Monday, January 21, 2008

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Fifth Edition (Paperback)

I am enrolled in a graduate program that, unfortunately, requires all papers to be written in APA format. APA is far and away the least useful or user friendly format ever devised (although a professor friend disagrees and thinks Chicago style is worse), and is largely used by social scientists. Since I am not enrolled in a social science curriculum, you might expect that I would be spared this horror, but someone sold the Dean an APA bill of goods (probably Beelzebub himself.) My theoretical question here is what, exactly, qualifies the American Psychological Association to develop a style and format for research papers? Wouldn't English teachers and linguists be more qualified, as in MLA format? Why is APA more qualified than say The Airline Pilots Association, or The National Prune Anti-Defamation League to develop a writing style? Just a question.
I figured that since I was stuck using this fiendish format, I should learn to use it correctly. My school put out a "Users Guide to APA Format", but it is very general and almost totally ignores documenting electronic (internet) sources; thus, I bought this book. I am generously giving this book two stars inasmuch as most (but not all) reasonable situations are addressed in it, but the format of the book is virtually incomprehensible and frequently sends you to multiple different places to answer a simple question. (This shouldn't surprise me given the lack of logic found in APA style in general, I suppose.)
Unfortunately even the latest (fifth) edition is woefully inadequate in answering very basic questions on documentation of internet sources, particularly addressing situations in which quotations from internet sources are included in a paper. The index is, likewise, next to useless, as looking anything up (if it happens to even be in the index, itself and unlikely development) will result in a wild goose chase of referencing around the book. This is but only one reason the entire format may be more useful to psychologists than those in the hard sciences.
What the guide IS full of is useless trivia, for instance a section on the APA "Policy on Metrication" (needless to say APA mandates metric units), and a definition of "HSD" as "Tukey's honestly significant difference (also referred to as the Tukey a procedure)." While I am not saying that metrication or Tukey's honestly significant difference aren't important (though I am inclined to), I am saying that a book that dwells on minutia like that should definitely cover the basics of references, formats and citations first. Like I said, most (but not all) of the information actually is here, but good luck finding it.
Perhaps APA should put out a guide for using this guide. Better yet, perhaps any format so cumbersome to use and needlessly intricate should be dumped altogether for a better format, like MLA. At this point I'm even willing to try Chicago style.


Plum Lucky (Stephanie Plum Novels) (Hardcover) by Janet Evanovich (Author)

Statisically speaking, luck has a normal distribution, that is, it has a bell shaped curve. Most people are in the middle with an average amount of luck, but some people are at an extreme point on the curve and are unlucky all the time (like that character in Lil Abner who walked around with a black cloud over his head), and some are at the other end and are lucky all the time. So goes life. It's St. Patrick's Day and there is a rainbow in the air. Grandma Mazur stumbles into a duffle bag full of money - lots of money. She thinks that it is lucky money and hers to keep. Let the good times roll. She is off to Atlantic City. But other people have claims on the money. The story has an interesting cast of characters including an ex-jockey who thinks that he is an invisible leprechaun (he is always lucky, but manages to fumble it away); of course there are Stephi, Lula, and Connie from the bailbonds office; Diesel appears from Stephi's past - another man in her life; a short guy hired by Grandma Mazur; the gangster Delvina; and a horse to add to the adventures and misadventures. Of course there is the money. You will have to read the novel to see how it all shakes out. The novel is not great literature, but is extremely funny. ROFL. Some scenes towards the end had me laughing so hard I had trouble continuing. It is a short novel, and a quick read, at 166 pages with 28 lines per page somewhat widely spaced in easy reading type. It contains what a friend would call earthy language. I would personally classify it as PG-13.


The Appeal (Hardcover)by John Grisham (Author)

The jury was ready. After forty-two hours of deliberations that followed seventy-one days of trial that included 530 hours of testimony from four dozen witnesses, and after a lifetime of sitting silently as the lawyers haggled and the judge lectured and the spectators watched like hawks for telltale signs, the jury was ready. Locked away in the jury room, secluded and secure, ten of them proudly signed their names to the verdict while the other two pouted in their corners, detached and miserable in their dissension. There were hugs and smiles and no small measure of self-congratulation because they had survived this little war and could now march proudly back into the arena with a decision they had rescued through sheer determination and the dogged pursuit of compromise. Their ordeal was over; their civic duty complete. They had served above and beyond. They were ready. The foreman knocked on the door and rustled Uncle Joe from his slumbers. Uncle Joe, the ancient bailiff, had guarded them while he also arranged their meals, heard their complaints, and quietly slipped their messages to the judge. In his younger years, back when his hearing was better, Uncle Joe was rumored to also eavesdrop on his juries through a ?imsy pine door he and he alone had selected and installed. But his listening days were over, and, as he had con?ded to no one but his wife, after the ordeal of this particular trial he might just hang up his old pistol once and for all. The strain of controlling justice was wearing him down.--From Chapter One of The Appeal
Politics has always been a dirty game.Now justice is, too.In a crowded courtroom in Mississippi, a jury returns a shocking verdict against a chemical company accused of dumping toxic waste into a small town’s water supply, causing the worst “cancer cluster” in history. The company appeals to the Mississippi Supreme Court, whose nine justices will one day either approve the verdict or reverse it.Who are the nine? How will they vote? Can one be replaced before the case is ultimately decided?The chemical company is owned by a Wall Street predator named Carl Trudeau, and Mr. Trudeau is convinced the Court is not friendly enough. With judicial elections looming, he decides to try to purchase himself a seat on the Court. The cost is a few million dollars, a drop in the bucket for a billionaire like Mr. Trudeau. Through an intricate web of conspiracy and deceit, his political operatives recruit a young, unsuspecting candidate. They finance him, manipulate him, market him, and mold him into a potential Supreme Court justice. Their Supreme Court justice.The Appeal is a powerful, timely, and shocking story of political and legal intrigue, a story that will leave readers unable to think about our electoral process or judicial system in quite the same way ever again

About the Author

JOHN GRISHAM has written nineteen previous novels and one work of nonfiction, The Innocent Man, published in 2006. He lives in Virginia and Mississippi.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Secret (Hardcover) by Rhonda Byrne Review !!!

