity, requiring no extra effort by the drinker.

This may not be the ideal exercise bottle because of the need for a button press, and because of the relatively small spout width. But for what I need: secure, durable water conveyance in a conversational setting, it really fits the bill.


Transformers Asia Kids Day Protectobots Evac Squad 2-Pack
Transformers Asia Kids Day Protectobots Evac Squad 2-Pack
Price: $32.99
3 used & new from $32.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Really fiddly and fragile, lackluster instructions, October 9, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Protectobots Evac Squad 2 pack is an interesting beast. The vehicles themselves look really cool. They are very realistic portrayals of a fire truck and a helicopter. It's when you start to transform them that things fall apart (so to speak). The included instructions (I suggest laminating them and posting them on the wall, because if you lose them, you're TOAST) make Ikea instructions look comprehensive - vague arrows indicate directions of movement on very tiny drawings, with no text to help you out. Many steps take several minutes of jiggling and trying to interpret these runes without breaking the toy in the attempt. The truck is easier by far to transform than the helicopter, which has many small pieces that don't move as easily and the instructions would have you believe.

Were Transformers this hard when I was a kid? I don't remember them this way. I had the cassette player, Optimus Prime, one of the Decepticon jets, and maybe the VW bug, and it seemed to me as though every piece that needed to move one way or another was much larger, and much less fragile.

Overall, as an erstwhile fan of the originals from my grade school days, I was disappointed. As far as kids go, the 6+ age recommendation should be viewed as an absolute minimum. With as difficult and fragile as the helicopter is, I'd say 8 and up unless your kid has exceptional patience, manual dexterity, and pictography interpretation skills.


Fisher-Price Imaginext Ion Alien Headquarters
Fisher-Price Imaginext Ion Alien Headquarters
Price: $14.33
7 used & new from $14.33

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun elements appeal to toddlers and up, not too big, October 8, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This toy definitely appeals to the 3-5 set. It has lots of neat little doo-dads for kids to turn around, make the included spaceman climb into and out of, and move around. I particularly like the fact that this toy isn't as large as it appears in the image - it's more the size of say a small truck (perhaps 12 by 6 inches around the perimeter) than some large, floor-dominating playset. As such, it's easy to stash out of the way. My only real reservation is the inclusion of a gun for the spaceman, but I suppose that's more a commentary on society than on this toy.


Nokia Lumia 1020, White 32GB (AT&T)
Nokia Lumia 1020, White 32GB (AT&T)
Price: $339.99
7 used & new from $169.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb build quality and very good OS, October 6, 2014
I am writing this smartphone review from the perspective of someone who has only had a Windows Phone in his personal pocket, but I have plenty of experience with my wife's iOS and Android phones. I came from a Nokia Lumia 900, which was my first smartphone, running WP7.8, to this phone. I purchased it last week for $50 on 2-year contract from AT&T (the phone came out in mid-2013).

BUILD QUALITY

If you want your phones to feel like luxury products, this is definitely one to get. No parts of this phone creak or bend in any way. The polycarbonate shell is substantial and doesn't give in the slightest. It has a slight matte texture which feels really nice in the hand. The screen is covered with Gorilla Glass 3, which in addition to being scratch resistant is oleophobic, which I love (I hate fingerprints/earprints on touchscreens). The screen itself is a 4.5" AMOLED, and it features absolutely perfect black levels, super rich colors (which can be dialed down in the OS), and great daylight visibility. The screen tapers to an edge-less and gap-less fit with the polycarbonate shell, giving it a very luxe feel, as if it were all carved from a single block of material. The camera on the rear protrudes (it is made of black aluminum), but not overly so in a pocket - the phone feels surprisingly svelte, in fact (it is thinner overall, excepting the camera bulge, than the Lumia 900). The micro-USB port on the bottom is very grippy and clicky with the cable, which is a big improvement for me over the 900, which always seemed to pop off.

