Digital Win: Audible

I have been meaning to do one of these for a while, and now I am finally writing our first digital win piece.  A digital win is what it sounds like.  It is about things that, in my opinion, beat the analog version of itself for various reasons.  In this case, it beats the hell out of it.    Today’s subject is the audiobook service Audible.

     My personal history with audiobooks goes all the way back to 1996.  I was nine years old, a pretty heavy reader for my age, beating accelerated reader into the ground, raiding my school library, and begging my mother and grandmother for every Goosebumps book that came out, or that I did not already have.  My first audiobook was Goosebumps: A Night In Terror Tower.  It was a cassette tape that I am pretty sure my mom came home with just because.  It was about an hour and twelve minutes long, and I listened to it so many times, I am fairly certain I had it memorized.  Every time I cleaned my room, walking around with my head phones on, at daycare after school.  It was pretty high on quality too, had different actors, some mood music, I loved it.  Turns out, I still have it.  

    I took the next step in audiobooks by buying tapes from the library when they sold them off.  After that, after I got in the military and had the money to acquire my first IPod (30 gigs, the first ones with video on them) and I could shop for audiobooks on the iTunes market place.  Since 2007 that was the end of that story, I acquired books at the rate of one or two a month so that I could take them to Iraq with me and listen.  After Iraq my wife and I started using them on road trips (military families tend to travel a good bit) and really that has been our standard protocol for all road trips.  We even have our favorites, The Silence of the Lambs would be worn out now if it wasn’t digital.  They were pricey so we had to listen to them a good bit sometimes, just to avoid buying new ones.  The last one I bought was Patriot Games from ITunes.  

    Enter Audible.  I found out about audible five years ago.  As they are the providers of Apple’s audiobook content, their prices are very similar, but they have a subscription service.  The subscriptions are the way to go.  They have credits, and I have not seen a book a credit will not buy.  For twenty-five dollars a month I get two credits, which is far under the price of an audiobook.  When I started this, that wouldn’t buy a single Harry Potter title, now it gets one per credit.  The idea behind the business model is that you will use your credits and need another fix, and then you will find that your membership also buys you a massive discount on books. I have never bought another book without my credits that was not priced below the value of a credit.  Way I have it figured if a book costs less than ten bucks (super rare) then I wont burn a credit on it.  I have paid for the extra three credits here and there, but overall, I just use credits.  They do not punish you for this at all.  There is not some shifty little trick that says you have to buy a book outright every so often. 

Why I say digital audiobooks are superior to analog (as well as what makes Audible the service of choice)

  1. Space.  Analog audio books (if you can really call it that) take up physical space.  They are either tapes or cds and usually a hefty few of them.  They come in cases that take up space, and thats even if you do not have the nice ones that clip the tape into them.  Space is the long standing argument that exists about anything analog that has a digital solution.  Digital audiobooks take up exactly the space the device you already own occupies.  
  2. Durability.  Those tapes and cds wear out, they take damage. It was not until the Bluray that I thought discs were durable enough.  I collected cds, but those things are super low on the durability rating.  It does not matter if they are kept perfectly, they end up damaged.  They can be lost.  Tapes have a finite amount of plays of them, which can be pretty high, assuming the tape player does not kill them.  Digital audiobooks on the other hand can be downloaded again and again, played forever.  
  3. Cost. If physical audiobooks cost material to produce, you should cut that out of the market.  It has been a bit since I bought a real hard copy, and they can be found for resell at most used book and movie places, but again space.  Audible can beat anything legal that provides audiobooks as far as I know.  Twelve fifty per book is a hot rate considering most books cost between 25 and 30.
  4. Cloud Service.  I have audible apps on everything.  My phone, my wife’s phone, the iPad, the computer, everything that will take it.  So long as I have service for the device I can download any of my books on the go.  Not only that, but it keeps my place.  Listening in the car, get out, go in, play it on the iPad and it will pick up right where I left off.
  5. Return value.  Audible lets you return your credit bought audiobooks for exact value of the credit back.  There is a time limit on the returns, I think it is six months.  However, thats a large window, and you can download your audiobooks to iTunes if you want before you return them.  You would never see that kind of return value on tapes or cds.  
  6. Selection.  Audible’s market is huge.  I am yet to not find a title I wanted.  They have it as soon as anyone else has it.  I wager that if the audiobook exists, then they have it.  There were a few exceptions, Harry Potter for a while was sold out of the Pottermore store only, but they wisely backtracked on that.
  7. Selection again.  They have The Great Courses.  It used to be true that you saved money, but lost out on the additional materials by using Audible for this, but no more!  Now you get the supplement books as a PDF as well.  
  8. Statistics.  This is a personal pleasure.  I love seeing how much time I have spent listening, and my only regret that I did not know about it before and a lot of listening time is missing.  They have badges and listening stats.  I love that.  