I have been interested in the power of the mind for many years now, and I was very excited to see this video. It was just awful, and for the life of me I can't understand what others are seeing in it. It rang like an infomercial to me. You've seen the ones, get wealthy with little effort, eat what you want and never gain weight. I think the power of the mind can help us deal with the strife in our lives, and to me that is the real secret. Anyone who is going through hard times can focus their mind on their many blessings and start to feel grateful. It isn't that your life around you changes as much as your perception does. Let me give an example: A close friend's mother was dying of a incurable disease. My friend was heartbroken and extremely angry that this was happening to her. Over time, she started to look at the blessings that were a result of the situation. Some of the blessings included the fact that she still had time to spend getting to know her mother better, a wake up call that her own time on earth is precious, the nourishment of the soul that occurs when you care for another person. Did her thoughts manifest a perfect reality where the illness didn't occur? No. Did her thoughts imbue this experience with meaning? Yes. This is how our thoughts can turn a situation around for us. I am so offended at the "get rich" aspect of the video. That we all just have to focus on having a new car, money and mansions and it will happen. Some of my greatest lessons in gratitude have come from realizing I have enough now. I believe we should use our positive thoughts to find meaning in the existence we already have and to enrich our spiritual lives. Doubtless, positive thoughts and believing you are worthy of love and abundance will open you up to receive more of the same, but it is not some kind of magic spell and it is not a secret. Which leads me to another complaint. Whatever happened to taking action? They show a little boy wishing for a bike. How about earning money and saving for it? Then there were the adults who said they wouldn't look at their bills or the guy who said he just thought about getting checks in the mail! You have to work for your goals. Positive thinking can help you envision succeeding and make you open to new opportunities, but it won't magically pay your bills. By far the most offensive part of the message is the suggestion that people who have pain in their lives are somehow attracting it with their thoughts. Darfur rape victims did not ask for it. Children who are molested did not ask for it. Starving Africans did not ask for it. To suggest that their "incorrect thinking" is the cause of this is sickening. Positive thoughts may help you endure pain, and help you find meaning in it, but it will not end random violence, illness and war. Shame on anyone who tells a sick person that they are manifesting it themselves, that they don't want to get well badly enough. For much better texts on the power of thought check out the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz or Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Or go to a 12 step program which has many of the same ideas. I've only scratched the surface of my complaints. I didn't touch on the poor acting, the twisting of historical facts, the contradictions of some of the speakers. I dearly wish I could take back my money, and I hope my words will stop someone else from supporting this muck. If you must watch it, borrow it from your library or watch it online at a cheaper cost. But I honestly can't recommend it to anyone.


Atonement (Paperback) by Ian Mcewan Review

I picked up this good-looking book with no advance knowledge of its plot - just a liking for other works of its author - and I'm grateful for that, and won't give away the story here. I was grabbed by its first description, and held closely throughout. McEwan has created characters who are so fully realized that I felt as if I had known them for years. It's an amazing story, though not at all far-fetched. It's slyly easy to read - think "page-turner" - but it is about vitally important things. In addition considerable historic research went into it, and that's a delicious plus.
McEwan invites you into an English world that you will smell, hear, feel, and taste - and your mind and emotions will be fully engaged. The family has money and servants but this is nothing you've seen on television or the movies. The story is told with discipline and control, and from several points of view. The people are palpably real. It's a tightly organized and satisfying assemblage of the things that matter, among them family life, childhood, debt and obligation, loyalty, imagination, faith and hope, innocence and guilt, love, desire, varieties of destruction - and the urge to make a difference. Finally: war and peace. (In fact, you might be reminded of Tolstoy in more than a few ways.) In addition it's a fierce and moving meditation on the life of the mind and creativity. At the same time, McEwan's powers of description are such that all of your senses are never anything but fully engaged. English country life in the 1930's - a heat wave, and the fragrance of wildflowers, the feel of a silk dress that is sticking to skin, the thick dark of a moonless summer night - through the horrors of the Second World War (Dunkirk most dramatically and effectively) and beyond. It is either sheer brilliance, or a deeply humane urge, or maybe just a workmanlike sense, but McEwan takes full responsibility for each of his characters- and sees them through to the end.
Nearly every page has something unselfconsciously remarkable to think about - or to reconsider. I used my pencil throughout; there is so much that is wise or just plain awe-inspiring in this book. McEwan has accomplished something amazing. I'm telling friends to read the book first, reviews second. The story is so terrific, and so moving and important - and might unfold best for the reader who comes to it blissfully uninformed. It's not very often that I've felt transformed by a novel. Read it as soon as you can.


The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Paperback) by Michael Pollan Review !!!

