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Thomas Duff "Duffbert" (Portland, OR United States)
(REAL NAME)   

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People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges
People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Warped, but in a funny way..., Sept. 9 2014
Yes, this is warped, but in a funny way... People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges by Jen Mann. I read most of this while out walking around a track, and it helped me to keep smiling when my legs were not.

Jen Mann runs a blog (same name as the title of the book) where she shares stories about her life. Quite often they revolve around living in suburbia when you don't really fit the mold of all the over-achievers. Many of the stories revolve around her kids, their schooling, and the people (mostly mothers) who she runs into as part of that school scene. Think of it as "slice of life" observations in blog form. This book takes a number of those entries and compiles them for reading in one place.

I hadn't heard of her prior to seeing this book, but I'm definitely a reader now. Her sarcasm is great, and I think most people could relate to at least a couple of the situations she talks about. It's a mix between sad and funny that the people she interacts with are like they are. But you know there are mothers who *are* driven to make sure their child is the best at everything.

One thing to remember when reading the stories. They do sound over-the-top at times, and they are probably not 100% accurate or "as they really happened". As she states in the author's note up front: "All of the names and identifying characteristics of the people who appear in this book have been changed to protect the good, the bad, and the ugly. So if you think you see yourself in the pages, please be assured that you are almost certainly wrong. These are my stories and this is how I remember them." Just consider that there is probably a great deal of "artistic license" taken here.

I enjoyed the read, but I'm not sure it'd be to everyone's liking. I would suggest going to her blog and read a few of her entries. If you like those, you'll like the book.

Contents:
People I Want To Punch in the Throat - A Short List; You've Got Mail!; Take Your Mother's Sandwich and Shove It; The Hubs or the Cleaning Lady - Don't Make Me Choose; God Bless America (and Thongs); Just Some of the Many Reasons the Neighbors Always Hate Us; Screw Your Playgroup, I Didn't Want to Join Anyway; Gomer Might Be a Racist; Jeez, Lady, I Just Wanted A Cup Of Coffee, Not Your Kidney; Hello Mother, Hello Father, Signing Up for Camp Sucks; Ooh, Sorry to Hear You Got Agnes in Your Class, but I Hear Her Mother Is Lovely; Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Sweet-Ass Ride; Am I Supposed to Believe a Five-Year-Old Made That?; Carpool Lines and Bunny Pajamas Go Together Like... Nothing. They Don't Go Together at All; The Husband Inquisition; Who Needs Dr. Phil When We Have Adolpha?; Do You Ever Invite Me Over When You're Not Trying to Sell Me Something?; Sleepover Is Not a Party Theme! And Other Stupid Things Suburban Moms Complain About; It's Free Bowling, Lady, Not the Junior Olympics; I Thought Mother's Little Helper Was a Babysitter. I was Wrong - It's Drugs; Motherhood - The Toughest Competition You'll Ever Judge; Watch It, That Room Mom'll Cut You; Would You Take Less than a Quarter for This Swarovski Vase?; Moms' Night Out at the Gun Range;

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Netgalley
Payment: Free

Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea
Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 17.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A rare look inside North Korea..., Sept. 7 2014
I enjoyed Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea by Jang Jin-sung a lot. It's an amazing look behind the curtain of the hermit kingdom of North Korea, as well as a story of the will to survive.

Jang Jin-sung was a poet who was part of The Admitted, a group of people who were considered closest to Kim Jong-il. He worked for a department responsible for "propaganda writing" that appeared to come from sympathetic South Korean writers. He had access to material and writings from South Korea to help him assume the right tone and identity, but that also led to a growing disillusionment with the leadership within the country. He couldn't reconcile the words and actions of the government (mostly lies) with the reality of what was happening to its citizens. The vast majority of the citizenry were starving, people were jailed and executed for perceived slights against Kim Jong-il, and government cronies were getting perks that the average person would never know.

