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Meeting the Challenge: The Hexagon KH-9 Reconnaissance Satellite (Library of Flight)
Meeting the Challenge: The Hexagon KH-9 Reconnaissance Satellite (Library of Flight)
by Philip Pressel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $37.95
31 used & new from $27.50

4.0 out of 5 stars The Story of Hexagon's Camera, but Not the Whole System, July 3, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
As much as I'd like to read a definitive history of the KH-9 Hexagon photo-reconnaissance satellite, I'm sorry to say that "Meeting the Challenge" is not it.

In fairness, though, it was not intended to be, so I'm reviewing the book that is, not the book that I wish it were.

"Meeting the Challenge" contains tons of fascinating technical and programmatic information about the design, development, test and operations of Perkin-Elmer's photographic payload. But there's little coverage of the rest of the Hexagon system--the spacecraft itself, the "buckets," the launch vehicle, on-orbit operations, film processing and interpretation, etc. It's about the camera system and not much else. It's a part of the story, but not the whole thing.

In comparison with today's high-performance, solid-state digital optical systems (space-based or otherwise), Hexagon's film cameras seem hopelessly archaic, even though they were state-of-the-art when the system was developed and flown. Just imagine a satellite as big as a school bus carrying up to 60 miles of photographic film. The pressurized film path was over 100 feet long, with hundreds of beryllium rollers. While the two rotating stereo cameras scanned the earth below, the film passed across their focal planes at exactly the right speed and angle for blur-free photography. Hexagon's film-handling system seems like a mechanical and electrical nightmare, far too complicated for mere humans to understand. Yet Hexagon had an almost perfect success record in 19 missions between 1971 and 1984 (the program ended on a sad note when the last Hexagon's Titan 34D booster exploded just after liftoff on April 18, 1986).

While "Meeting the Challenge" gave me an in-depth understanding of many parts of Hexagon's camera payload, it left me puzzled about the key technical feature that made the whole system feasible: the "twister." I still don't understand how this mechanical device was able to interface between a rotating camera lens, an oscillating platen and a moving strip of film to assure sharp photos. An appendix includes the twister's patent, but only the drawings. There's no textual explanation of how the danged thing worked, nor any identification of the numbered parts on the drawings. Until I grok the twister I feel that I don't really know Hexagon, and I'm not there yet. BTW, Googling it did not help either.

As a collection of reminiscences of Perkin-Elmer people who worked on the program, "Meeting the Challenge" lacks stylistic, organizational and editorial unity. It's often repetitious, the level of detail about the various parts of the system varies wildly and in some places the personal stories may be a little off-topic. Still, it fills a void in the history of U.S. reconnaissance satellites, and for that alone it belongs on every space enthusiast's bookshelf.

My four-star rating reflects five stars for content (despite the lingering mystery of the twister), and three for presentation.


Yoga[Addict]™ Yoga Full Toe Socks (in 10 Colors), 2 Pairs Value Pack Set
Yoga[Addict]™ Yoga Full Toe Socks (in 10 Colors), 2 Pairs Value Pack Set
Offered by YogaAddict
Price: $28.90

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High-Quality, Well-Made Yoga Socks, June 30, 2015
I’m a huge fan of toe socks. I discovered the original Injinji brand many years ago, and currently have many pairs of them, plus a few from Toesox. They’re my go-to everyday sock. They’re especially great for walking and hiking, where their design provides excellent cushioning while absolutely preventing blisters. They’re a really neat invention.

Now along comes newcomer yoga[addict] and their take on the genre. When the company offered to send me a free sample of their yoga socks in exchange for an honest review, I took them up on it enthusiastically.

These seem to be very well made, high-quality socks. The fabric is quite thin and smooth, unlike some of the others I have that are thicker, rougher and coarser. They fit quite low on the ankle, which may bother some people, but I don’t mind it at all.

Speaking of fit, they come in two sizes, Small/Medium and Medium/Large. While the M/L that I got fits me well (I wear a size 9.5 shoe), I can’t help but think they’re not stretchy enough to fit a men’s size 11 foot, as the sizing guide says. The M/L is quite tight on me, especially in the toes.

The little grippy rubber dots on the bottom of the sole and toes are quite a bit larger and thicker than those on some other brands, and provide so much grip that it almost seems like I’m wearing a bunch of miniature suction cups. YMMV, of course, but I found them incredibly tenacious.

I won’t be using these for walking and hiking, of course, because they can’t be worn with shoes, but they’re great for yoga, barre, working out at the gym or any other activities where you need their comfort and protection. I recommend them highly.