I didn't expect to learn much from Michael Pollan's new book, _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ - since I write and talk regularly about the problems of industrial agriculture, local food production and sustainability, I thought that while I'd probably enjoy his writing (I took a great deal of pleasure in his prior books on gardening), his book would be enlightening to a rather different audience than myself. But, in fact, I did learn a great deal. Pollan's gift is to entertainingly present complexities, without being weighed down by his own excellent scholarship - it is a gift, to know that much about something and to know which bits of evidence will compell and which will merely bore. He's an enormously erudite guy, without being even slightly dull. Several people I know who are far less engaged by food issues than I say they found it compelling and readable. I will add up front, that one of the two things that most irritated me about this book was that in the mid-1980s, Margaret Visser, a brilliant food writer, wrote a very similar book, _Much Depends on Dinner_. Neither the book nor the author were particularly obscure - the book won several awards, and Visser went on to write another one about table manners (great book, btw, and highly recommended), and the books were published by Pollan's own publisher. And yet, Pollan's book does not cite or acknowledge the book, even though many of the chapters (those on chicken and corn especially) were very similar in their approach and analysis. Someone, either Pollan in his research (which, I think, was otherwise good), or his editor missed something - because the concept of eating a meal and being outraged by the history of its context is not his. Visser's book, particularly the chapter on rice, which I read in high school, was my biggest early influence in thinking about food, so it rankles me (even though these things happen in books) that Pollan ignored her. But returning to the main point, I did learn a great deal from Pollan - I found out, among other things, exactly what Xanthan gum is (hadn't you always wondered, even if you knew it couldn't be good?), made a connection I'd never perceived before between the widespread alcoholism in America in the 19th century and the widespread obesity of today (both due to the need to use up agricultural excesses of corn) and heard as concise and compelling an account of the complexities of farm subsidies as I've heard before. I hadn't thought, for example that anyone could give me any more reasons not to eat at McDonalds, but Pollan added a couple. The first section of the book traces a meal at McDonalds back to its basic ingredient - corn. From the corn that feeds the chickens to the xanthan gum in the milkshake to the sweetener in the ketchup and oil in which the fries are cooked, McDonalds is mostly corn. Since Fast Food Nation and the other exposes, I don't think there's anyone who cares who doesn't know how gross fast food is, and Pollan admirably stays away from the yuckiness factor (not that there isn't reason to go there, but it has been rather overdone of late). Instead, he goes to the aesthetic one, accusing Americans who eat fast food of having become like koalas, capable of absorbing only corn, to terrible cost. In some sense, as someone who likes to eat, his description of our reliance upon (and the costs thereof) corn is more grotesque than any expose of slaughterhouses could be. He then describes the history of two organic meals, one of them bought on a trip to whole foods, and an industrially produced organic meal, the other local, sustainable and produced to a large degree from Joel Salatin's Polyface farm, where he acted as reporter/farm hand for a week. It may be here that Pollan's book is most valuable, because it makes a distinction that your average Mom who buys at Whole foods has never made - that industrial organic food is more industrial than organic. This book has been roundly hyped on NPR and in the New York Times, and has the potential to change a lot of minds - and despite my later critiques, I will be enormously grateful if Pollan can simply convince people to look beyond the word organic and think about the costs of their food to the environment and the people who grow it. This is a potentially influential book, and Pollan does not make the mistake that many, many food writers make, of reading the word "organic" to mean sustainable. While acknowledges that large scale, organic, industrial food is better than nothing, he doesn't cut it a lot of slack for its drenching in fossil fuels, use and sometimes misuse of migrant labor, and general unsustainability. Perhaps his best writing in the book is when he attempts to analyze whether it is possible to grow food sustainably and well on any scale at all, and when he concludes that you can't, someone like me, who is trying to grow food on a small scale, looks up ready to cheer. Because such a conclusion should lead inevitably to the next step - ie, to the idea that the only solution to the problem of industrial agriculture is that a lot more people have to grow food, both for sale and at home. But he never quite gets there, and that may be the great flaw of the book. Still, however, I think that the line that the distinctions Pollan does draw are deeply helpful, and could potentially change things a great deal. In the final section, Pollan eats a meal that he has hunted, or gathered, or grown himself. In doing this, he spends a lot of time coming to terms with hunting and meat eating (he kills his own chicken for dinner at Polyface farm, and also purchases a steer destined for McDonalds, although its final end is as much of a mystery as such things could possibly ever be). Here is where, I expected, Pollan will figure out how we might reasonably eat, humanely and sustainably. But in fact, the last chapter could be described as "Yuppie Jewish guy goes hunting for the first time" - and not just any kind of hunting, but hunting for wild boar in the California mountains with a bunch of European chefs bent on recreating the food of their homelands for Chez Panisse. Pollan may be violating the traditions of his Jewish upbringing (Jews don't hunt, not just because they are often urbanites, but because the laws of kashruth forbid it, and the sense of it as unfitting has lingered long past the observation of the law in other respects for many Jews), but he never actually leaves his class behind. And that is one of the deeper problems of the book - the meal he seeks to make is not a deer burger and homemade potato fries, but wine-braised leg of boar with boar liver pate and cherry something or other (admittedly, it sounded terrific). Intermittently throughout the book, Pollan attempts to deal with the problem of elitism - whether or not sustainable food is yuppie food. And there's a legitimate case to be made that there is. Pollan, of course, points out the illogic both of what we spend on food (less than anyone in the world) and the externalities that are not figured into the cost of the McDonalds meal, but he never gets down and dirty with the question of class. He quotes Joel Salatin on the subject that regulation adds more to his cost than organic production, notes the costs of meals and that Salatin's customers are mixed in economic situation, but he never fully addresses who it is who mostly eats fast food and who it is who mostly eats organic, and the all-important whys of that question. When Pollan finally gets down to the ultimate local meal, the chapter is mostly about his angst over killing animals and meat eating (although it was fun to watch Pollan duke it out intellectually with Peter Singer), but it all gets played out over a meal with class overtones so profound and powerful that you cannot escape them. Going boar hunting with a sicilian chef doesn't seem to have much relevance to going deer hunting with a bunch of blue collar guys who live next door, nor is the meal he plans to produce something that anyone could make and eat very often. Speaking as someone who does not hunt (that kosher thing) but whose father did, and who believes that human predation is a perfectly normal thing, and preferrable, say, to having lyme disease from an excess of white-tailed deer (oh, it isn't that easy, of course, but I'll write more on vegetarianism and meat eating another time), I think Pollan ends up using the meal he decided to make as a way of choosing to avoid the logical conclusion of his writing, and the book is the poorer for it. The closing chapter is not about how we could eat, but about the impossibility of producing our own food, and, to a large degree, about the impossibility of even eating sustainably. And I think to a large degree that's because he chose a meal that is unreproducable for millions - as opposed to the simple, ordinary chicken and corn or french fries of his organic and conventional prior meals. His conclusions, drawn from his experiences on Salatin's farm and of hunting and gathering (and presumably of eating at McDonalds) are implicitly that sustainable eating is never going to happen on any great scale. At the end of his section on Salatin's farm, he likens Salatin to Luther, creating his own new denominations of people for whom food quality and healthfulness matters, small niches of (elitist) people who care about their food in the great wilderness. But implying this suggests that most other people (I wonder who - the ones who eat at McDonalds more and are mostly of a different class?) don't actually care deeply about their food's taste, health and environmental cost. And his final set of conclusions are deeply disappointing to me, personally. Because he creates the ground work for a fairly simple conclusion - industrial scale food production, whether organic or non, is a failure, a disaster for those who care about ethics or the environment. In a way, it doesn't matter whether what you care about is the suffering of animals (industrial slaughter) or the suffering of humans (malnutrition), the extermination of songbirds (pesticides) or rising cancer rates (pesticides) or the extermination of everyone due to global warming, the conclusion that Pollan expertly and gracefully leads us to - ie, that many more people need to take a role in their own food systems, both by buying locally, encouraging the creation of millions of new small farms instead of an expanding industrial system, and by growing some of their own (or hunting it, or foraging), is finally left off, in the interest of implying that the problem is irresolvable. This, I think, is rather a cheap ending, and an unfair one to the person who has sorted through the complexities of his arguments and analysis and comes out wanting to know what to do next. Pollan tells us at the very end, referring to his home produced meal and the one from McDonalds, "...these meals are equally unreal and equally unsustainable." But the fact that the home produced meal is unsustainable and unreproducable is his choice - because a dinner of potatoes and eggs with salad, equally local, equally gathered, is sustainable and available to anyone with a bit of backyard if they want it. By implying that self-provisioning is a fantasy in this modern world, Pollan essentially suggests we leave the farming to the farmers - but there simply aren't enough farmers to have a small, local, organic farm everywhere. If we're to reduce our footprint more than anyone can by hopping over to whole foods in the SUV and picking up a box of whole wheat mac and cheese and some organic apples from China, people are going to have to take some responsibility for feeding themselves. No, they don't have to go hunt wild boar. But they might have to grow a garden, or make possible a nearby farm. They might have to encourage their children to grow up to be farmers. And they might have to imagine a world in which feeding oneself is not either a work of magic or a work of industry, but simply the ordinary job that ordinary people have been doing for thousands of years.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