Cons or things that can be better

  1. If you return the books, but have them downloaded to iTunes, you can no longer cloud them.  The Audible app has a section built in for your iTunes books, but they still have to be downloaded to the device, which takes up device space.  I can download them to my device and they show up in iBooks as well, so the only advantage to having an iTunes section in the audible app is that you do not have to switch between two.  Considering it still takes device space, and it does not contribute to the statistics.  I would like it if either service would cloud books in iTunes like they do for audible or for music.
  2. Once that six months passes you are forever stuck with a book.  Not really a big deal, but after that your return value is gone, and then you cannot even trade it in somewhere.

    That is all I really have.  I consider myself a pretty hard core audible listener and I find it to be well worth the money.  I have yet to think of a reason for having physical copies of audiobooks.  Audible won the fight for us.  I do not even use all of the features, like the ability to create book marks in an audiobook, and I still feel like I get much more than my money’s worth out of this service.  I listen while cleaning, while working, while running, exercising, even in the shower.  

    My pattern at this moment is to listen to fiction and read history and academic books.  I need to be able to make notes from those works and I do not have the time to go around for both, not like I would like to have.  I had a hard time convincing myself to listen to my fiction stuff, but my wife said something I found to be wise, “would you rather not get to absorb them at all?”  She finished that for me.  It increased my reading efficiency.  I know, a lot of the analog is about slowing down a bit, but that does not count here.  I would only pile up tapes, and I would have mountains of books I couldn’t read. Now, having the audiobook of books I already own physically brings up the question of whether I should keep those, but thats a whole other story.  We live in a world where we have less time, and now we have a way to put some books in the background to ensure we get more reading done.  If you want to really pack them in, you can speed them up ( I listen at 1.25 speed.).   We always say we are about what’s real, and what is real here is getting to consume a book, the content of that book is what is real to me.  Just like the space and money saved.

My name is Brandon and I am an audible addict.  My library has 84 titles and I have spent 1 month 5 days 8 hours and 11 minutes listening to audiobooks since finding audible.  What about you?  Do you like audiobooks?  Do you use audible already?  Tell me about it!

Brandon Bledsoe

Analog Savage

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Pride and Prejudice & The Great Gatsby: Books that someone else says you have to read, Part 3

Time always moves strangely to me.  You have an idea, you start it, you work on it, but it is a long term project and you allow it to sit and flow over time.

The last time I wrote about this was almost a year ago!  I promise I have since scratched some books off of the list, and there is more of this to come.

The premise here, again, is that like Denzel Washington’s character from The Equalizer, I am working my way through the list “100 books everyone has to read before they die.”  The list can be found here.

Today we examine Pride and Prejudice, and The Great Gatsby.  I am most likely going to make myself very unpopular here, but you do not have to read these.  Keep in mind all things said here are just my opinion, and I am heavily influenced by what I would consider the bigger historical issues.

That is right, I said it.  You do not have to read these, despite what the list says.

Let us tackle the Austen first.  This is an amazing story, but as a text, it is difficult to chew through.  I read the book.  I have listened to the book.  I have watched several versions of the movie, and an episode of ‘Wishbone.”  This book’s relevance is rapidly becoming lost, in my opinion.  Jane Austen wrote this during the Napoleonic Wars, and it is an excellent social commentary on the time.  However, we have since moved on.  We have moved far on.  I am not trying to just kill off classics that are outside of their time, but unless you are studying 19th Century English Literature, or maybe on a looser level just English history, then these social issues will not fall into place I feel.  As I said, I love the story, but I love it when it is acted out.  When I read it, I would have to take breaks, and by breaks I mean read other books, or the time it takes to move to other states.  People are going to hate me, and I will now watch my back for the members of the Austen Society, but I am scratching this off and replacing it with The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris.  Maybe the novel would have stayed on the list had it gone into the larger issues of the Napoleonic Wars, but again this is colored by my views on history, and how it effects the modern world.

