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I don't usually pay much for a stylus, since I tend to lose them early and often. However, the last few that I purchased from a street vendor for $5. each did not perform well. Their tips are not firm enough to operate the keyboard on my iPhone or iPad, so I have to hit the screen quite hard in order to type. At that point I often end up striking the screen with the metal band that holds the tips in place. No good.
So when this stylus was offered through the Vine program, I decided to try it and see if there really is any difference in performance between a really cheap model and this one for about $14. I must say, there is indeed a world of difference -- and it's all positive.
The Virtuoso has a firm tip that doesn't smush against the screen. It makes typing very natural and easy. I am able to move faster and after two weeks of use have not had one problem with the metal portion of the stylus scratching the screen. And I really like that this stylus also contains a traditional pen so that I can use it to write on paper.
Overall, this is a very good product and worth the price. (Now I just have to hang on to it!)
I quite enjoyed this latest Lynley mystery, even though I do understand the criticisms of some earlier reviewers. Nevertheless, Elizabeth George left Lynley in an emotional limbo last time around, as well as leaving a cliff-hanger regarding Barbara Havers' emotional connection to her Muslim neighbor, Taymullah Azar and his young daughter, Haddiyah. Thus, I waited in anticipation for this book and pre-ordered it so I would have it to read the moment it became available.
I really enjoy the fact that George places her characters in situations that mirror the struggles and events of their times. Her novels are far more than mere mysteries. In fact, the people who murder are often beside the point, as are their victims. The real action takes place at the points where the public and private lives of Lynley and Havers, and sometimes those of Lynley's friends, Simon and Deborah, touch one another. At those points between the public and personal lie the frictions between a character's values and those of the society. And, of course, the stresses that emerge as a result of the durable English class structure, which try as they might, the Brits seem unable to release into history.
I won't give away any of the plot, but will say that this latest book does not resolve much, if anything, of Lynley's and Havers's emotional struggles, which were presented at least two books ago. George does give us hooked readers some clues, though, as to the direction that each character's life may take. It reminds me of the painfully slow pace that a soap opera moves, making only the tiniest of moves toward the resolution of plot conflicts.
I will say, however, that there is a pretty good plot twist in Just One Evil Act, when the suspects of both kidnapping and murder are revealed. This is followed by a denouement that is, if not shocking, less predictable than many similar mysteries. Bottom line: I'm a Lynley/Havers fan and in honesty have to admit that I am unlikely to ever rate one of this series less than a 4.
I very much enjoyed this historical fiction by one of my favorite novelists, Marge Piercy. The story is well grounded in historical fact and focuses on Victoria Woodhull, a rather notorious figure during America's Gilded Age who advocated for free love and women's liberation. Also featured are leading suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, along with a host of other 19th century notables such as the abolitionist preacher (and philanderer) Henry Ward Beecher, railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt and morality crusader Anthony Comstock.
More than a narrative about women's rights, Sex Wars explores the limitations and expectations placed upon people by the conventional gender roles of the period. Clearly, those limitations were most keenly experienced by females, but it is arguable that some men suffered under the burden of their gender roles too. Canning Woodhull, Victoria's first husband, and her father, Ruben Claflin were ne'er do wells who were unable to adequately provide for their families and they certainly experienced stress and humiliation from this failure.
Victoria Woodhull was incredibly accomplished. She and her sister were the first women to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street and the first to found a newspaper. Woodhull herself was the first woman to run for the US presidency -- at a time when women were still denied the vote. She also advocated for labor reforms and was a successful author and `magnetic healer,' a form of spiritualism. It seems odd that so little is taught about her in American public schools, given her trailblazing achievements.
This novel conveys a real feeling of the politics and sacrifices, both public and domestic, that surrounded the lives of the women to whom half of all US citizens owe our enfranchisement. Piercy has done a masterful job, as usual, of helping readers experience these historic figures as people, rather than mere characters. Highly recommended.
Code to Zero is a decent read if you have time to kill on an airplane or sitting in waiting rooms. But given Ken Follet's greatest works -- e.g., Triple, Eye of the Needle, Pillars of the Earth -- this book is most certainly wanting.
There's really not much more to say. There's a likable scientist-hero who unwittingly gets embroiled in a Cold War struggle that goes back to his college days. There is an evil former friend, a beautiful woman, a lackluster wife. There's a plot to blow up a missile, some thrills and chills (that aren't all that thrilling or chilling) and a happy ending.
If you haven't already read one of Follet's better books, skip this one and go to the good stuff.
I knew nothing about the 100th mayor of New York City, William O'Dwyer, before reading this novel based on his life. The note on the book flap said that the events recounted in the story were based on truth, so I did a bit of research and learned that most everything recounted in this book actually happened, although the interpretation of events is a matter of opinion and one's willingness to believe in the excuses offered by powerful men who have fallen from grace.