Jang Jin-sung decided he couldn't take this any longer, so he and a friend took a trip with forged travel passes to a border town close to China. They bluffed their way through encounters with border guards, and finally came to a point where the frozen river was narrow enough to run for it. While they made it across, they immediately became the target of a huge manhunt by Chinese and North Korean authorities. Knowing nobody on the Chinese side of the border, having virtually no money, and travelling in the dead of winter, their lives were constantly in peril. Fortunate encounters with sympathetic Chinese helped them get closer to the chance to get to Seoul, but too many times they were seconds and inches away from capture and a return to North Korea, which would have meant certain death.

What makes this stand out for me is the ability of Jang Jin-sung to explore his observations and emotions. His skill as a writer puts him in a different category of refugee who seeks escape from life in North Korea. His experience in working within the North Korean government at a high level also adds a level of insight that's rare given the secrecy of that country.

Dear Leader is well worth reading on a number of levels, and will help you to understand why there is such a cult of worship for the Kim family leadership.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

iOttie Easy View 2 Car & Desk Mount Holder for iPhone 6 (4.7)/Plus (5.5) /5s/5c, Samsung Galaxy S5/S4/Note 4/3, LG G3, Google Nexus 5 - Retail Packaging - Black
iOttie Easy View 2 Car & Desk Mount Holder for iPhone 6 (4.7)/Plus (5.5) /5s/5c, Samsung Galaxy S5/S4/Note 4/3, LG G3, Google Nexus 5 - Retail Packaging - Black
Price: CDN$ 22.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A very good choice for dash mounts..., Sept. 6 2014
The iOttie Easy View 2 car & desk mount phone holder works out really well in my car with my iPhone 5s. I've tried using dash mounts before, but they don't seem to hold up very well. The iOttie unit does far better than others in that regard.

Like most dash mounts, it's designed to hold on via suction. You place the mount on the dash and press down the suction lever in the back. This has an added edge in that the plastic portion that adheres to the dash also has a gel-like sticky pad on it. Between that pad and the suction, the mount is extremely secure and doesn't fall over after a short period of time. It also does a good job in holding the phone in whatever position you choose. I had the phone in both portrait and landscape orientation, and it never moved around once it was in place.

With the adjustable arm grips, the iOttie adjusts well to just about any phone you put in there. If you're looking for a good dash mount for your car (like for displaying maps or GPS displays), this is a good choice.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Manufacturer
Payment: Free

Top Secret Twenty-One: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Top Secret Twenty-One: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Better than the last few..., Sept. 1 2014
It took me a bit longer to get to Janet Evanovich's latest Stephanie Plum novel... Top Secret Twenty-One. I actually let the hold expire on this one and picked it up on a second go-around, as I've been less than thrilled with the last few installments. They've all been the same story told with slightly different characters, and the series has gone nowhere when it comes to Plum, Morelli, and Ranger. Now having said all that, this episode was slightly better than the last few, and I actually enjoyed it more than I expected.

Plum is, as per normal, looking into finding a person who skipped out on their bail. In this instance, the person is a high-visibility car salesman who has his fingers in a number of financial deals, and he's dropped off the radar. To add to the mayhem, Plum ends up putting up Randy Briggs in her apartment (regardless of him being a pain in the ***), as he was Poletti's bookkeeper and knows things that might lead Plum to his hiding place. Of course, people want Briggs dead because of what he knows, which means that rockets will be fired and bombs will blow up cars... that's just how Stephanie rolls. In the mean time, Ranger isn't as available to help her out, because he's been targeted for assassination by a former foe who wants to wipe out a whole lot of people by poisoning them with polonium radiation. But he has some ideas on how Plum can help him out for once, which makes her life a lot more interesting...

I think what made this book better than the last few is that there's less of the "do I fall for Ranger or Morelli" questioning. She's with Morelli, and she's keeping her clothes on when it comes to interactions with Ranger. Also, she's moderately more competent when it comes to facing down criminals or going on stakeouts. Plum is still Plum, so she's far from a kick-ass bounty hunter, but she's actually useful to Ranger (and Morelli) throughout the story.