Master of Space
Master of Space
by Arthur C. Clarke
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
12 used & new from $0.90

4.0 out of 5 stars An Earthbound Spaceflight Book, June 24, 2015
The original title of this early Arthur C. Clarke novel, which he wrote in 1947 but did not find a publisher for until 1950, was "Prelude to Space." The 1961 Lancer paperback edition was entitled "Master of Space," presumably just to use the front-cover tagline "The sensational science-fiction bestseller that could make our U.S. astronaut 'Master of Space.'" Ignoring the question of how a book could make an astronaut "master" of anything, the original title was much more fitting, because none of the story (except the last four pages) takes place in space.

When "Prelude to Space" came out, World War II was barely over. Human spaceflight was still an unimaginably distant dream (except for a few dedicated visionaries such as Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev), and only a handful of scientists and engineers knew anything at all about space or what it would take to explore the hostile environment. Certainly the "man in the street" knew nothing whatsoever about spaceflight technology, human or otherwise.

"Prelude to Space" is just what the doctor ordered--an elementary primer on the topic.

Using the tried-and-true technique of an "outsider" character, in this case historian/reporter Dirk Alexson, who is utterly ignorant about the subject at hand and thus has to have everything explained to him in monosyllabic terms, Mr. Clarke elucidates many key concepts of rocketry and space travel in highly readable, understandable fashion, and always with the impeccable scientific accuracy to be expected from an author of his background and stature.

Today's readers will find the book hopelessly dated, of course. No nation ever developed a Sanger-style, rail-launched, two-stage, winged vehicle such as Mr. Clarke envisions--and the nuclear rocket engine that he describes in intimate detail is as yet, and likely will forever be, unrealized. Still, recalling that Mr. Clarke wrote "Master of Space" 10 years before the Soviet Union launched the first artificial earth satellite, the book is remarkable for the breadth and depth of its educational scope.

Unabashedly British in plot, tone and characters (even the putatively American Alexson speaks in British slang--I suspect Mr. Clarke simply was not familiar with U.S. "English" idioms at the time), "Master of Space" is an interesting look at the nascent field of space technology from almost 70 years ago. The story is mostly well-paced, although it does drag a bit in places, and some of the dialogue is stilted and unrealistic, but the book's value as a historical document overrides its few forgiveable shortcomings. Mr. Clarke had not yet earned his full reputation as perhaps the world's foremost science/science fiction author when he wrote this book, but he was well on his way to the top.

The rest, as they say, is history.


Blast-Off At 0300
Blast-Off At 0300
by Hugh Walters
Edition: Hardcover
3 used & new from $65.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Not Just for Young Adults, June 24, 2015
This review is from: Blast-Off At 0300 (Hardcover)
I scored "Blast-Off at 0300" for free from the discard rack at the public library.

The dust jacket was AWOL, so there was no blurb about the story or bio of the author. Being a retired senior citizen, I briefly paused when I saw the logo on the title page--"A Criterion Book for Young People." But then I thought, "Hey, you're as young as you feel, right? And besides, free is free!" Thinking that it might be something like the Tom Swift Jr. Books that I devoured voraciously when I was growing up (a process many would say I've never finished), I tucked it under my arm between a couple of other books more appropriate for my advanced years and crept furtively out of the library.

Well, I'm pleased to say that "Blast-Off at 0300" is excellent by any standards, juvenile or adult. Its only noticeable concession to a "young people" audience is that protagonist Christopher Godfrey, a student in the British equivalent of a U.S. high school, is just 17 years old. Thanks to his small physical stature (the better to squeeze inside a rocket nose cone), young Mr. Godfrey finds himself caught up in an adventure that will soon take him where no man has gone before. Aided by quintessentially British characters including scientists, laboratory directors and an RAF Wing Commander with a handlebar moustache and a heart of gold, Godfrey undergoes an extensive training regimen to prepare for a top-secret mission at the Commonwealth Rocket Research Establishment in Woomera, Australia. But a Communist spy on the staff at Woomera has other ideas, and will stop at nothing to sabotage the mission.

If that sounds like a plot that might fit a book for any age, it is indeed. I was right, almost, in my initial thought that "Blast-Off at 0300" might resemble the old Tom Swift Jr. books. It does, but only in the most superficial way. The biggest difference is the accurate science in the former as opposed to highly improbable inventions in the latter.