When I say that I enjoy the story, just not the book, I cannot say that in any way for The Great Gatsby.  How this is considered “the great American novel,” I will never know.  The novel flopped hard, and Fitzgerald went to his grave feeling forgotten.  Later it was given to the soldiers who were going to WWII, and they connected with it, revitalizing the book.  (Wikipedia, The Great Gatsby)
There is the point.  The soldiers that connected with this novel, were the guys who had fathers and such who had been in WWI.  They understood the social issues this book represents, and the times in which it was set.  Just as soon as WWII was over, the depression era was dead and gone in America, we were in the post-war boom.  It was a new era.  The only thing stopping this book from being just as irrelevant as it began, was the brief moment it enjoyed.  Time does not make bad things better, sucked then, sucks now.  If this book was not as popular as it is, The Plaza would not have made a Fitzgerald Suite.  Let this die, I beg of you old sport, let this fade back to where it belongs.

In exchange I offer you something else.  Kids today need to understand how we got where we are, how the 20th Century culminated.  They need to understand the events that led us to the 1990s, the 2000s, the last election.  For your consideration, I give you, The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis.  It is not a novel, but it is relevant, entertaining, and coherent, all things that Gatsby is not.

Life is too short to read bad books.

Analog Savage

Brandon Bledsoe

Lihit Labs Smart Fit notebook cover, A5, review 

Welcome back.

The Lihit Labs blurb on jetpens.com says everything I have been able to learn.  “…1938…Osaka…office supplies…STREAMLINE…”

Today we review the Lihit Labs Smart Fit Notebook cover, for sale here for 25$. (At the time of writing they are tellingly sold out, but I assure you with spoilers that you want to push the restock notification button)

Don’t forget to find us on Facebook!

At the words streamline, we have a jackpot, and I will attest that these products are very streamlined.  I also have their Bag in Bag A4, but that is another review.

In the beginning of this blog, back when, The Ganger told you the start of a list of items that one needs when venturing out into the savage lands.

  • A bag
  • A knife
  • A notebook
  • A pencil

Pretty sure that is where we left off.  The cover we are reviewing now is not a necessary item, but it is an amazing one.  The Pen Addict beat me to a review, in fact that is how I learned about it.  I bought this item out of pure excitement based on the word of the Pen Addict.  What this does is help you to contain the items you may want or need.  If you have a pencil and a notebook, as you should, then you may want this.  If you have multiple notebooks, for various purposes, to the point that you need a notebook to track what your notebooks are for, then you NEED this item.

It will quickly become a part of your EDC.  What is this item, in short?  It is a travelers notebook, updated to fit the modern world a bit more.  It is what would happen f you attempted to turn iPhone features into their analog counterparts and keep them together.  For me it carries a pencil, fountain pen, my business cards, an eraser, a journal, a floppy notebook of lists, an A5 letter pad, envelopes, address labels, a few letters I need to answer,  stamps, and no less than 6 pocket notebooks (workout tracker, passwords, faithless book, books read tracker, and of course the book of rules and tools.)

I admit I bought this on a whim, but it very quickly became part of the stuff I do not know what I would do without, especially since I converted to bullet journaling,

The Grit:

The cover is made of heavy duty cordura and comes prepared to take two A5 notebooks or one notebook and a notepad, both A5.  There is a pen/pencil holder (holds two easily) a pocket, and a closeable pocket (conveniently field notes sized) all on the front.  

The inside features the two slots, two small pockets, and one larger one on the left inside cover, two ribbons for marking pages, and a stout elastic band for holding it all together.

I love this cover.  The only thing I have not found a use for is the large inside pocket and that is just because the only thing I want in here, that I do not have, is a sharpener, and I simply find them all too bulky to have under my notebook with my current setup.  

I have pushed this things capacity to the very edge of civility and sanity.  The notebook I use as my journal/bullet journal is a full-size Insights, and I keep a Rhodia A5 letter pad, a Write Brand softcover journal, and six pocket notebooks in it!  Just as a FYI, here is how to understand the notebook sizes.  So when I say standard or something similar, I mean that most journal sized notebooks are A5.  This Insights is like a Moleskine, or Rhodia A5.  The new Write Brand soft cover (shown) is also A5.  