I still think the Plum series has played itself out unless some dramatic shift takes place somewhere. But Twenty-One gives me just enough entertainment to keep Twenty-Two on my list of books to read when they come out.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

Eighteen Acres: A Novel
Eighteen Acres: A Novel
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 16.99

3.0 out of 5 stars This never seemed to get going for me..., Sept. 1 2014
This book was recommended to me by a friend who thought I might like a political thriller. Generally speaking, I'm OK with that genre, but Eighteen Acres by Nicholle Wallace never seemed to get going for me. I'm a bit unsure as to why, though...

The story revolves around a female President of the United States and her Chief of Staff (also female). As her first term is starting to wind down, a number of issues come up that could spell the end of her re-election chances. The country's not in great shape on a number of fronts, and her relationship with her husband is non-existent. In fact, the "First Man" has an on-going affair with a network anchor which gets uncovered in a war-related accident involving a helicopter that's shot down during a press tour with the President. The Chief of Staff is trying to keep everything on track for a re-election bid, but scandals and inter-office conflicts are draining her passion and love for the job. The question becomes whether there is anything that can be done to win the election, and whether it will destroy the lives of those closest to the action.

Wallace served as a communications director for George W. Bush and campaign advisor for McCain/Palin. Normally that political bent would put me off a bit, but she doesn't go overboard in terms of making this a Republican soapbox for various issues. I think I was probably expecting more of a "country in danger from x" storyline, when in reality it's a bit more of a political personality conflict story. I didn't necessarily dislike it, but I couldn't get overly enthused, either.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Friend
Payment: Borrowed

Jumbl™ Mini Hidden Spy Camera Radio Clock w/Motion Detection & Infrared Night Vision - Built-In Screen, Speaker, Micro SD Slot & AUX Line In - Standalone Operation w/o Need for Computer for your Home, Kids & More - Black
Jumbl™ Mini Hidden Spy Camera Radio Clock w/Motion Detection & Infrared Night Vision - Built-In Screen, Speaker, Micro SD Slot & AUX Line In - Standalone Operation w/o Need for Computer for your Home, Kids & More - Black
Offered by Canadian Shoppe
Price: CDN$ 99.99
2 used & new from CDN$ 99.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting features, but the interface and documentation could use some work..., Aug. 24 2014
I've often wondered what the cats may be doing when we're not around. The Jumbl Mini Hidden Spy Camera can help resolve that, as well as keeping an eye on areas where you don't want people to know that there's a record of what they were doing when "no one's around"...

The Jumbl looks like a regular (albeit small) clock radio. The radio is a cube that's only 3.5" long and 2" deep. The buttons at the top control the volume as well as the menu display for the various features. The back of the unit has the on/off switch, the mini-USB slot for charging, a line-in port for streaming from something like an iPhone, a headset port, and a slot for a micro-SD card. The sound quality is decent, and it looks like it should do what is obvious when you look at it.

The non-obvious feature is the fact that it is also a video camera. By pressing the two volume buttons for three seconds, a hidden display comes up that controls the camera in terms of recording quality, auto-recording, IR usage, etc. It can also play back the recorded video that gets stored on the microSD card. While recording, the display goes back to the digital clock display so that its function is basically hidden unless you know what's going on.

While I like what the unit can do, the interface is extremely confusing. The manual is eight pages that are smaller than the clock with a very small font type. It doesn't go into any of the options in depth, and even after playing with it for 20 minutes or so, I still had problems getting it to do basic things. I also found that I'd accidentally set something (like locking the display), and then I would have a horrible time trying to get it back to normal. I realize with this size and form factor, the actual interface will be sparse, and some tradeoffs need to be made. However, in those cases, the written instructions should do a lot more than these do.