Published in 1958, just after the Soviet Union ushered in the Space Age, "Blast-Off at 0300" is filled with a remarkable amount of dead-accurate scientific, technical and engineering details about spaceflight. As I read it, I tried to adopt the mindset that I would have had as a youngster at the time it appeared, and I concluded that I would have learned a LOT from it. Who knows, if I had read it back then, it might have been yet another strong influence on my choice of a career in aerospace engineering.

"Blast-Off at 0300" offers a snapshot of an earlier, simpler time when few people knew anything about spaceflight, no one had cell phones and the earth was far less crowded and polluted than it is today. Its worth reading for those reasons alone. But it also offers an excellent, painless (if abbreviated) scientific education that I suspect many readers today could benefit from.


303 (30324) Rubber Seal Protectant - 3.4 fl. oz.
303 (30324) Rubber Seal Protectant - 3.4 fl. oz.
Price: $8.94

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seems to Do the Job, June 7, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Here in the relentlessly sunny, throat-parchingly arid, sand-blasted desert Southwest, you can practically watch the soft parts of your new car deteriorate before your very eyes. That's a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but the harsh climate surely takes its toll on tires, belts, windshield wipers, plastic cladding and door seals. I'm always looking for ways to rejuvenate these items on my four cars, so I eagerly ordered this 303 Rubber Seal Protectant when Amazon offered it as a Vine selection.

Applying the protectant from the 3.4-ounce plastic bottle is simplicity itself--simply shake it up, dab it onto your seals or weatherstripping with the integral foam applicator, let it dry and apply it again if necessary. It dries almost instantly (low humidity might have something to do with that). There's no muss, no fuss, and no messy cleanup. The foam applicator is the perfect size for precision targeting, so you'd have to be really thumb-fingered to slop it over onto your car's finish or interior bits.

But does it work? Well, my jury is still out. The rubber door weatherstripping that I tested it on does look shinier and a little newer, and it seems to have regained some softness and flexibility. As for how long the improvement will last--I'll just have to wait to find out.

Also, a problem I've had with Armor-All and other similar products it that surfaces I use them on attract the pervasive desert dust as though I'd coated them with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil that never dries. To find out if this product does the same, I'll have to await the next dust storm--which is probably not long in coming.

This 303 Rubber Seal Protectant does a reasonable job at what its designed to do, and offers great convenience in a handy, user-friendly package. If you use it regularly as directed, you can restore a bit of temporary newness to your cars, boats or other vehicles. There's no reason not to give it a try.


The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer: An Unpretentious Guide to Craft Beer
The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer: An Unpretentious Guide to Craft Beer
by Ashley V. Routson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.53
56 used & new from $13.77

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding One-Volume Craft Beer Resource, June 7, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I collect all the books I can find on certain subjects, such as spaceflight, experimental aircraft, World War II battles--and beer. "The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer" is the latest book on craft beer that I've added to my library, and it's a great one. If someone were to slam me up against a wall, hold a gun to my head and force me to get rid of all but five of my beer books, this one would be near the top of my list of those to keep.

My interest in craft beer began virtually at the same time the first modern American brewpub opened in the 1980s (Bert Grant's in Yakima, Washington). In addition to visiting hundreds of breweries and brewpubs across the country since then, I've read most of the other books that deal with the subject.

In "The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer," author Ashley Routson offers a uniquely broad and deep treatment of one of my favorite interests.

It's as good a one-volume compendium of concise, complete and accurate information on the world of craft beer as any others I've seen. In this attractive, well made and visually stunning volume, every word of text contributes to the whole. There's not a wasted syllable. Text-heavy, but with a good balance of excellent color photos, this is the beer book to have if you only want to have one.

Speaking of balance, Ms. Routson also perfectly balances her subject matter. She covers the obligatory topics of beer styles, history, the brewing process, sensory evaluation, food and beer pairings, and cooking with beer, and all at just the right level of detail. Each style description includes strength and bitterness range, a brief description, color, aroma, mouthfeel, appropriate type of serving glass, food pairings, historical comments and a list of specific beers to try that exemplify the style. I found it heartening--and somewhat validating--that many of my favorite beers show up on these lists.

A short chapter on using beer in cocktails offers thoughts and recipes on a subject not often covered in other beer books. Forty pages of wonderful food recipes cover the topic of cooking with beer, with many gorgeous color photos guaranteed to make you salivate.

I really like "The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer." I recommend it highly if you want to improve your knowledge of the subject, regardless of whether your interest is just casual or certifiably geeky. Even if you already have other beer books in your library, this is a great one to add. You're sure to learn something new from it.