I feel it is fair to say that I have found about what it will hold.  The point being, it filled a roll I didn’t really know how to address.  I shove this in the car and I have everything I need.  If I am going longboarding, I still have a fieldnotes and pencil in my pocket, and that information can come here later.  Otherwise, I am ready to workout, sketch, journal, shop, hand out a card, catch up on correspondence…

If I had to name a complaint, it would be that they didn’t find a way to make it to where you could put the notepad on either side, and I don’t think it can be done and have little Pockets.  As it is, you must put the notepad ok the right if you have one.   I am not counting the “notebook” it comes with.  It is obvious to us that you are not actually supposed to use it, it is something akin to the photo they put in frames to show you how it is supposed to go.

Bottom line:  five full stars, and a must have for the total notebook junkie, and analog over doer.

Ganger-Bjorn, Analog Savage

Books that someone else says you have to read, part 2: going the library.

I try to break this up into bits so that each post does not turn into a small novel, but when I embarked on my reading list I almost bought To Kill A Mockingbird.  The problem is what if I didn’t want to keep it on my shelf? I refused to finish it fourteen years before.  I decided it was time to practice what I preach, and head for the library.  

Firstly, we have to establish my motivation.  I told the part about the movie where a character is tearing through a reading list, and I read quite a bit as well, but I was at Barnes & Noble performing one of my favorite summer rituals, looking at the wall of summer reading books from the lists.  I always like to see what the state says the youth should be reading for better or for worse.  However, it makes me happy and so I do it.  Some obvious winners are seen!!!The Scott Westerfield books are something I read when they were new, and am really happy to see them suggested to a new generation

Anyhow, that’s when it was time to start the list, and when I talked myself out of buying a book I was not sure I would like.  To the library.  This is the fun part though.  I went to the Marlborough Public Library…which I was sure I took pictures of…have to get one offline. 

Now knowing that To Kill A Mockingbird is THE American Classic, and knowing that the reading lists are out, I proudly marched into the library and asked for a copy.  To be laughed at by librarians is a new experience.  Of course I should have realized that every copy was checked out by the students who actually have to do summer reading…

Luckily libraries can now order copies from each other, and email you that your book is in! However I did feel rather silly…but I got to take the miniature me to the kid’s library!

Ganger-Bjorn

A night at the theater…and Jason Bourne **SPOILERS**

While the Ganger enjoys being outside and building fires and such, one of my many facets is that I enjoy going to the movies.  As Katie (had the heart to marry the ganger) always says, if I cannot obsess over it, I will not bother to do it.

Just a fair notice, if you do not care to read about my love of the theater, you can skip down to read about Jason Bourne.

The movie theater is one of those experiences, despite all the garbage that can be involved, I still immensely enjoy.  The cinema is a world unto itself and I enjoy being a part of it.

One of my dreams, one that will probably remain so, is to buy an old world cinema, you know the kind, they look more like an opera house than a place to watch movies.  It would have one screen, a concessions line with popcorn, candy, and some soda, end of story, and I would show old world movies for the pleasure of seeing them that way.

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Some people enjoy this whole thing, me being one of them, but beyond that movies were meant to be viewed that way.  During one of my easily top ten cineman experiences, last year Halloween was released into theaters again during October.  It included and intro from John Carpenter, in which he said that Halloween was not ever meant for home video, as they did not exist really.  If John says watch it at the theater, then do so.  It was amazing, and I still believe that even with home video, something else which I took advantage of early in life, movies at their core are meant to be seen in theaters.

There are some pros and cons though.  Firstly, the people, cell phones are awful.  I do enjoy the new theaters with big cushy reclining chairs.  My left knee, after the army, does not care for being in cramped spaces such as the seats in military vehicles, most back and passenger seats, and cinema seats.  These amazingly spacious seats come at a price, you have waitresses and waiters flitting around during your film, and as the guy whom I chucked some popcorn at learned the hard way, I do not appreciate very bright cell phone lights being used to look at menus.  Secondly, prices are fairly nuts these days, movie, popcorn, and drink, will set you back at least 20$ at least.  Lately some nut cases have chosen these wonderful places in which to unleash their one man terror acts.

I digress though, they are still wonderful places to spend an evening, even if the modern is killing some of their charm.  Myabe one day I will make the actual list of top movie experiences.