That's what happened to Mayor O'Dwyer. He had a great story -- Irish immigrant who lifted himself up by his bootstraps, etc. etc. Came to America, became a policeman, went to night school to get his JD and got elected district attorney of Kings County (Brooklyn). During his tenure in that job he gained a reputation for fighting organized crime, which helped propel him to the mayor's office. Before he actually became mayor, however, he went off to fight in WWII and became a brigadier general.
Tammany Hall, the infamous political organization that brought us Boss Tweed, was still around during the time O'Dwyer served as mayor (1946-1950) and some said O'Dwyer became corrupt through its influence. Although he was never proven guilty of anything, he resigned under a cloud and was then appointed by President Harry Truman to be ambassador to Mexico. He lived there until a few years before his death in 1964.
The Big Crowd tells O'Dwyer's story through a more personal lens, naming the main character Charlie O'Kane. Charlie falls in love with a dazzlingly beautiful socialite named Slim (based on a model named Sloan Simpson, who did in fact marry William O'Dwyer), as does Charlie's brother, Tom. This brother character is also based on a real person, Paul O'Dwyer, the brother of William and also a New York City politician. Much younger than his brother, Paul ran New York's City Council for several years in the 1970s. Both the fictional Tom and the real Paul spent a good portion of their lives trying to clear their brother's name.
The novel imagines many scenes between Slim and Charlie, Slim and Tom and other key characters of the book, including gangland figures, corrupt union bosses and other colorful folks who are probably based on real people or at least reflect many of the types who actually lived and worked in the Irish-run political scene in the city at that time. If this book were made into a movie, Slim would be played by a young Lauren Bacall around the time of her great film, To Have and Have Not. Naturally, she ends up dumping Charlie, which pretty much wrecks the guy's life, as well as brother Tom's, who can't shake the guilt he feels for betraying Charlie by sleeping with Slim.
The Big Crowd refers to the "big people" (as opposed to the little people) who are either the kingpins of society or their hangers-on. The story has all the ingredients for a great novel -- the rise and fall of a mega personality, sex, glamor, money and crime. Strangely, however, it's kind of boring and I am not sure exactly why. Perhaps it is the way author Kevin Baker tells the tale. While well written, and in many places beautifully evocative, Charlie never feels authentic until far into the book, at which point he is just a pathetic has-been. We never see the man's original greatness, so we can't identify with or care much about his fall. He's just another bloviating politician.
Perhaps my view is adversely affected by the fact that I am writing this review on a day when the squabbling politicians in the US House of Representatives just closed down the government. In any case, I didn't realize the justified significance of William O'Dwyer until I was reading his obit in the online archives of the NY Times. Whatever his imperfections, here is a man who came to this country as a dirt-poor Irish boy in the early 1900s, crawling out of the hold of some stinking ship docked in NY Harbor. He becomes a cop, gets himself a education, becomes a crusading attorney, then a general in the Second World War, then mayor. He does a credible job of it too, among other things attracting the headquarters of the United Nations to the city, then ends his career as a successful ambassador. Let's assume he was also corrupt and guilty of some scandal or other. Even then, his drive should be admirable and his story should be compelling. It should be a page-turner that a New Yorker like me can't stop reading. Regrettably, it isn't.
I have used this scope a few times now and have been delighted with its performance. I mostly use it for bird watching, but in order to try out all of its features under various conditions, I also spent time using it as a quasi telescope, looking out of my 18th floor apartment window.
Features I like best:
-- The magnification is excellent. For instance, when I look out my window, the Statue of Liberty out in NY harbor is about the size of the top joint of my pinky finger. When I look at the Statue through the scope -- on the lowest magnification -- the statue fills the entire viewing field. If I zoom in to a higher mag, I can count the windows in the buildings over on Ellis Island and see people walking on the riverside over in New Jersey.
-- The eyepiece of the scope can be turned so that you are looking down into the device or looking into it from the side. This feature is great if you don't have an adjustable tripod because you can put the scope on a table and stand behind it, looking down into the lens, much the way you would use a microscope. The side viewing is great outdoors for those times when you are in a narrow spot inside a bird blind or standing next to some immovable object, such as a tree trunk. In those instances, when you can't stand behind the scope, you can stand off to one side and look through the lens with the eyepiece turned toward you. (Speaking of tripods, be sure to buy a decent one that adjusts both vertically and horizontally. You will definitely need a tripod in order to hold the scope steady when out in the field.)
-- The scope is not too heavy, especially considering its power. I have used some scopes that were very heavy and a real burden to carry around. Not so with this one.