Cheers for craft beer!


Now Designs Placemats, Disko Honey, Set of 4
Now Designs Placemats, Disko Honey, Set of 4
Price: $15.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh!, June 2, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
What can a reviewer say about placemats?

These are a little unusual in that their circular form factor doesn't match typical arrangements of dishes, glasses and utensils. But that's not a problem, because they're plenty big enough to accommodate onboard all but perhaps the largest, most formal place settings. Putting dishes on them off-center, nearer the diner, adds a bit of dynamic tension to the table.

Since they're made of 100% polypropylene, they're not suitable to use beneath hot items such as casseroles straight from the oven. They'd hold a huge tub of potato salad, though.

They're very lightweight and thin, and thus quite flexible. They also tend to slide around a little, depending on the type of tablecloth they're used on. They have a highly textured surface that seems to me would be tough to clean of the inevitable food and drink spills, but I couldn't force myself to deliberately soil one of them just to try to remove the stain. I suspect that energetic scrubbing, if necessary, will probably suffice to clean them.

I probably wouldn't buy these placemats in a store, but, as a Vine selection, I find them to be an interesting and fairly practical design that does the job. If their style, shape and color range fit in with your home decor, there's no reason why you shouldn't pick some up.


Lumsing®17W 2-Port 5V 3.4A USB Wall Charger for iPhone6 plus/6, iPad air2/1,ipad mini3/2 , Samsung Galaxy S6 / S6 Edge, Nexus, HTC M9, Motorola, LG and More (grey)
Lumsing®17W 2-Port 5V 3.4A USB Wall Charger for iPhone6 plus/6, iPad air2/1,ipad mini3/2 , Samsung Galaxy S6 / S6 Edge, Nexus, HTC M9, Motorola, LG and More (grey)
Offered by ATC LLC
Price: $29.99
2 used & new from $8.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Just What I Was Looking For!, May 26, 2015
This compact little two-port USB wall charger, which I received free from the manufacturer in return for an honest review, is just what I was looking for. Now I can charge both my wife's iPad and my Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 using just one electrical outlet. Since we always have other demands on our kitchen outlets, being able to free one up is great.

I've tried multi-port chargers before, most recently a four-port unit, but it didn't work well for me. Apparently the charging current at each port was too low for efficient charging, and it didn't seem to work for my tablet at all.

This Lumsing unit, however, handles two devices with aplomb. Heavy for its size, it seems very well made, and is finished in an attractive pale blue coating that feels almost like finely textured rubber. I've never seen such a pedestrian device look more elegant. The folding electrical prongs snap in and out of their stowed and deployed positions with firm authority, and the two USB ports, legibly labeled 2.4A and 1A, are tight and precise. The unit doesn't block the other outlet in a two-outlet electrical receptacle when it's plugged in, and it has current-limiting "Intelligent Charging" safety features that prevent damage to any devices plugged into it.

I'm delighted with this Lumsing dual-port USB wall charger. If you'd like to reduce your clutter of power cords while adding a touch of elegance, pick up a couple of these today.


BlackMountainProductsResistanceBand,Orange
BlackMountainProductsResistanceBand,Orange
Price: $12.60
2 used & new from $10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seems Fine for What It Is, May 24, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
What can a reviewer say about a piece of rubber cord?

Never having used an exercise band before, I went into this experience completely cold, so I offer my observations as a rank novice.

This band seems very well made. The handles attach to the band through sturdy metal grommets that look like they'll never come loose. Black rubber sleeves over the joints add a finished look. Clad in thin sponge rubber over plastic cores, the grips are thick enough to grasp easily, and the textured rubber provides for a firm grip even with sweaty hands. The straps that attach the grips to the band have no loose stitching or sharp edges, and the sewing is tight. On the down side, the band exudes a strong, unpleasant chemical odor, but I'm sure that'll go away after a short time here in the dry Southwestern desert air.

Overall, this band, along with the included door anchor, appears to be a high-quality product.

The "Exercise & User Guide" that comes in the package explains how to use the band, and of course it includes the obligatory cautions, warnings and legal disclaimers ("Always use safety glasses..."). The step-by-step instructions feature small but useful black-and-white photos of each exercise. You can find many more exercises, including the lower-body ones that I was particularly interested in but that are not in the User Guide, on the Black Mountain Products website.