iPhone: The Missing Manual [ILLUSTRATED] (Paperback) by David Pogue

When I first saw the release of iPhone: The Missing Manual by David Pogue, I wanted to review it. Never mind that I didn't yet *have* an iPhone... I just like the style of the Missing Manual series. But when my wife surprised me with my very own 8GB iPhone, getting a copy of this book became a priority. And while it's possible to get quite a bit from just the user interface, there *are* things you'll want to know that aren't covered in the "Finger Tips" documentation. Pogue's book absolutely shines when it comes to taking your experience level up a notch... Contents: Part 1 - The iPhone as Phone: The Guided Tour; Phone Calls; Fancy Phone Tricks Part 2 - The iPhone as iPod: Music and Video; Photos and Camera Part 3 - The iPhone Online: Getting Online; The Web; Email; Maps and Apps Part 4 - Beyond iPhone: iTunes for iPhoners; Syncing the iPhone; Add-Ons - Accessories and Web Apps; Settings Part 5 - Appendixes: Setup and Signup; Troubleshooting and Maintenance Index It's a real testimony to the designers of the iPhone that you can pack this much functionality into a device and get away without including a sizable manual. I probably had 60% to 70% of the functions figured out in the first couple of hours with no help. But iPhone: The Missing Manual is perfect for understanding those areas not used as often, as well as gaining some deeper understanding of *why* some things work as they do. For instance, I was a little confused as to why Flash files wouldn't play. But David explains the reasoning behind that (whether you agree with Apple or not is a different story). I also didn't know how much YouTube had done to accommodate iPhone users. And the explanation of how the keyboard works, as well as shortcuts you might not stumble onto yourself, is worth the price of the book alone. I also appreciated his coverage throughout the book on battery life. That was the first thing I noticed about the iPhone when I started using it. Where I could go a week or so before recharging a normal cell phone, I was now looking at recharging the iPhone every couple of days. Pogue does a very good job in pointing out what features are power hogs, which ones are "battery-friendly", and what you can do to conserve your battery time if you're not going to be able to recharge right away. I now know why my fascination with using the web browser was causing nightly recharges... :) Yes, you could download the PDF iPhone manual from Apple and learn most of what's covered here. In fact, it's probably a good idea to do so regardless of whether you buy this book or not. But if you want a non-Apple-biased view of how things work (or don't), iPhone: The Missing Manual will give it to you straight. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go spend some more quality time with my new toy and book...


The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers (Voices That Matter) (Paperback) by Scott Kelby

This is neither the biggest book on Photoshop, nor the most comprehensive. The author makes no pretense of covering every feature contained in the massive program known as Photoshop CS3. What he does attempt to do is identify tasks useful to digital photographers (and this includes film shooters who scan) and give step-by-step explanations to get them done. Most of the information is presented in a very task-oriented approach. The emphasis is squarely placed on giving you the tools to get things done quickly and efficiently. As such, I find it a highly useful reference book often as I edit photos. For those who own the prior version for CS2, this is much more than a rehash of the same material with a few odds and ends added to cover the new CS3 features. I was surprised to see that most or all of the example photos appear to be new for this edition and the author has reorganized the material within each chapter. I applaud Mr. Kelby for what looks like an earnest attempt to earn our money rather than just cash in on the sales a new version of Photoshop automatically generate. On the negative side, I do wish that the author would tone down his attempts to be funny throughout the book. Humor has gone from being unknown in how-to books to being painfully overused and this book is a prime example. It goes from being mildly cute for the first couple of pages to just getting in the way and slowing down the flow of information as you continue reading. Overall, I highly recommend this book. Mr. Kelby has done an excellent job organizing and presenting a useful guide to Photoshop CS3 and I commend him for that. If he prunes 90% of his attempts at humor, I'll give his next book 5 stars instead of 4.