-- Part of its ease of transport is that it comes with a snug-fitting body case, complete with covers that protect the lens, eye piece and focus controls from bad weather and a carrying strap that fits across your body.
-- With an optional attachment, you can connect a DSLR camera to the scope and, presumably, take great close up photos. I haven't tried to do this yet, but I plan to purchase the camera attachment accessory soon. Can't wait to take it out in the field and try my luck at shooting some good bird pix.
Several months ago, I purchased a pair of Vanguard binoculars, which I like very much. When I saw this scope offered through the Vine program, I promptly ordered it because I know that the Vanguard brand indicates quality. So far I have not been disappointed.
Once I have used this scope in the field a few more times and have taken photos through it, I will post an update to this review.
I really enjoyed reading this lovely little book about a homeless kitten who is rescued by a Buddhist monk and taken to live in the Dalai Lama's palace in Dharamsala. The book is written in the first person, from the point of view of the cat, who goes by various names, including HHC (His Holiness's Cat) and Mousie Tung, a pun on the old way of pronouncing Mao Zedong.
This little cat, a female, has many adventures that illustrate important Buddhist principles and also refute some erroneous ideas about the religion. The adventures of HHC are suitable for children as well as adults, with readers at different levels getting messages that are more, or less, sophisticated.
I usually pass on the books that I get through the Vine program, but this one rates a permanent place on my bookshelf. I recommend it to you for your own collection, as well as for an affordable gift that will, I believe, be treasured.
Clint Laurent is the founder of a global demographics company that collects and analyzes population data and sells it to marketers to help guide the development of marketing strategies. The book is highly focused on demographic data, using today's figures to project the population and consumption patterns of people in 2032. The data is drawn from 79 nations, which are grouped into nine regions: North America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North Africa/The Middle East, South America, Affluent Asia (Japan, Australia, Taiwan, S. Korea and similar), Developing Asia (Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam and similar), China and India. The latter two countries get their own categories because they are major consumer markets in themselves.
The book examines global trends that affect buying behavior, including things such as birth and death rates and the levels of education in a particular country. Generally, the higher the education level of a nation, the lower its birth rate. Given the gains in life expectancy, even in the developing world, conventional wisdom says that some countries will have larger populations in 2032. However, many will not, due to improvements in education and other factors. What they WILL have are aging populations and older workforces. These conditions will change the types of consumer goods that are in demand, as well as create more discretionary income per household, since there will be fewer children to spend money on. This will be good news for makers of, say, mobility devices for the elderly, but not so good news for makers of diapers and other baby goods.
The numbers and compositions of households are just as, or perhaps even more important than raw population numbers. The household is the main "decision unit" for purchases, so even though some parts of the world may have fewer people, they could very well have a greater number of households, as the overall global trend in family size is shrinking. Increasingly, household size is getting smaller because young couples now start their own households rather than living with older generations of family. Insights such as this make Tomorrow's World a valuable resource for people who want to anticipate the future of consumer markets.
Making predictions is far more than a simple extrapolation of the numbers. As I hope I have illustrated from the paragraphs above, there are a lot of moving parts in this analysis, many of which depend on social customs and changing traditions, which in turn affect the purchasing decisions of consumers. This book does a good job of highlighting trends and illuminating their meaning.
At 400+ pages, Empty Mansions is a rather long book, so I thought I would skim through the first half, which chronicles the life of W.A. Clark, a Gilded Age millionaire who shrewdly invested in copper mines out west. He is the father of the main focus of the book -- his daughter, Hugette Clark, who lived to be 104 years old but was not seen in public for the last 70 or so years of her life. That's not a typo. Hugette Clark was an eccentric heiress whose concerns about privacy were obsessive. She is the female version of Howard Hughes. Another way to think of her is as a real life derivative of Miss Havisham, although Ms. Clark was not left at the altar, nor did she seem at all distraught over remaining single following a very brief marriage whose end she initiated.
So, as mentioned earlier, I thought I would just skim the first part of the book, since it takes place at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries and is more about Hugette's father than it is about her. However, the first few pages were so interesting that I just kept reading until I had finished every bit, including the notes and bib. The book is exceptionally well researched and thus presents an absorbing picture of America's social, economic and political landscape during the Gilded Age and on through the 20th century and the first several years of the 21st.