CAMERA

The camera has both a Xenon and an LED flash, much like a point-and-shoot, and they provide superior light fill to any other smartphone flash. In terms of picture quality, the camera easily beats most point and shoot cameras in indoor settings, and comes close to rivaling a DSLR in outdoor settings. It has the added benefit over dedicated -point-and-shoot cameras of allowing onboard photo editing and social media sharing. 1080p video is excellent.

BATTERY LIFE

I have easily been getting a day's use out of the 2,000 mAh battery, and the included power management utility really helps this even more. I'm at 64% right now after 10 hours of up time, and that has included a fair amount of texting, one half hour phone call, reading several Bing News Reader articles, browsing and commenting on Facebook, and taking a few pictures (and editing them on board). On days with lighter use, it is easy to go through the whole day without dipping below 75%. I am sure this will degrade over time, but starting off this way is nice. This phone does not have an easy user-serviceable battery, but it can be done. Given how great this phone is otherwise, I think I just may attempt it myself in 2-3 years time.

WINDOWS PHONE 8.1 OS

The Windows Phone OS has been a joy to use since it went "metro" a few years ago. Yes, the Metro UI stinks for a laptop. But it sure doesn't for a phone. The live tile interface allows quick and easy access to anything, with rich data display in unused programs, and it runs smooth as butter on any hardware. Windows Phone 8.1 fixes basically every flaw that Windows Phones 7 and 8 had. It has a personal assistant, notification center, independently adjustable volumes and app permissions, myriad sizing options for live tiles, a kid's mode that locks down phone functions, a much more robust calendar, a much better version of Internet Explorer (at parity with a desktop version and including a nice "reading mode" that zooms text and eliminates navigation fru-fru), better management of external email clients, a file manager (downloadable as an extra app from Microsoft), full MS office support, and integration/syncing with the Windows 8.1 News, Weather, Food, and Health apps, and so on. I LOVE the Data Sense, Storage Sense, and Power Saver utilities. Much like an Android phone/tablet, it tracks the usage of every program for data, storage, and power, and it allows you to alter each program's permissions with a simple long press. The App situation is much improved, too, with a really good Facebook program, as well as other popular apps like Twitter, Instagram, Flipboard, Vine, Amazon, Kindle, and so on. The only 3rd party app I've had to turn to is MetroTube for Youtube videos, which is SUPERB. It's better than the Android-native YouTube, if you ask me. There is also a highly rated free 3rd party GoogleMaps app called GMaps+, but I've found Nokia's own Maps program to be quite adequate.

All in all, I think this is a superb phone ecosystem for someone who wants a simple, smooth OS and high value productivity apps, but doesn't want all the complexity, fuss and hassle of iOS or Android. I bought the Lumia 900 because I wanted a smartphone to check work emails and I didn't want to pay an arm and a leg. I wasn't interested in a million and one apps, and I vastly prefer gaming on a device like the PS Vita. Well, as my smartphone tastes have broadened, I have found good use for news readers (my favorite is actually Microsoft's own Bing News Reader), reference websites (especially Wikipedia and IMDB), and photography on a phone. I feel like WP8.1 easily has my needs covered. I am not a Google or Apple services user, so whatever lack of integration this phone has with those ecosystems doesn't trouble me. WP8.1 does have a fine email client which can handle Google as well as Yahoo, iCloud, and any POP account you throw at it, though I will say it lags in terms of archiving messages - to run light, it only keeps seven days worth of messages at a time. But whatever, I've got a PC for archived email. Interface with a Windows PC is easy as pie. The free Windows Phone 8 desktop program is good for syncing, but you can also drag and drop directly into the file structure from the regular old file explorer.

For what it's worth, I think WP8.1 has at least another year or two of life left in it. It remains to be seen what Windows 10 will mean for this ecosystem. Hopefully, Microsoft will make a big effort to either let the current gen of 8.1 phones migrate to the new OS, or it will try to make WP10 easily backward compatible.