Adobe Photoshop CS3 Classroom in a Book (Paperback) Review

Adobe has released the new upgrade for Photoshop CS3 and a new version called Photoshop CS3 Extended. Whether you get Photoshop as a single product or as part of the Adobe Creative Suite 3, this book by the Adobe Creative Team is the latest edition of the official training series for Adobe software and covers both versions of Photoshop. As in previous editions, this book contains lessons that will help both the novice and advanced user get up to speed with the new upgrade. For the novice, the authors cover the basics of Photoshop and the advanced users will want to check out the lessons for the new features. Each lesson has step-by-step instructions and accompanying image files that give you hands on practice. At the end of each chapter is a Q & A review. Within the chapters are tips and techniques from Photoshop professionals Julieanne Kost and Russell Brown. Some of the new features and tools covered in the book include Smart Filters and the Quick Selection tool. Other lessons teach you how to take advantage of the improvements to your favorite tools such as Camera Raw and Adobe Bridge. As you would expect, the authors begin by discussing the workspace's new layout which has several improvements to help you streamline your work. The next few chapters cover the basics of photo correction, retouch and repair. You will also learn how to create a PDF presentation and how to use the Adobe Lightroom. Next, the authors move on to discuss the many ways to make selections. They discuss some of your old favorite selection tools and new additions such as the Quick Selection tool. I especially enjoyed the sample projects that were more interesting than usual in a book such as this. In one chapter the authors used an example scrapbook page to show how to use layers to organize the objects on the page and how to work with layer comps and blend modes. The next project was a book cover which the authors used to teach masks and channels. You will learn how to create temporary Quick Masks, store a mask as an alpha channel and how to use filters, effects and blend modes with masks. Working with type in Photoshop is one of my favorite tasks and the authors use a poster as a sample project for this chapter. They cover the Type palette, paths, shapes and Smart Objects. I especially liked the lesson about applying text to a complex path. If you have never tried your hand at the Photoshop vector drawing tools, you will enjoy the chapter which covers drawing paths with the Pen tool, layer shapes and more. Advanced layers is next and the authors show you how to use adjustment layers and the Vanishing Point grid to achieve a 3D effect for product package design. Next, you will create a four image montage and learn about advanced compositing. In this chapter, you will also learn about automating a series of steps to speed up your workflow. Photoshop is still the best when it comes to creating and optimizing images for the web. You will learn several tasks including slicing an image, adding HTML linkage to image slices, rollover buttons and optimizing GIF, JPEG and GIF animations. You will like how easy it is to create an animation with the Tween feature. The authors included a chapter that touches on some of the features in Photoshop Extended. You will learn about the Measurement tool, Measurement Log palette and more. The last chapter covers color printing, four color separation and preparing for PostScript CMYK printing. The members of the Adobe Creative Team for this book were Andrew Faulkner and Judy Walthers von Alten. The CD includes files for the lessons, fonts, stock photos and training videos from [...] and Total Training.


The Digital Photography Book (Paperback) by Scott Kelby Review

I have enjoyed photography as a hobby for 50+years. I own a Canon 20D and am a Scott Kelby fan. He is a great photoshop expert, yet emphasizes the importance of getting the best possible shot when taking the picture, to make your time in photoshop more enjoyable. You don't have to work as hard if you make the correct exposure to begin with. Scott approaches each chapter with some humor, and really understands what you really need is a clear bottom line on how to approach the person or subject you want to photograph. I received my book Sept 4th, read it and used some of his tips shooting 500+ volleyball pictures Sept 5th. I think I can see some improvement in my pictures already. He has equipment recommendations and shooting tips for the person that has just bought a digital camera to the person that uses it to make a living. He has worked alongside of professionals learning tips on how to process the digital photographs and how to best print them. Scott believes photography can be more fun if you get results you like by using some of the basic principles used by professional photographers. I have unhesitatingly recommended this book to several of my friends. This is one of the least expensive camera related purchases that I have made to bring my excitement of photography to a new level. I am quite certain you won't be disappointed, especially if you own a Nikon or Canon digital SLR. I expect my copy to become dog eared from use.


World Without End (Hardcover)by Ken Follett

I am a big fan of Ken Follett's work, but know that most authors have occasional "duds", and at over 1000 pages (the British version I bought), I was concerned this would be a bloated, rambling disappointment. I also loved "Pillars of the Earth" when I read it many years ago but had forgotten all but being fascinated by learning cathedral construction techniques, so I was hesitant to read a "sequel" in case this book was dependent on remembering the first one. Still, because I read that this was a well researched and competent book, I decided to take a chance on it. I am happy to report that my concerns were unfounded. The book is long, but it has a lot going on and is not at all bloated. There are several stories being told, but they all interweave and the elimination of one would be a loss. Although it is set in the same location and refers back to some of the original characters, reading or remembering "Pillars" is not required. I enjoy learning about the construction and medical theories of the day and wish this aspect had been further expanded, but if a reader does not, there is not so much of it that it would be detrimental. All in all, if you like historical fiction with plenty of death, love and destruction, this book is highly recommended. The length of the book will dissuade some from trying it, but those who have longer attention spans will not be disappointed.


You: Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty (You) (Hardcover) by Michael F. Roizen

I like these authors and I think on the whole they provide an excellent public service by motivating people to make healthy lifestyle choices and providing much useful information. My problem with this book is that it makes numerous claims about the health benefits of various supplements and even medications which are much more controversial than the authors acknowledge. To compound the problem, the authors don't cite ANY of the scientific studies which form the basis for their claims, so if a reader is inclined to follow their advice but wants to know more about the issue, they have no reference for further research. One very significant example is the authors' advice, on page 123, to take a daily aspirin because it cuts the risk of breast cancer and other cancers by 40%. Even though the end of the section contains a short sentence suggesting that people discuss this advice with their doctors, it is certainly predictable that many readers seeing this dramatic claim for aspirin will simply start taking it without obtaining medical clearance. This could potentially result in life-threatening complications for certain patients, and even if it is generally safe, it is a very serious claim to be making considering that the medical community has not yet embraced daily aspirin therapy for the prevention of breast and other cancers. I researched this issue to the best of my ability and, while there was a study in 2004 which tends to support the authors' claim, there was another study in 2005 which found the opposite. So, it would have been really useful if the authors had included footnotes informing readers of which studies they are relying upon instead of making all of these claims in a vacuum. That is why I really like Jean Carper's old but still very useful book, "The Food Pharmacy" -- every nutritional claim she makes is rigorously described in terms of what the actual studies showed and it is copiously annotated with footnotes to these studies. I would love to see the authors of "You Staying Young" take a page from Jean Carper and consider providing the sources for their claims.