If I could give half-stars, I'd go with 3.5 stars on the rating, primarily based on the documentation. For the list price, I'd want more I got.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Manufacturer
Payment: Free

Bolse® Wireless Presentation Presenter with Red Laser Pointer
Bolse® Wireless Presentation Presenter with Red Laser Pointer
Offered by T.M. Enterprise
Price: CDN$ 39.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful design..., Aug. 24 2014
I'm going to be doing my first live presentation in a while, so the offer to review the Bolse Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointer was perfect timing. I've used a number of wireless presenters over the years when I've been on stage, but I always seem to misplace the receivers over time. This pen is great in that it helps avoid that, as well as being comfortable to use... and I can annoy the cats with it between speaking gigs. :)

The pen itself fits naturally in my hand without feeling like I'm trying to hold something in a certain position. The line of four buttons are laid out how I would expect to press them without a lot of thought. The one at the top (closest to my thumb) is the forward button to advance the slides. The next one controls the laser pointer, followed by the third button which is the back button. The button furthest away will cycle through the open windows on your computer, as well as click on hyperlinks on the slide. I likely wouldn't use that during a presentation, so I like having it completely out of the way. With certain button combinations, you can also increase/decrease sound on a presentation. Again, not something I would normally use, but really nice to have.

The "missing receiver" should be a thing of the past now. The small USB dongle fits into the cap of the pen and sits flush with the surface. Not having two separate things to keep track of is essential in making sure this lasts around here. When I'm done using it, I can drop the dongle back into the top of the pen, and it's ready for the next time I need it.

This is a great presenter, and I'm looking forward to my next session with it.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Manufacturer
Payment: Free

Bolse® 3-Port (25W / 5A) High Output USB Car Chargers, Build-in Micro USB Cable, Provides Maximum Power For 3 Devices At Once With SmartIC Technology Charging Station for iPhone 5, 5S; Samsung Galaxy S5; iPad Air, 5, 4; HTC; Touch Screen Tablet; GPS
Bolse® 3-Port (25W / 5A) High Output USB Car Chargers, Build-in Micro USB Cable, Provides Maximum Power For 3 Devices At Once With SmartIC Technology Charging Station for iPhone 5, 5S; Samsung Galaxy S5; iPad Air, 5, 4; HTC; Touch Screen Tablet; GPS
Offered by T.M. Enterprise
Price: CDN$ 29.99
2 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars This puts out a lot of power for the size..., Aug. 24 2014
I like this Bolse 3-Port USB Car Charger, as it gives me a number of capabilities, not the least of which is the ability to charge three things at once. It's a hard combination to beat, especially if you're a person who has a mobile device that uses micro-USB plugs.

The Bolse charger is very compact at only 2.5" long. Once plugged in, there's not a whole lot sticking out. A unique feature of this charger is the attached coiled cord for the micro-USB connector. If you have an Android-style phone or if you want to charge your Kindle, everything is attached in one package. No extra cords floating around. However, there are also two regular USB ports on either side of the cord base. The charger has intelligence to push the amount of needed power to the three ports based on what's plugged in. With 5A total power, I have been able to charge two iPads with no problem, and I could also put my Kindle on it and all three would charge the way they should.

While this would work best for someone with an Android phone, it's still a solid option for other devices (like Apple products). I'm happy with how it works and how it looks.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Manufacturer
Payment: Free

Resistant
Resistant
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 14.39

4.0 out of 5 stars I'm going to miss Dr. Lou Welcome..., Aug. 17 2014
This review is from: Resistant (Kindle Edition)
I'm sad that Resistant by Michael Palmer is the last episode of Dr. Lou Welcome that I'll ever have the pleasure of reading. Palmer passed away as the book was being finished, so this will serve as his final work. I read that his family worked to finish it up and get it published, and I wonder if that's responsible for a few of the nagging issues I had with the story.

The overall story line involves the emergence of a bacteria that is resistant to all antibiotics that doctors have available. Patients who end up with the Doomsday Germ start out with a small infection that rapidly turns toxic, leading to amputations and usually death. The question is where did it come from? The answer lies in a shadow terrorist group known as One Hundred Neighbors, a group that has tentacles throughout government and industry. They have an agenda, and they are willing to use germ warfare to accomplish their aims. Dr. Welcome gets involved when his best friend and AA sponsor seriously injures his leg in a trail run. Welcome is able to get him to a hospital in time, but when Cap gets the Doomsday infection, Welcome shifts into overdrive to try and find a way to keep his friend from dying. Unfortunately, there are a number of people who are just as committed to making sure he doesn't.

