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The Theory of Everything (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
The Theory of Everything (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
DVD ~ Eddie Redmayne
Price: $24.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life of the icon, December 8, 2014
Stephen Hawking, imprisoned within his own body and confined to his wheelchair, has become this generation's icon of physics. Einsteins unkempt frizz and bushy moustache still hold their place in today's culture. Still, Hawking's image and prosthetic voice are known far beyond the circles in which his works are actually read and studied. So, it's a real pleasure to get a look at the frail and fallible human lives that support his brilliant research.

This movie is said to be based on a book by Jane, his wife of many years. As such, it's hardly a surprise that she comes across as a powerful figure - not a dominant one, but the bedrock that supported Stephen for so many years. I really can not imagine the strength of character it must have taken to watch his medical tragedy unfold, year after year, knowing that only worse lay ahead. I can't know what actually passed between Stephen and Jane, but I can't fault either one for their eventual split.

But, this focus on their personal lives omitted many important episodes of Stephen's life and career - not to mention the science, which earned next to no mention at all. Perhaps that's for the best. So many of Stephen's professional milestones are already well documented. This has a different goal: to study Stephen's human side. Not his robotic voice, not his epochal science, but the things he has in common with anyone else. Without threatening his iconic status, it makes his life more approachable.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the incredible performances of Felicity Jones as Jane, but especially of Eddie Redmayne as Stephen. I know that Hollywood has many ways of making people seem to be what they're not. They can't do what Redmayne did, though, in capturing and presenting the gradual decline of ALS. As much as such awkwardness and tragedy can be beautiful, he did a beautiful job.


Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms
Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms
by Becky Selengut
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.63
40 used & new from $18.71

5.0 out of 5 stars Fungi for fun guys, December 8, 2014
This big, beautiful volume provides a wealth of information about culinary mushrooms, collected in the wild or store-bought. It begins with general introductory information, including cleaning them (esp from the wild), drying, and other basics. Then, chapter by chapter, it goes over the specifics of each kind: special considerations and substitutes, as well as a handful of tempting recipes for each. Even skilled cooks might not be familiar with the full range offered here, so there's plenty for a very wide range of readers.

This tends toward the practical, with emphasis on what you can find in stores, Asian grocers in particular, or in North American wilds. By intent, it makes no effort to cover every edible species, or even the whole range found in familiar cuisines - straw and nameko mushrooms, commonly found only canned in the US, both cede their page-space to species available fresh. Still, it covers more different kinds (and kinds of preparations) than all but the most studious of chefs have experienced. Informative, gorgeously illustrated, and full of promise for great dishes - just about anyone who cooks will find something to enjoy here.

-- wiredweird

Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-first Century
Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-first Century
by Lex Bayer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $28.80
36 used & new from $18.80

4.0 out of 5 stars Strong theoretical underpinning, December 4, 2014
Once "you'll got to hell for it" is out of the way, what constitutes right or wrong action? And why? Having cast off their religious upbringings, that's where these authors start.

Among other things, they conclude that there is no absolute guide to morality. This isn't just anything-goes irresponsibility - quite the opposite, it demands a very responsible and thoughtful approach toward one's self and society. Killing people, for example: it's generally taken to be a bad idea, and for very good reason. But what about war, self-defense, capital punishment, death with dignity - these are complex issues with very moral people on each side of the debate, and willing to draw finer distinctions than I have room for here. The general structure of this book is a philosophical analysis that lays out ground rules, not of morality and ethical behavior directly, but of ways to reason about and develop moral and ethical frameworks.

As with any such discussion, I find a few sticking points. There are the minor ones, of course, like discussion of determinism. Given perfect knowledge of every particle in the universe, its position and velocity, doesn't the rest just follow like clockwork? I agree with the authors approach, but feel that they missed some critical phenomena. Quantum uncertainty, for example, can not be avoided, and simply dissolves the foundation out from under determinism. Even if that weren't true, there's chaos: the fact that realistic dynamic systems with different starting points or subject to different forces, however immeasurably small the difference, develop divergent behavior. Sooner or later, any difference in the hundredth, thousandth, or millionth decimal place will come to dominate the system - so even strictly "deterministic" systems become incalculable. And even if mathematical chaos didn't rule, the sheer volume of of the world's pattern exceeds any capacity for human understanding. A computer the size of a planet couldn't hold it all. When the pattern governing a deterministic world becomes more complex than any human mind, a mind must experience at least parts of that world as non-deterministic. Strict determinism, even if it could exist, would be irrelevant to human experience.