** JASON BOURNE REVIEW**  LAST WARNING, SPOILERS

Jason Bourne was my latest trip to the cinema, and I personally was not dissapointed.

What it had: Guns, spies, evil CIA,  car chases and car smashing, a fellow shadow warrior tracking Jason, techno spying, a pretty girl, a previous character who gets greased pretty early on, some flashbacks, and of course Jason himself.

Jason’s mysterious past concerns his father, which while the mystery past stuff was a bit thinner, it was made a bit more personal with daddy and the guy who killed him also being the shadow warrior who wants revenge on Jason.  It twists several times.  Tommy Lee Jones as head of the CIA is not just trying to perform a cover up, this guy was straight evil and he was good at it.  This guy was the devil, and the situation provided for it.  The movie is set post Snowden, post NSA cell phone monitoring, etc.  CIA devil is trying to spy on everyone with what is basically face book.

Part of the reason I seem less than enthused is the fact that I have a hard time accepting new things at first.  I build the timeline of my life out of the constants, be they my favorite possessions, and more often movies and music.  I connect memories and recall them easier based on what I was watching or listening to, and the more often I watched it or listened to it the easier it is to use.  Jason Bourne has been a part of my life since I was 15, and 15-20 was a pivotal time for me.  This new fangle movie almost 10 years later will have to earn its place.

The sad, Julia Stiles longtime character is killed ver early, and thus we bid farewell to the last original character who is not Jason.

Jason, Matt Damon, has aged properly, and that is good.  The hero is not ageless and that is how it should be.  He walked away almost a decade ago.  I will admit tghe underground fighting thing was cool, and fits with his being off the grid.

The larger devious plot to take over facebook seemed stretched in my opinion., had Evil Lee Jones not been willing to kill over it, in an old Cold War way I wouldnt have bought it.

The care chase was much bigger and filled with smashing in a holy crap people died way.

Without ruining it, Jason teaches the new generation not to mess with the original, and exits to Moby’s “Extreme Ways” once again.

All in all it makes up for The Bourne Legacy, its what we should have had.

4/5

Ganger-Bjorn

The Cold War: A New History,By John Lewis Gaddis

**REVIEW AFTER THIS LONG INTRO AND PICTURES**

This blog entry will be my first post in quite a while as I let all extra things drop off during a school semester.  As you can tell from my earlier posts, I enjoy book reviews, and since I had to do one for school this semester, I will post that here.  The book was The Cold War: A New History, By John Lewis Gaddis.  Gaddis is, in my opinion, the historian of the Cold War currently and this book should be required reading for anyone entering the modern American history or Cold War history fields.


My copy, as you will see has seen a little time in service.  I bought it for an assignment, we were told to pick a book dealing with the topics at hand; the class was U.S. history 1945 to present, and themes were plentiful, but the professor also had a list available for us.  I am a Cold War junkie, and at the top of the Cold War pile sat this gem.  Our second son was born during this semester, and the professors were all very understanding and accommodating, thank you Framingham State University.  However, you cannot stop all work for two weeks and still come out on top, so this book was my reading material while in the hospital.  Whether it is due to being an excellent work on my favorite topic, or because it is now sentimental, it will be found on my shelf.

 

Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin Press, 2005.

 

In The Cold War: A New History, John Lewis Gaddis has created a concise history of the Cold War for a new generation of readers, synthesizing the already available work on the Cold War into a cohesive volume, incorporating updated and newly available information, arguing the need for the Cold War and the outcome of it, becoming an introduction to the subject, and expertly organized thematically to best cover the major events and themes of the Cold War.

John Lewis Gaddis intended for the title of this monograph to serve as the statement of purpose, in that it was a to be literal new work on the subject. He did not intend to reargue the entire history of the Cold War; he has already argued more than once over the course of his career; rather he was motivated to create a concise and updated account of the Cold War. His hope would be that this work could serve as an introduction to some, an overview of the subject of the Cold War at a basic level to new readers. This edition is what it should be, weighing in at 266 pages not including notes it is a detailed, but brief introduction to the cold war that will not intimidate the new reader. With many college students being people who have no memory of the Cold War an edition written with the new generation in mind was appropriate, even necessary. Gaddis is well informed as to the needs of students studying the Cold War as he is one of the professors who specialize in teaching it.