In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)

This book is full of clear-headed wisdom and practical advice. It's divided into three sections. The first third is a history lesson. In "The Age of Nutritionism," the author explains how, during the last half of the 20th century, well-intentioned politicians and scientists created a culture that places more emphasis on consuming nutrients (protein, potassium, Vitamin C) than whole foods (meat, bananas, orange juice). The middle of the book, "The Western Diet and The Diseases of Civilization," discusses how our modern diet has led to increases in such things as cancer, heart disease, even tooth decay. The final third, "Getting Over Nutritionism" offers advice on how to escape this troubled diet. Pollan argues that we should pay more attention to the portions of food we eat, and less to qualities such as carb or fat content. He points out that the French people eat rich food, but stay slim by eating on small plates and avoiding seconds and snacking, and mentions that in Okinawa, Japan, people follow "Hara Hachi Bu," which means to stop eating when you are 80 percent full. Pollan also recommends we eat more produce. Doing so can help with obesity as well as a host of health problems. My only qualm with "In Defense of Food" is that the publisher has packaged this advice into a typical all-text hardback. There are no photographs, no illustrations, no charts, no graphs. If only the book was more visual! This information is so useful, it's a shame that it will probably be exposed only to those of us who are avid readers. It doesn't, however, take long to get through. Not counting the acknowledgments, sources and index pages there are only 200 pages, and those are set in fairly large type. Personally I loved this book. I found myself making a grocery list while reading it -- jotting down what to avoid and what to stock up on.


Monday, January 14, 2008

The Dangerous Book for Boys (Hardcover) Review

I have been thoroughly enjoying the book, as has my son and thousands of boys (and dads!) in Great Britain and the US. What is it about this book that brings such excitement to so many? If I had to offer my opinion, I would say that the appeal of this book is that it does not ask any boy to apologize for being a boy. Our culture is infested with the demand that boys forgo their God given call to grow up to be men, largely because we have adopted an unhealthy view of just what a man is. Whether our example be found in Homer Simpson, Ray Romano or the dad on Family Guy, men are portrayed as selfish imbeciles in a large portion of the media. Women are shown to be compassionate and intelligent, and they are usually given the role of the one who fixes the problems created by men. I have no doubt that most women are compassionate and intelligent, but the common negative portrayal of men is presented far too often, and frankly I'm tired of it. This book has a different take on what it means to be a boy, which is important because boys grow up to be men. From a biblical standpoint, men are meant to lead their families and churches by serving them. Where can you find such a concept on the television? You can't. This is yet another reason to get this book in the hands of a boy and his dad and get them outside to explore the world, whether that be an excursion in the woods or even just in the back yard. But how does this book portray a boy? What ideals are encouraged? I'm glad you asked. I simply cannot take this book section by section. There are instructions meant to get a boy started in tying knots, making a bow and arrow, fishing and many other activities. These are expected out of a book about being a boy. But included with such topics are other mini-chapters about the wonders of the world, grammar, historical battles, understanding latitude and longitude (something I never grasped in a classroom), the Declaration of Independence, poetry, Latin phrases, literature the Ten Commandments and also how to talk to girls. I mention talking to girls last, not because it is the last topic, but because I would like to highlight it for a moment. The first piece of advice about girls is to listen to them. The second is to avoid a long string of nervous jokes by listening to them. I'm sure that my wife wishes I had this book as a child! After this, romance is mentioned. Buying flowers is often not a good idea if you are young, because the girl will know your parents purchased them. I wouldn't have thought of that. Anonymous valentines are a good idea, due to the suspense the girl will have trying to figure out who's eye she has caught. Vulgarity of all forms is to be avoided at all costs. Respect for girls is given the utmost priority. Is this what is so dangerous about this book? Is it the high value the authors place upon girls or is it the very fact that they say that girls and boys are not identical? Is it the suggestion that every boy should have band-aids available for the inevitable mishap, because our bodies do heal? Or is it the way this book portrays a healthy boy in a way that expresses both a boy's natural desire for adventure and the ideal of respectfulness for others? I really can't say for sure. If I had to pick one way that this book is considered dangerous and why it has met some opposition, I would say that it is because The Dangerous Book for Boys resonates so well with dads who can only wish such a book was available to them when they were growing up, and because their sons by and large are reveling in the contemplation of spending Sunday afternoons and long summer days with their dads, rediscovering what it means to be a boy with their father acting as the primary instructor. I give this book my highest praise and encourage every dad to buy it for their sons. If you have a boy, you really need to get this book. If you don't have any boys, I'm sure you know somebody who does.


Eat This Not That: Thousands of Simple Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds-or More! (Paperback)

This guide gives you heaps of smart choices to help you manage your weight so you can still go out to eat at great places without packing on as much weight. If you don't know what you're putting into your body, you can make huge mistakes when it comes to the choices you make. Sometimes your main meal could contain two days worth of fat, so Dave has given us these choices to still enjoy ourselves when eating out either at restaurants or fast food restaurants. There is information in here that you may not have ever heard in here and when you find out why, the choices are even easier for us. When he tells you about the amount of meat in burgers and how that can be four days worth of meat in one sitting. Scary. He's done a years worth of investigating to put this book together and bring us these facts and found that the typical fast food restaurant has about 552 calories per entre and a typical sit down restaurant has aprox 870 and these numbers will shock you into better choices. Dave is well researched and knows what he's talking about. I love this book and find it really interesting even if you don't need to watch your weight but just want to make healthier choices. You can take it around with you when you are in the drive thru or at a deli etc etc. Therefore I think everyone can benefit from reading this book and would make the perfect birthday gift or a treat to yourself. I love it.


Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out (Hardcover) Review

When I first saw the title, "Happy for No Reason," I'll have to admit that my initial reaction was that this would be just one more new age, touch-feely, full-of-fluff feel-good book. So I was very pleasantly surprised to see how thoroughly-researched, well-written, and down-to-earth practical this book is. "Happy for No Reason" is a groundbreaking philosophy that belongs in the same category as the work of David Burns (cognitive mood therapy), Martin Seligman (learned optimism), Daniel Goleman (emotional intelligence) and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (flow). It is a brilliant blend of scientific research summarized in language that anyone can understand plus stories from people Marci calls the Happy 100, people who are role models of happiness for the sake of happiness, not because of love or money or other exogenous factors. I was so impressed with this book that I gave copies to each of my children as Christmas gifts this year. I'm hoping they will read it with a pen or highlighter in hand, which is what I found myself doing - and would recommend to you as well. It's easy to be unhappy, which might be why so many people are. Watch TV for an hour and you'll have a hundred reasons to not be happy; it's nice to know that you can choose to be happy for no reason at all.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Snakehead (Alex Rider Adventure) (Hardcover) Review