I came to like Hugette Clark, who was strangely childlike while also being quite astute about art, style, family loyalty and friendship. In today's dollars, her father's fortune was in the billions and as the only surviving child of his second, May-December marriage, Hugette inherited it all. Born in Paris in 1906, Ms. Clark spoke French fluently and considered herself as much French as American, perhaps more so. She became a good painter and developed a refined taste in art, investing in works by Monet, Manet and many other well known masters. She collected dolls and spent massive amounts of money having doll houses and their furnishings built from designs of her own. She was also incredibly generous, often to people she had never met but who were the children of old friends or who had been kind to people she loved. In one case, she sent an anonymous check for $25,000 (a very large amount for the 1960s) to a woman who had served as caregiver to one of Ms. Clark's property managers.
Her long life, which ended in 2011 at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, gave her ample opportunities to witness most of the life-changing breakthroughs and events of the 20th century, such as female suffrage, the civil rights movement, the moon landing and the advent of digital technology. Through it all, she remained unchanged, going about her days focused on her artistic pursuits, giving away personal gifts of money and jewelry, and writing checks for the private school tuition of the children of her maids and other retainers. She was seldom seen, even by those who conducted business for her, usually communicating with people by phone, letter or even through a closed door.
Sometime in her 80s, she developed skin cancer, which went untreated until one of her maids saw it and insisted she see a doctor. One was called in and he persuaded Ms. Clark to go to Doctor's Hospital for treatment. A small, boutique facility on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan, Doctor's protected Hugette Clark's privacy and because of this she ended up living there for many years, until it was purchased by Beth Israel Medical Center and then sold to a real estate developer. Ms.Clark then moved downtown to the main Beth Israel campus, although less by her own choice than through what can only be called blackmail by the head of Beth Israel, Dr. Robert Newman, who was the CEO of Beth Israel's parent company, Continuum Health Partners.
Dr. Newman and Beth Israel come off very poorly in the book and there is solid evidence to back up the author's claim that hospital fund raisers and Dr. Newman attempted to manipulate Ms. Clark into making a mega donation to their nonprofit corporation. Although she gave Beth Israel about $2 million, the hospital felt cheated when Ms. Clark finally gave in to pressure to make a will and then did not leave Beth Israel the funds it was seeking. Instead, she left the bulk of her still-substantial estate to her caregivers and to fund an arts foundation she had created to maintain her magnificent estate, Bellosguardo, in Santa Barbara, California. Shortly after she signed her will, Beth Israel -- apparently in retaliation -- moved Ms. Clark into a vastly inferior hospital room that had little light, no view and was located in the oldest wing of the facility.
And there were plenty of other institutions that tried to take advantage of Ms. Clark, such as the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which joined a group of Ms. Clark's half-nieces and nephews -- descendents of her father's first wife -- to challenge her will in court immediately following her death. The Corcoran had already received major gifts from the Clark family, first in the form of W.A. Clark's impressive art collection and later in checks that Hugette Clark wrote over the years in response to annual funding appeals. Plus the Corcoran was to receive an important Monet as part of Ms. Clark's will. But that was not enough for the museum, which thought it would get more if the relatives were successful in challenging the will. (They weren't.)
One of the most egregious and greedy exploiters of the elderly Ms. Clark was Citibank, where she and her mother before her (when the bank was still called First National City) kept their collection of precious jewelry. Not once but twice did Citibank contact Ms. Clark to tell her that jewelry of significant value had been either lost or stolen. The bank claimed to have no idea what happened to the jewelry and then refused to pay Ms. Clark for its true value, which was around $6 million. Instead, Citibank offered $3.5 million and when Ms. Clark resisted Citibank officials told her that if they had to pay the full cost a news story would result, and that would place her in the public spotlight. They did this knowing full well that Ms. Clark would protect her privacy at all costs and settle, which she did. Citibank's assertion that valuable jewels simply disappeared on two separate occasions strains credibility.
Authors Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., a cousin of Ms. Clark's, do a great job of presenting Hugette Clark not as a caricature, but as a real human being -- a sympathetic and kind person, albeit eccentric. They offer a nuanced portrait of an intriguing woman who valued money not for itself but for what it could do to help people she cared about. As a reader, I came to feel not merely compassion for this woman, but admiration. She resisted the social pressures, expectations and changing values of many people through several eras. She had her own moral compass and she stuck with it. Hers was a life that was lived differently, but lived well, and it was a life that is worth reading about in this deeply interesting book.
I bought this Elmo for a one-year-old friend who seems to like it very much. Her parents like it too, as Elmo is helping their daughter learn her ABCs.
So far, this toy is holding up well, even though its owner chews on its ears and drools on it while she sleeps. She is learning to sing along with Elmo as he croons the classic ABC song. Well, right now she hums, laughs and makes mostly nonsense noises, but she is catching on. I really believe it will help her learn her letters. And the character's voice is childlike and pleasant.
She's only had Elmo for a week, so I am not sure how durable it will prove to be over the long haul, but so far it looks like a good choice.