The major point at which I disagree with the authors, however, is much more basic. Yes, a firm philosophical foundation could give some people the solid base they might need from which to build. By analogy, the physical world around me follows its own laws of physics, electromagnetism, gravity, atomic bonding, and so on. But I can live a rich and productive life without thinking too hard about the atomic phenomena at work in my mind, my muscles, and the ground under my feet. I can simply get on with my life. Likewise, I don't need the philosophical equivalent of quantum mechanics in understanding healthy and moral behavior day to day. There's a place for microscopic examination of moral minutiae - but I don't need that to increase the tip to a particularly helpful waiter, or to hold the door for someone on crutches.

So, I find this an interesting discussion. The authors approach it with reasonable rigor, and develop a very attractive basis for further development. As with so many other philosophical discussions, though, I find it as far from daily practice as mathematics' Peano Axioms are from balancing my checkbook.


Penguins of Madagascar
Penguins of Madagascar
Price: $13.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good goofy fun, December 3, 2014
I haven't laughed that hard in a good while. This pleasantly goofy flick meets today's very high standards of animation. At the same time, it recalls the improbable chase scenes of the toons I loved so much as a kid. But, the basic themes derive from Man from UNCLE and others of the improbable super-spy genre. Then throw in "acting" so over-the-top it satirizes itself, puerile (but kid-safe) physical humor, and enough witty asides for the grownup buying the tickets. Maybe it doesn't add up to one for the ages, but it certainly amounts to popcorn-worthy amusement.

-- wiredweird

MeasuPro IRT20 Temperature Gun Non-Contact Infrared Thermometer with Laser Targeting
MeasuPro IRT20 Temperature Gun Non-Contact Infrared Thermometer with Laser Targeting
Offered by MeasuRite
Price: $25.99
2 used & new from $19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, for what I've tried, November 30, 2014
Light-weight, convenient, and (as near as I can tell) reasonably precise.I look forward to trying it on a wider range of (mostly) higher temperatures - but, with those, I won't have a "gold standard" reference to compare this to.

Nice features include the sample-and-hold, degrees C and F, and spotting laser. Since your target might be some distance away, there's a handy - but barely legible - chart on the side of the unit telling, when you're X feet away, what spot size Y the measurement applies to. (Farther out means a wider target, since this is based on light waves.) That seven-second window between releasing the trigger and shutting off the display could be a bit longer, but is usually iivable.

Negatives? I haven't come across them. The temperature range suits much of what I care about, and I don't know of any accuracy issues. In truth, I have only a few applications for this tool right now. I can think of a fair few more, at least for fun, and look forward to giving it a shot.

-- wiredweird

Spectrum 14: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art
Spectrum 14: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art
by Cathy Fenner
Edition: Paperback
26 used & new from $40.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Consistent excellence, November 23, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Start to finish, in every category, the work here consists only of the best. "The best" has to be a broad term, since so art like this can work in so many different ways - in this case, it's no exaggeration. Charles Vess's fairy-tale illustrations, for example, have delicate detail and feeling second to none. Adam Hughes's takes on comic-book super-heroines offers amusing and affectionate tribute to popular characters. Mackean's evocative semi-abstractions take nothing away from Luis Royo's heroic fantasy with a pinup flavor. Jeffrey Scott's elegant and disturbing photo-based work add its own blend of the very retro and a future we might not want. But Guy Francis's gentle and humorous sepia drawings keep the tone light. Some of my favorites, though, appear among the 'dimensional' or sculpture pieces, with Mark Newman's "Conscience" high on the list. There really is something here for every taste.

And, although I haven't seen every volume of the Spectrum series, I've see at least a half-dozen. Every volume I've seen maintains the same consistently high standards, offers the same breadth of vision and style, and provides equal inspiration and food for thought. Number 14 keeps this series' reputation strong.

-- wiredweird

Snappy Sayings: wit & wisdom from the world's greatest minds (wit & wisdom series Book 1)
Snappy Sayings: wit & wisdom from the world's greatest minds (wit & wisdom series Book 1)
Price: $4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Did you ever ..., November 19, 2014
... walk away from some situation, then think of the perfect comeback a half-hour too late? These guys never did.

Socrates, Mark Twain, Yogi Berra, Dorothy Parker, Abraham Lincoln, G.B. Shaw, W.C.Fields, and lots more - all the great wits appear in this collection. And, being great wits, they show us that they're twice what the rest of us are. But they share, and share on every topic that matters to human existence: Art, sport, sex, money, religion, well, everything. The aphorisms, quotes, asides, and snipes collected here will entertain and, just possibly, leave you with a fast comeback of your own.