This was the first Alex Rider book that I've read. I wanted to gauge its suitability as a Christmas present for my nephew and also to get a feel for when my son might be old enough to start reading the series. I was pleasantly surprised by this book which is a very readable thriller. The beginning is a little slow, but it builds and the action in the final quarter is particularly exciting. I won't reiterate the plot, but it is as plausible as any Bond movie (ie: just enough for you to suspend disbelief) and touches on recent news events like people smuggling and tsunamis. I would think the bullseye age group for this book is 10-14 years. The vocabulary is probably too stretching for a younger reader (words like acrid, infiltration, gantry, proposition and ricocheted). The 400 page length and reasonably complicated plot would also be unlikely to sustain the interest of most younger readers. And while a child older than 14 would probably still enjoy this book, I think they could cope with something more complex, such as Matthew Reilly or Allan Folsom. Here are some things that parents may like to know about this book: - There is a lot of violence - mostly shooting but also stabbing and fighting. Some of that violence is unprovoked or involves innocent civilians. While the violence is not described in overly graphic detail, it does frequently occur. Alex fires a gun once, although he doesn't hit anybody. - There are also some disturbing scenes, eg: one in which Alex is covered in rats (it scared me anyway!) and another when he is going to be farmed for body organs. - There is no swearing or blasphemy - Alex does swear once but the description is "he spat out every foul word he knew" which is pretty vague! - Alex is offered beer on at least two occasions (which he always declines). - No sex. One passing reference to topless women in a Thai bar. Overall I thought this action packed story was an excellent choice for a mature 10-14 year old (male or female) - I know that I would have loved it at that age!


The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (Calvin & Hobbes) [BOX SET] (Hardcover) Review

There is something unique about Watterson; all Calvin and Hobbes fans know that. No one should expect an explanation from Bill as to why he completely edited and altered the "biological mother" strip from November 25, 1988, which is reprinted in its original form in "Weirdos from Another Planet". He is like J.D. Salinger and simply won't talk to the media; he has complete control over his edits, which means IT WAS HIS IDEA TO CHANGE IT, and thus, BLAME WATTERSON if you don't like the edit, NOT THE PUBLISHER. The original goes: CALVIN: Watch out, Mom. I'm in a bad mood. MOM: Be in a bad mood somewhere else, OK? I'm busy. CALVIN: Hmph! I'll bet my BIOLOGICAL MOTHER would've bought me a comic book and made me feel better instead of shunning me like you. MOM: Kid, anyone but your BIOLOGICAL MOTHER would've left you to the wolves long ago. CALVIN: Yeah right. REALLY, HOW MUCH DID YOU PAY FOR ME? Watterson CHANGED IT IN HIS OWN FREE WILL to read; CALVIN: Watch out, Mom. I'm in a bad mood. MOM: Be in a bad mood somewhere else, OK? I'm busy. CALVIN: Hmph! I'll bet A GOOD MOTHER would've bought me a comic book and made me feel better instead of shunning me like you. MOM: Kid, anyone but your GOOD MOTHER would've left you to the wolves long ago. CALVIN: Yeah right. LET'S SEE YOUR TRAINING CERTIFICATE. It changes alot of the meaning of the strip itself; instead of ending in a preguntory, philosophical QUESTION, he changes it to a flat statement with no rhetorical thought at all. maybe he felt it was anti-adoption, and maybe he had a change of view after 15 YEARS. it happens. buy the set, respect watterson for not giving in to big business TEN years ago or selling out to plush toys and stickers, which are ALL illegal and never approved by Bill. He is a genius, and should be able to edit ONE comic in his opus if he felt the need-- he deserves all the credit he receives.


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An Inconvenient Book: Real Solutions to the World's Biggest Problems (Kindle Edition) Review

I just finished reading this great book by Glenn Beck. I'll try to write a thorough review, so a few criticisms will be here, but I love Glenn (we go way back, though he doesn't even know me!), and the book was a delight to read. As I sat down and poured myself a Coke Zero (thanks Glenn, I'm hooked), I prepared to read. First, I was impressed just by picking it up. Glossy pages! Smells of new print (like a new textbook)! High production quality! This is a serious book for only $15! Glenn has said multiple times that he tempers his ADD by surrounding himself with good people, and this book is no exception. Kevin Balfe shines through (even gets 2nd billing as an author). Stu and Dan obviously helped, with a few new names (who I'm guessing must be the liberals he mentioned having to hire). The book covers just about everything, with 1 chapter covering the main bullet points on Global Warming. Anybody with a small amount of an investigative mind sees the agenda behind the current scare, and Glenn hits most points right on. There are better books if you want the science, free from Big Corn (agribusiness), tax raisers, and big/global government types--this is just an introduction. There's only 23 pages on that, because he quickly moves to Marriage and Porn. The next chapters cover Islam, Body Image, Blind Dating, Income Gap, Oil Dependence, Liberal Universities, Political Games, Movie Rentals, Media Bias, Political Correctness, Tipping, Child Molesters (skip this one, it's disturbing), the UN (connected to the previous chapter), Remembering Names, Minimum Wage, Aging, Opinion Polls (GREAT CHAPTER), Poverty, Parenting, and Illegal Immigration. Just enough to get you a quick intro to Glenn's world view, with tons of funny ADD bubbles, hysterical cartoons, and entertaining graphics. I buy and read just about every new conservative book that is published. This is not an Ann Coulter book with extensive footnotes and insight. Not a Sean Hannity book of repetition. Not a Michael Savage book with mindless vitriole (except 2 comments on Rosie's weight, and some comparison between Nancy Pelosi and Lindsay Lohan that I can't understand). Most of these books you have to sit down and focus on to read, and many get boring after 50 pages. Put it another way--you've never read a "political" book like this, because it's not really political. It is the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment (don't sue me...). It also beats the socks off the "real america", which was rather boring to read (I think Glenn wrote it himself...). It's not about left and right, but right and wrong, and Glenn really does say what those of us who aren't thinking, are thinking. Those of you who write negative reviews without even reading the book have no clue who Glenn really is as a person. He's not as witty as Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh (and does not claim to be), but he's entertaining and REAL. If you listen to his show long enough, you will realize that he is a complete amateur, and that most of his famous Media Matters gaffes are just him being completely bumbling and not expressing himself right. He is the most paranoid optimist you'll ever hear on the future of the American people, which is why I love listening to him. A few small comments. First, if you are a freak, and a fan of the show, most of this is nothing you haven't heard before. As a matter of fact, I think some of the photos (the gay Glenn photo for sure), and some of the text is lifted right out of his Fusion magazine. I can't blame him--Fusion has a fairly limited circulation, so I'd imagine 95% of the readers haven't seen this before. Second, there are a few small mistakes. Blame it on Glenn's ADD. Which, if you had to suffer through the boring week on the radio when he took Ritalin, you should be grateful for (he talked to callers for longer than 2 minutes and actually listened to them... it was a snooze). I must point out, that last I checked, the governor of Washington State was ChrisTINE Gregoire, who is most definitely not a "he" (page 151). Also, I think the Merriam-Webster TIP definition is apocryphal--at least it wasn't in my edition (page 164). In Glenn's defense, the book is full of references to his ADD and inability to remember facts and names, so it is internally consistent. One more thing--I stand firmly against the Public Affairs Act of 1975, and Glenn is a hatemonger for supporting it. All of you should call your senators and tell them not to let Bush and his cronies at Halliburton get away with supporting Big Oil with the continuation of the Public Affairs Act of 1975 (page 236). Way to go, Glenn! Can't wait to see what your next big project might be (you've made some references on your show.....)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Water for Elephants: A Novel