Gaddis does not intend for this work to replace any of the existing work on the Cold War, or to disagree even with any of these works. The author believes this monograph has a place at the front of the reading line about the Cold War, and could serve as the gateway to more challenging and in-depth texts once the reader has a grasp or interest in the topic. Gaddis himself being the author of several of the books that retain relevance in the academic classroom allows him to see the need for a brief and cohesive narrative. He openly informs the reader, and other historians, he has no intention of arguing against their works, in fact, he cites the established works of other historians often, as well as his own work.[1] This drives home the point that new readers should not look for this work to occupy a particular niche, and should feel open to using it as a basis for their Cold War knowledge at the beginning of their academic career, and can appeal to the casual reader for the same purpose of creating a firm foundation of knowledge on the general subject of the Cold War. Gaddis himself believes that the topic covers such a long timeline and took place in enough varied locations, with their own political arenas and motivations that a book could be written from any angle that you can imagine, even from the viewpoint of the smallest third world participant, and it would be relevant and occupy a prominent place within the narrative. This work represents the extraordinary challenge of creating a meaningful summary longer than an encyclopedia entry under the heading “Cold War.”

One of the reasons the author gives for having written this is the simple and justifiable release of new information from the archives of the former Soviet Union and the Chinese during the Cold War period. New data must be taken into account, to ignore such resources would be academically negligent. However, the sheer amount of new information available can be compared to money flooding a market and causing inflation. The volume made available is Akin to that which has been previously written in that it can be intimidating to attempt to digest. Gaddis has applied the seasoned judgment of an expert when selectively incorporating this information into his current and concise volume. This is clearly seen when he deftly includes official Soviet Missile counts during the Eisenhower years; not overwhelming the reader, but transforming the speculative argument that Khrushchev boasted about their power into a quantifiable piece of fact.[2]

This new evidence held in context with the work previously accomplished by historians, Gaddis included makes for a subtle, but compelling argument. Gaddis combines primary sources that are placed well within context. Rather than Reagan or Khrushchev being quoted on events that are similar to the instance being described, Gaddis has provided—when possible—the thoughts of the figure on events specifically. It is very convincing to have evidence pulled from a radio address Ronald Reagan gave, or even better Khrushchev’s thoughts on the bluster shown in regards to Soviet missile capabilities. Memoirs looking back—like those of Khrushchev and George Keenan—combined with evidence recorded at the time show the professional historian at work, giving insight into the minds of leaders during the Cold War, and where we are fortunate enough to have it, a look at what they thought of those same events looking back. It is wise to remember however that Gaddis wishes you to celebrate the United States victory in this conflict and will be using the words of Soviet memoirs to cast a light that makes it appear they accepted this outcome in the end.[3] Gaddis is fair when he quotes, as he balances his optimism with evidence against United States actions, such as pointing out (despite the argument) George Keenan’s regret in hindsight of the CIA black operations conducted during the Cold War.[4]

The reader should exercise a note of caution when reading this review. The idea of Gaddis not replacing or rearguing his work or the work of others may give the false impression that this work contains no argument at all. This is untrue, and if the reader is not careful, they may miss it entirely and absorb it as presupposed fact. The argument being made is the idea that the Cold War was inevitable and having occurred the world was made a better place. The world being better for the Cold War is contingent upon whom the author believes to have won it: the United States and her allies. Part of what makes this book such an easy read is that it is celebratory of the Cold War’s outcome, the argued victory of the United States. For many the idea of American victory is not an arguable point, the dissolution of the Soviet Union is a matter of historical fact. However, academics even beginning students understand the idea of objectivity, and Gaddis’s boldly un-objective argument may be perceived as biased by some studied readers, reducing the credibility of the entire work. It should not be the case that the work is impugned by this argument, but it is not unthinkable, and one could not blame anyone who described it as biased.[5]

Gaddis believes there is no way to create a single, simple chronological narrative of the Cold War, and has chosen to organize this work thematically. However, the work flows smoothly enough that the reader almost believes there is a chronological order at work. The author believes in attempting to only be thematic or chronological would fail to encompass the magnitude of the Cold War properly. With this in mind chapters are thematic, moving chronologically, but with some overlap between them. While this sounds like it is more complicated than needed, the idea came off well and made for a surprisingly easy read. Chapter one will set the stage for the Cold War, immediately following World War II, not merely the events, but why each side had fought the Second World War as well and how this contributed to their Cold War stance. Moving forward Gaddis will address conflicts between the first and second worlds while showing the factor everyone knows about the Cold War—the threat of atomic and nuclear war—and will explain not just how close we came, but why nuclear war never came. Having established the Soviet Union as a credible enemy, the reader must be shown when we feared them enough to be concerned, particularly in the context of such an optimistic outlook on America by the author. Superpowers having been explained Gaddis chooses chapter four to explain why these great powers had difficulties controlling their “allies” in the third world, which created some of the messiest conflicts of the age. This moves rather logically and quickly as each theme is explicitly addressed within the proper context and time frame.