On the negative side this book features BIG print and lots of mostly-gratuitous images, with an average around three quotes per page. For a book this size, there's not a lot of book in the book. Then, affordable printing does nothing good for the numerous grayscale images here. But, on the positive side, it's easy to pick this up, read a random page or three, then set it aside til your next idle moment. Pick the random page long enough and, when you think you've seen them all, that one rare unseen page will present itself. I usually read books front to back but, in cases like this, random sampling offers at least as much to enjoy.

-- wiredweird

Big Hero 6  (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
Big Hero 6 (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
DVD ~ Ryan Potter
Price: $18.90

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kid-friendly fun, November 17, 2014
First, I have to approve at least somewhat of any movie that promotes geek chic - and the good guys here are nerds at their nerdiest. Then, I found the first half touching, with two brothers bound by shared hardship and love of gadgetry. A bit over-the-top, maybe, but this is A) a cartoon, and B) a kid's power fantasy. A few moments really stand out, like that jaded cop when Hiro tries to report the villain, and Baymax's drunken "low battery" event. (For kids, it's safe goofiness, for most adults it's an amusing version of something that's happened to pretty much all of us, but anyone who is or cares for a diabetic might get a chill from the similarity to a low-sugar emergency.)

That power fantasy thing dials it up to eleven in the second half, where a day or two in the workshop transforms the raggedy band into superish-heroes. That one woman's purple super-miniskirt and super-purse struck me as a bit super-girly, but the other female character seemed to fit the theme better. There were a couple of big emotional scenes of predictable sorts, but most of it tended toward bloodless bam-pow excitement. And, if your kid is young enough, what's predictable to us won't be to her, so let her enjoy it.

You might have guessed by now that the kid is optional. Although kid-oriented, there's enough to keep a willing grown-up amused, too. So, if you want some safe, goofy fun, go ahead, let it amuse you. There are lots worse out there.

-- wiredweird, reviewing the release to theaters

Men's Black Faux Leather Gold Colored Dial Skeleton Mechanical Sport Wrist Watch
Men's Black Faux Leather Gold Colored Dial Skeleton Mechanical Sport Wrist Watch
Offered by M M Electronics
Price: $19.99
3 used & new from $10.48

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting gadget, November 8, 2014
Not too long ago, I was in a meeting of engineers and marketers - one side of the table was jeans and T-shirts, the other was suits, ties, and conspicuous watches. To tell the truth, I was on the jeans&T-shirt side of the room. We could all tell time on our phones just fine, but the 'suits' seemed to like the bling.

This watch is for those times when you want to impress someone with a cool gadget but don't want to spend four figures on a watch. Over all, I measured it at about 40mm diameter and 14mm thick - just over 1-1/2" x 1/2". That uncommon thickness allows a side wall of fluted gold-toned metal. Handsome brass workings front and back lie framed by steel bezels. The big feature here is the transparent panels on both sides, that let the inner workings show through - that little mechanical heartbeat can be almost hypnotic. The brass bridge (the part under the faceplate that holds gears in place) has some decoration that gives it an Edwardian feel, despite the generally modern styling.

There are many reasons for wanting timepieces, telling time being only one among them. I'll look forward to getting the most out of this one.

-- wiredweird, reviewing a sample from the manufacturer

Science Is Culture: Conversations at the New Intersection of Science + Society
Science Is Culture: Conversations at the New Intersection of Science + Society
by Adam Bly
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.68
89 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Hoping for better, November 8, 2014
What's good: Everything, really. First off, science IS culture, and mine in particular. Then, the format: two modern luminaries, one from the liberal arts and one from the sciences, sit and talk. The conversations range widely, with interesting and personality-driven given and take. As the arrangers hoped, these become fruitful and mutually beneficial conversations, the kind we need more of.

What's not: Pretty much the same things. I mean, if I were in such a conversation, it would fascinate me. If I came across just one of these conversations, it would be a peaceful interlude in a busy day. But, when you compare a conversation to a more ordinary kind of interview, it lacks direction and point - what's good for the participants might not be great for someone reading the transcript. Likewise, compared to an essay or longer expository non-fiction, it wanders, lacks structure, and doesn't develop its conclusions, if any. You know, like most good conversations. Sad to say, these weaknesses only seem to accumulate after reading three or four of the pieces in a row.

So, I'd say each piece in this book and maybe the book as a whole meets its goals. They're just not goals I could get behind.

-- wiredweird

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