Although it is only April, I predict that Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen will be one of the best books I read this year. Gruen has proven to be an amazing storyteller. Water for Elephants is told in the first person but from two different perspectives--Jacob Jankowski at 23 years of age and again, at 93 years old. Gruen seamlessly weaves the chapters between past and present. Jacob at 23 is finishing up his last semester at Cornell Veterinary School when a family tragedy causes him to flee. He finds himself on a train for the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth in 1931. Needing a vet, the circus hires young Jacob to tend to their menagerie. Jacob at 93 resides in a nursing home where he laments the curses of old age, the passing of his wife, and the waning affection of his family. The arrival of a visiting circus triggers a flashback to his youthful circus experiences. 1931 is a hard time for almost all Americans, and the circus workers are as hard hit as any. Most are one step away from being homeless and jobless. Conditions on the circus train are harsh for most. Many workers go weeks without being paid, and they tend to disappear during the night when times are tough (management has them thrown off the train). The menagerie is often times treated better than the workers. But the circus does provide three meals a day and a place to sleep--even it if might mean a horse blanket on a train bed floor. Jacob discovers very quickly that he's just about the only advocate the animals have and he must battle a ruthless owner (Uncle Al) and a crazy animal trainer (August). Any circus has more than their fair share of interesting characters, and Gruen's circus is no exception. In addition to Uncle Al and August, there is Walter (the midget clown), Marlena (an equestrian with whom Jacob falls in love), and Grady and Camel (workers). One of the most sympathetic characters in Water for Elephants is Rosie, the elephant--who shares more "human" characteristics and feelings than some of the circus bosses. The tender-hearted Jacob quickly grows to manhood as he is forced to protect both animals and coworkers from abuse and worse. Water for Elephants is a delightful, moving book, and the ending was a very pleasant surprise. Also, if you want a special treat, listen to it on audiobook. The two readers, David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones, did a wonderful job of bringing both Jacobs (young and old) to life.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Kite Runner: A Portrait of the Epic Film (Newmarket Pictorial Moviebooks) by David Benioff and Khaled Hosseini

This epic novel is set in Afghanistan, beginning in the days of the monarchy and reaching to the early 21st century. Amir is the son of a wealthy man; his best friend is Hassan, the son of his father's servant. Growing up in Kabul, the two share an idyllic childhood until a traumatic event--and Amir's act of cowardly betrayal--changes the nature of their friendship. Amir, who ends up in America, is tortured by his betrayal of Hassan, and he finds himself compelled to return, years later, to a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan to make amends. THE KITE RUNNER, written by an Afghani--now a physician--whose family found asylum in the U.S. in 1980--personalizes the conflicts in Afghanistan and the US involvement there. A debut novel, it was hailed by critics for its poetic prose and vivid characters.

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The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (Audio Download)

Best known for his tautly suspenseful espionage thrillers, Ken Follett took a radical departure far into the past with this epic story of the construction of a cathedral. While there is a mystery here, the book focuses more on the lives of the various people who created the cathedral or were touched by those who did.
I didn't know what to expect when I first opened this novel; now I believe it is far and away Follett's best work. While it does not offer the high-level of suspense he so brilliantly maintains in his thrillers, there are still moments of breathless anticipation and heart-pounding fear. The characters are, as Follett's characters usually are, sympathetic, flawed, ingenious, courageous, cowardly, poignant, and real. His depiction of medieval England is vivid; he weaves a tapestry of adventure, drama, romance and mystery so richly textured that the reader is almost unaware of the underlying themes of good and evil, spiritual trauma, human frailty, and hope.
One of the most enjoyable elements is the way Follett shares his love of cathedrals and his knowledge of how they were constructed in the Middle Ages through revealing human detail. We follow Tom as he plans out the structure, and see how it's the kind of edifice that a builder lives to create. Later, Jack yearns to carve not merely the decorative geometric shapes he has been given to work on, but natural shapes and designs, and he eventually does carve a figure that strains and grimaces as it appears to hold up part of the church. It is these details that make the cathedral more real to us, just as the people become more real to us, as well.
My hardcover copy (I re-read the paperback version to pieces) is 973 pages long, yet when I was done, I was sad that it had to end. This book is a wonderful way to absorb history and enjoy a multilayered story in the process.

Price: $15.73

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Anyone whose heart strings were pulled by Khaled Hosseini's first, hugely successful novel, The Kite Runner, should be more than satisfied with this follow-up. Hosseini is skilled at telling a certain kind of story, in which events that may seem unbearable - violence, misery and abuse - are made readable. He doesn't gloss over the horrors his characters live through, but something about his direct, explanatory style and the sense that you are moving towards a redemptive ending makes the whole narrative, for all its tragedies, slip down rather easily.

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