This Black Mountain Products band adds a new option to my exercise regimen, and I expect it to see a lot of use. Based on this sample, I'm very satisfied with the brand and the product.


ViewSonic VG2860MHL-4K  28-Inch 4K Ultra HD LED Monitor (3840x2160, 60Hz, 2ms, 20M:1 DCR, Dual HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, MultiPicture)
ViewSonic VG2860MHL-4K 28-Inch 4K Ultra HD LED Monitor (3840x2160, 60Hz, 2ms, 20M:1 DCR, Dual HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, MultiPicture)
Price: $583.86
19 used & new from $583.86

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I'd Be REALLY Disappointed If I'd Bought It, May 23, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This big monitor comes wrapped in anti-static paper and snugly nestled in Styrofoam inserts in the obligatory easy-to-carry cardboard box with an integrated plastic handle, which I wouldn't trust to actually schlep the thing around with. Loose plastic bags hold the base ring, the power cable, instructions and a software disk, and the connection cables. While the Quick Start Guide shows five different cables you can use to hook up the monitor to the computer, and one more to connect it to a phone or tablet, only four cables come with it (in addition to a speaker cable). If you need a USB-to-USB cable, or the honkin' big DVI one with the thumbscrews on the sides of each connector, you'll have to supply your own.

Using the graphical Quick Start Guide, setup was a breeze with my six-month-old HP desktop system. I unplugged my old 23-inch HP monitor, plugged this one in using the same cable, glanced around for loose wires and commenced the smoke test. The display came on fine, with no need to install drivers (the included DVD contains nothing that you need to get this bad boy up and running).

That's when my disappointment began. The first thing that showed up was a message to set my display resolution to 3980 by 2160 pixels "for best picture quality." Well, I can't do that. Despite how new my system is, and its top-of-the-line specifications, the highest resolution my graphics card will support is 1920 by 1080 pixels. When I try to go higher. I get a message that it exceeds the available bandwidth. So I'm stuck with using this monitor at a reduced resolution from its capabilities. That may explain why it's as blurry as hell.

But that doesn't explain why the display is, to be charitable, crappy in many other ways. I adjusted all the brightness, contrast, sharpness, color temperature and other controls, and the display is still poor. It looks washed out under all room lighting conditions--conditions under which my original HP monitor was crisp, sharp, contrasty and brilliant. Maybe it's my system or video card or driver or something besides the monitor. But, if so, then this monitor is a long way from the "plug-and-play" standard. Using it makes my eyes start to ache within minutes.

In desperation, I RTFM'ed the User's Manual on the DVD. It said to look in the "Software" directory on the DVD for optional software. "Maybe there's a driver or something in there that'll improve the display," I thought. But there's no "Software" directory on the DVD. There's not much on it other than PDF documentation in dozens of languages. Strike two.

In addition to the washed out, blurry display, two things about this monitor really bug me. First is the buttons that control the clunky on-screen menus. Recessed under the front of the screen, they're tiny, the embossed legends on the bezel are impossible for my aging-baby-boomer eyes to read without a flashlight--and the power switch is the same kind of button located in the same place! I lost track of how many times I accidentally turned off the power while fumbling around for an adjustment button. This is the opposite of the "full ergonomic functionality" (whatever that means) that ViewSonic brags about in its ads.

Second, the integrated speakers suck. Sound quality was not important to me when I bought my new computer because I mainly use it for writing and graphics, not gaming, music or videos, so I bought the cheapest set of speakers I could find in Best Buy, Well, my $15 speakers sound like Carnegie Hall compared to the ones built into this monitor.

The multi-picture (up to four video sources) and picture-in-picture functionality is pretty cool, if you need such a thing, but I suspect most potential purchasers would not find it that useful. I have not tested its interface to an iPad or Android tablet, but I have no reason to believe that the display would be any better.

Techies may be able to fiddle around with the hardware and/or software to improve the display, but the casual user shouldn't have to jump through hoops to get decent image quality. You may need to buy a new graphics card to tap this monitor's highest resolution (as you probably would for any other similar monitor, of course, so that's not a downcheck for this one). Finally, there are some boneheaded interface quirks that users simply shouldn't have to put up with in modern computer systems, and especially not in a monitor at this price point.

I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, given that I got this monitor free through the Amazon Vine program. But my obligation as an honest, ethical reviewer is to call `em as I sees `em, and I sees this monitor as not worth the cost. All things considered, I'd recommend looking elsewhere if you're in the market for this kind of monitor.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 1, 2015 10:53 AM PDT


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