Review: 5-star Book Light

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Mighty Bright Blue Xtraflex 2 LED Book Light

Good, versatile light, March 3, 2012

I’ve bought four of these so far, my whole family likes them. The price is right.

Pro: it can clip to a Kindle or any e-reader, as well as any size book. The flex neck lets you put the light exactly where you want it. It has 2 bulbs and you can turn on one or both, which is like adjusting the brightness to your liking. I normally need just one bulb lit, even in a completely dark room, but when the batteries grow weak, turning on both bulbs gives me more hours of readable light before the batteries go dead. The LED lights allegedly will last a lifetime. I also use this as a mini-flashlight sometimes.

Con: Batteries must be replaced. I tried the Mighty Bright light that comes with an AC Adapter, which didn’t work quite right and I returned it, but I also realized that being plugged into a wall isn’t always practical when you’re reading in bed, or anywhere else for that matter. The battery version is better. I seem to get a lot of reading hours before having to change batteries, so it’s a minor quibble.

Review: 5-star Blu-Ray Player

Panasonic DMP-BDT210 Integrated-Wi-Fi 3D Blu-ray DVD Player

It’s Getting Better All the Time, March 3, 2012

This is my first Blu-Ray player, just stepped up from an Oppo standard DVD upconverter which was outstanding, but this is even better, and not just because of Blu-Ray. “Avatar” looks and sounds amazing on this, played on a 65-inch Panasonic plasma. I got the DMP-BDT210 because (a) the price was right, (b) it ranks high in most pro ratings and reviews, and (c) if I decide to go 3D with my TV, I’m ready.

Meanwhile, I’m playing lots of standard DVD’s on this, and they look near-HD quality. I’ve also upgraded some of my favorite standard DVD movies to Blu-Ray versions and done comparisons of the picture quality. Blu-Ray is of course superior, but the difference between my standard-def “Matrix” and “Star Wars” movies and the Blu-Ray versions is not dramatic enough to make me want to replace my other DVDs with Blu-Ray. I’m sure it’s because the DMP-BDT210 does such a good job of upconverting.

I’m also enjoying the wireless Internet feature. I used YouTube to watch an entire BBC series on the big-screen TV in our media room on a La-Z-Boy recliner, and I could never sit for that long in my desk chair watching video on a small computer screen.

Review: 4-star DVD, “Core Stability Training”

Core Stability Training

Strong training, weak presentation, March 3, 2012

This DVD offers important training guidance for everybody, whether you have low-back issues (as I do) or not. It’s like having a good, sound physical therapy program on DVD, ready when you are. The exercises and stretches are clearly demonstrated, and the emphasis on proper technique is excellent; I realized I’ve been doing some of these exercises wrong. A strong core will improve anybody’s fitness, health, energy and quality of life. My only quibble is that DVD menus and presentation are low-tech and a bit unfocused, as if Liebenson didn’t put a lot of thought, time or money into it … yet he charges $27 for the DVD. It would be a good deal at about half that price.

 

Review: 5-star Book, “Imperfect: An Improbable Life”

Imperfect: An Improbable Life

Damn near perfect, March 2, 2012

A captivating, inspirational memoir by one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met. I was a beat writer covering the Angels during Jim Abbott’s career and found him humble, kind, honest and classy — four traits very rare among the pro athletes I knew during 30 years as a sportswriter. His book reflects all those qualities and more, and co-author Tim Brown crafts the material with skill. Alternating chapters move us from a blow-by-blow account of Abbott’s no-hitter with the Yankees to his remarkable life story. Without that no-hitter, Abbott’s fame might not warrant a best-selling memoir, yet I found the game recap boring compared with his life saga. Abbott tells his story warts and all, without self-promotion. It’s not a gossipy insider’s tale, more like G-rated truth. But it sings with pathos and passion. You don’t need to love baseball to love this book. It ought to be No. 1.

Review: 4-star Travel Charging Kit

Innergie mMini Combo 15W AC, 10W Auto and Dual USB Duo Travel Charging Kit (TADP-10BE AA)

Peace of Mind While Traveling, February 24, 2012

This is a handy kit, with adapters fitting into other adapters so you get a universal charger from AC to your iPod, iPad or iPhone, and you can charge 2 of them at once. The car cigarette lighter charger also has 2 ports for simultaneous charging. I’ve traveled before with USB-charged devices and been frustrated that without access to a computer, I couldn’t recharge the devices (e.g., Kindle and iPod, which have their own custom AC charging connections sold separately). With the Innergie kit, any place with an AC outlet becomes a charging station for multiple devices. You could actually charge any USB-ported device from AC or car as long as you have the proper connection configuration on the other end of your USB cord. For example, you can charge a Kindle with this in your car or from an AC outlet if you have the USB-to-Kindle connection cord. If someone comes up with a universal adapter-charger that goes from all the popular electronic devices to USB to AC or car lighter — so you only have to carry that single universal kit — then you’d really have something.

When using the Innergie charger for your iPod, be sure the connection between the 2 adapters is firmly seated; otherwise, you could plug it into the wall and get no power delivered at all. That happened to me. I wondered why it wasn’t charging, saw the connection was loose, pushed them together, and all was well.