CONCLUSION

I would never pay four hundred dollars (or more) for a phone. My strategy has been to get something a year after release for fifty beans or less. But I definitely feel like I'm getting a four-hundred-dollar-plus experience with the Lumia 1020. If you're an Android or iOS partisan, there's probably nothing that's going to sway you. But to those with an open mind and a desire to save some dough, you really should give the Lumia line a look. You might really like your Windows Phone experience, especially with such stellar hardware.


ALEX Toys - ALEX Junior, My Busy Fire Truck Baby Activity Center with (8) Activities, 1997F
ALEX Toys - ALEX Junior, My Busy Fire Truck Baby Activity Center with (8) Activities, 1997F
Offered by My Hobby Place & Toys
Price: $36.59
15 used & new from $30.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solidly built, lots of doo-dads, good for kids 6 months to 3 years, October 4, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
We have two children, both boys, one turning 3 (today!) and one at two months. We got this toy as a pre-emptive plaything for our youngest, but our 3 year-old also had a fun time fiddling with all the various elements. I imagine he'll have moved on within a month or two, but I think this toy is really good for any kid between say 6 months (sitting up, grasping well) through 2-3 (imaginative play). When it comes to older kids, it really just depends on how picky they are. Some will probably reject it outright as a "baby toy," but our son is pretty liberal when it comes to what he'll play with. Your mileage may vary.

Not pictured on the box is the other side of the truck, which includes several "spinners" with a picture on each side (of fire-fighting dogs and cats). The rear of the truck has a large spinning wheel with one quarter cut out, that reveals an image (hydrants, axes, etc.).

The build quality is very nice. Solid wood, good hinges and axles, nice sturdy wires on the top. It doesn't make any electronic noise or need any batteries, which we're fans of. I don't anticipate this breaking any time soon even with vigorous play. There was a sticker that was rather difficult to remove on the front mirror, but that's really the only flaw on this toy.


OXO Easy Press Stainless Steel Soap Dispenser
OXO Easy Press Stainless Steel Soap Dispenser
Price: $15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Good design, nice pump action, October 1, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This soap dispenser is thoughtfully designed. The conical shape does a pretty good job of keeping the dispenser rooted on its surface. I would personally prefer it to be a bit smaller on the base, but this is only because the place I want to put it is a narrow perch on a pedestal sink, so by no means would I deduct a star for this. The pump action is good, and I like very much that one press only gives you about a lima bean-sized dollop of soap. Too much soap in a press is wasteful and annoying, in my opinion. Styling is subjective, of course, but I think it is modern and clean looking. It ought to go well in all but a really old-timey bathroom or kitchen decor. I do think this is a wee bit pricey, but not egregiously so.


Bowling Fundamentals 2nd Edition
Bowling Fundamentals 2nd Edition
by Michelle Mullen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.58
47 used & new from $10.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complete, informative, highly readable primer for amateur bowlers, September 30, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I have enjoyed bowling since my mom was in a league and put me into a kids league that played at the same alley (you know, AKA babysitting). Over the years, my average has fluctuated between say 125 and 150. High enough not to embarrass myself, but not really high enough to compete without a handicap. I am a right-handed, straight-shooting bowler with a 4-step approach.

This book is terrific. It proceeds very logically, from ball weight, to 4 or 5 step approach, to backswing, release, spare shooting, lane etiquette, everything you could imagine. Writing about bowling (or any kinesthetic activity) is a challenge, but videos don't really cut it as teaching tools, either, since it is difficult to reference particular ideas quickly. Mullen really does a yeoman's job at describing physical movements in a straightforward manner, and choosing pictures that really relate to said descriptions. Her style is not overloaded with jargon or technicality, either. This book is approachable, but complete. I really like how her style is personal, too. She often refers to her own coaching experience, which makes this feel like more than just a manual or "For Dummies" book.

Basically, if you're like me, someone who loves bowling but hasn't yet really dived into rigorously improving your game, I can't imagine a better jump-start for the process. Highly recommended.


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