I picked up the book yesterday at the library, and finished it early this morning. I haven't done that in a while with a library book. For me, the main driver was the characters that Palmer created. Dr. Welcome is a fun blend of sarcasm and loyalty, willing to do anything he can to help and protect those he cares about. One of the other major characters is also unique, as he has severe cerebral palsy, Palmer handles that with a lot of respect for the person under the disease.

Where I had some issues is with the One Hundred Neighbors plot driver. On one hand, having a "powerful mystery group" allows you a lot of leeway in where you can go with the story. It also allowed Palmer to keep the reader guessing as to who was the good guy vs. the bad guy when dealing with various organizations. But the agenda portion of the group almost seemed to be a soapbox for the author (although I hope he wasn't really that far right-wing). He also didn't do much in terms of detailing much about how the group was holding the government hostage to accomplish their goals. Other than "we've done this and been responsible for that, and if you don't do this next thing, we'll do this other thing", it was all sort of vague.

I'm also OK with some level of "suspension of belief", but a few items in the story pushed that a little too far. For instance, if someone took a bullet to the head, would they *really* be allowed to leave the hospital after only a couple of days *and* be allowed to resume work immediately? I'm guessing... no. But even with those problems, I still enjoyed the book (and "couldn't put it down").

Mr. Palmer, thanks for the many hours of reading enjoyment you're given us. You'll be missed.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

So Now You're a Zombie: A Handbook for the Newly Undead
So Now You're a Zombie: A Handbook for the Newly Undead
Price: CDN$ 9.39

4.0 out of 5 stars How to be successful in your next "life"..., Aug. 17 2014
I didn't go to the library to get this, but it happened to be on display as a "recommended read"... So Now You're a Zombie: A Handbook for the Newly Undead by John Austin. I thought it might be a fun read and twist from the normal zombie reading material I've looked at. With it's tongue-in-cheek approach to zombie "survival", it was entertaining.

Contents:
Introduction - The Road to Brainville: Zombie Assessment; Safety Precautions; Zeds' Disclaimer
What the Hell Am I?: Screw Responsibility!; Zombie History; Not in the Family
Your Zombie Body: Body Parts of Importance; Use Your Head!; Body Language; What's Your Body Type?; Post-life Expectancy; Body Q&A
Know Your Enemy: Human Needs; Humans Will Make Mistakes; How to Kill a Human
Hunting for Brains: Lunch, Dinner, or Midnight Snack?; Tracking; Hunting Techniques; Waiting for Food; Human Structures; Obstacles You Will Face; Terrain Types; I See a Human - What Should I Do?
Transportation: How to Stop a Vehicle; Human Extraction; How to Hitch a Ride; Rides to Avoid; One-Brain Vehicles
Attacking: Holding Techniques; Use Your Body as a Weapon; Zed Melee Weapon; Defensive Strategies; Avoiding the Bullet; The Flame; Hand-to-Mouth Combat; Combat Quiz
Human Buffet: The Preferable Flesh; Feeding Etiquette; Absorption; Ordering Off the Menu; Other Foods to Avoid
Infecting: Administering an Infection; Stages of Zombification; Worldwide Infection; Infecting Animals
In the End: Never Give Up!; Escaping Captivity; Zombicide
Appendix: The Zombie Code
Final World: A Message for the Living

OK... Just to acknowledge the elephant in the room for those who don't do humor very well... Yes, I know you could not read this book if you were a zombie, nor could you plan or execute some of the techniques outlined in the book. Just get over it, OK? This isn't meant to be real-life.

I enjoyed looking at zombies from the perspective of what a zombie would have to know to "survive". Everyone (and every book, movie, and TV series) has their own angle on how zombies act and what they need to survive. It was interesting to see how some of those different views were blended into the material. For instance, I flashed back to episodes of The Walking Dead more than once when I was reading.

If you like the zombie genre, you'll probably like this for what it is... an entertaining look on what it takes to make it as a walker. Who knows? If a zombie outbreak ever *does* occur, maybe you'll remember enough of this to make your next life a bit more successful. :)

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

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