Review: 5-star DVD, “The Ultimate Matrix Collection”

The Ultimate Matrix Collection [Blu-ray]

Blu-ray version worth it, February 24, 2012

I got the Amazon special one-day deal, just $25 for the Ultimate Collection on Blu-Ray, so it was a no-brainer to upgrade from my old standard DVD version. Yes, it looks great on Blu-Ray, but it isn’t so spectacular that I’m going to rush out and replace all 500 of my standard DVD movies with Blu-ray versions. Most standard DVDs upgrade very nicely on the Blu-Ray player, but some films really pop in HD, and The Matrix Collection is a good example. Avatar also looks great in HD, if you haven’t gone all the way to 3D with your TV yet. The Matrix films bear watching over and over because you see or understand something new every time. The visuals and content are so deeply rich that you can’t possibly appreciate it all in one or two viewings. The special features here also offer hours of in-depth enjoyment.

 

Review: 1-star Peach Tea

MIO Liquid Peach Tea, 1.62-Ounce, (Pack of 4)

H2-Oh No, February 24, 2012

The bottle tells you to dispense one squeeze to flavor 8 fl oz of water. Exactly how much is “one squeeze” supposed to be? One family member’s squeeze colored his whole glass of water orange and gave his water a sticky sweet aftertaste, like several dozen Sweet Tarts had melted into it. My one squeeze left a few peachy tendrils floating in mostly clear water and made it taste like someone who ate Sweet Tarts an hour ago had backwashed into my glass. Neither was pleasant. If there were supplements in the drink and I was getting enough vitamins in the sugary sweet mess to, say, eat another In-N-Out Double Double and not feel as guilty, I’d choke it down. As it is just basically food coloring with flavor, I would not drink this on purpose again.

Review: 5-star Book: “Scheduling and Budgeting Your Film”

Scheduling and Budgeting Your Film: A Panic-Free Guide

Good Reference for Starting Filmmakers, February 24, 2012

This is a strong reference manual with a very thorough coverage of scheduling and budgeting a film that unfortunately suffers a bit from a case of trying to be everything to everyone — beginning with information for someone who has never set foot on a movie set and ending with highly advanced elements for experienced UPMs and producers. When it gets into the end, it teaches enough material that a novice might erroneously believe they can and should budget a film without practicing and working up to key elements like negotiating with unions, dealing with fringe benefits and managing tax incentives.

The nuts and bolts of this book are useful, including ample examples and tables, but I wish it offered wisdom from working production managers or line producers. Also, I was surprised that a book published in 2012 didn’t assume the reader was working with a computer. I would have preferred to have read an emphasis on the computer method, with just an appendix on the manual paper cut-out option.

Bottom line: This reference book is best when used by someone who is just starting to work into production management or line producing, in combination with a strong mentor. The book alone is not a complete education without the wisdom of a professional who has actually applied the principles to the real world of filmmaking.

Review: 2-star Book, “Winterling”

Winterling

Narnia Meets Harry Potter but Gets Lost on the Way, February 24, 2012

This Narnia-esque fantasy is an easy and appropriate read for even young audiences, though I found the story uncomfortably similar to other books I’ve loved — especially C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia — and not nearly as well executed. With the wintry queen who deceives and manipulates and keeps icy weather in the land, a “chosen” child with dead parents and no knowledge of her past or potential, and a land of magical creatures hiding just a jump away from reality, Winterling felt like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe meets Harry Potter, but without the charm of well-developed characters, and in need of a heavy-handed editor to reshape the lagging plot.

Winterling is a solid first draft of a novel that descends too quickly into cliché and covers much-too-familiar ground. Amateurish mistakes plagued the book, including spending too much time developing a mystery around the main character’s parents’ backstory that it spent no time at all wrapping up, giving the evil “Lady” only one dimension, and making the main character a lonely outsider in her own world. There were many simple issues that could have been fixed in revisions, and I would have liked to have read the book Winterling could have become.

Although the story wasn’t tremendous, I appreciated the strong young female protagonist’s moral character. I’m conservative in the literature I hand to my 8-year-old daughter, and I felt comfortable giving her this to read.

Bottom line: Young girls (8 and under) will enjoy this quick read, but older readers who love Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings would find this weak and underdeveloped in comparison.

Review: 4-star Book, “JFK and the Unspeakable”

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why It Matters

One of the Best, February 24, 2012

Guess I’ve read over 30 of the JFK assassination books by now, keep thinking nobody can say anything new anymore. The Unspeakable proves me wrong. While most of the massive text is rehash of other researchers’ works (all cited and footnoted), you will indeed find fresh information here, and the clarity of Douglass’ case is compelling. The author’s Catholic frame of reference and focus on Merton’s writing adds perspective and, unlike what another reviewer wrote, I did not find it distracting at all. If you haven’t read many or any of the other JFK books, this might be a good place to start, since Douglass covers a lot of the old ground. If you’ve read them all, this still offers food for thought and a deep perspective on the perfectly logical “why” of JFK’s murder. I only wish Douglass concluded with a blow-by-blow scenario of the assassination and coverup with his best-guess snapshot of who did what, and how they did it. Instead, he leaves us to speculate on our own as to who gave the order, who pulled the triggers and who directed the coverup. We can wonder about Allen Dulles and Lucien Sarti, but has anyone read a credible play-by-play reconstruction of the conspiracy that puts it all together with names?