Whether you are someone with mild curiosity, a seasoned Cold Warrior, or a student breaking ground on the subject for the first class, this book is a must have. Allow yourself to read it once easily and caught up in the celebratory tone it sets, and then look back a second time for a critical review. Whether you agree with Gaddis’s argument or not, this books should prove invaluable for the information it contains. The concise nature, updated information, and hindsight took in the fourteen years between the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the publication of this work, as well as it’s ability to be an entrance to weightier volumes on the Cold War make it indispensable.

[1] Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin Press, 2005, XI

[2] Gaddis, Cold War, 69.

[3] Gaddis, Cold War, 69.

[4] Gaddis, Cold War, 164.

[5] Greenstein, Fred I. “The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis.” Political Science Quarterly 121, no. 2 (2006): 321-322.

Brandon Bledsoe, “Hrolf The Ganger”

The Blackwing 602 (Palomino)

Welcome back cultists of the crayon!  Today’s subject is the Blackwing 602 by Palomino.

First a little bit of background.  If you google terms along the lines of “best pencil in the world” or “world’s best pencil” or “pencil pricey enough to take two people to the movies for the price of a box,” odds are you will come up with the Blackwing 602.  Now they are very nice, but as you will see in the history portion of this, these pencils have a bit of a cult following, and it may be that following that drives them now.

The Blackwing pencil was originally produced by the Eberhart Faber company.  I did not find a start date for production, but Eberhart Faber opened in 1861 in New York City, the factory was located at the present site of the United Nations.  What we do know is that the pencil was produced up until 1994.  The problem was apparently the very iconic ferule and eraser.

The “paint brush” eraser is held in by a custom clip.  That clip (which you can see) was made by a custom machine, which in 1994 broke (wikipedia the blackwing for this) they may also have been victim to a decreasing market.  Either way the argument is that there were enough of these clamps to continue sales until 1998.  Then that was it, the original Blackwing was gone.  Now It was beloved by the likes of Stephen Sondheim and John Steinbeck, enough that their mention of the tool is enough to have created part of the cult following.  The most excellent article I have ever read about the Blackwing original (contained on a forum solely for posts about this specific pencil) is here.  I will not attempt to out do the author, as I am not here to talk about the old pencil, I am here to say they have been back for over three years and what I think of them.

Palomino resurrected this rather excellent pencil in 2012.  Now I have to be specific, their first attempt was just called the Blackwing and it was a tribute pencil.  Fans of the 602 were not pleased, they felt it strayed too far.  So Palomino came back with what we now call the 602.  They actually have three.  The blackwing (soft), the 602 (firm) and the pearl (balanced.)  I will only be covering the 602 today.

I am a little concerned about the pencils that they believe to be soft and balanced as I find the 602, their firm model to be a little soft.  The Japanese graphite found with in is not a let down, but the pencil does wear down somewhat quickly.  However a note on that, the pencil boasts “half the pressure, twice the speed.” It may be the part about half the pressure that is my issue, I am heavy handed and I know it.  ( I FEEL IT IN MY FINGAS…)  This is an incredibly smooth writing tool.  Also you can customize it by replacing the eraser with different colored ones.  I first sharpened up about half the box of twelve.

This will be fairly standard practice for this blog.  I used the brass bullet, the two stage feature of an M+R Tri hole, a Kum magnesium, and my new double burr hand crank.  Now I was afraid to feed that hand crank a 602 as it is still being broken in, but I suppose the fear drove me to be more careful.  After sharpening I went to work.  The new torture test for new pencils will be thirty minutes of cursive practice.  Yes I am an adult who does not know how to write in cursive, I am working on it.  There will probably be a post about it.

Each block of practice was done with a different point, the winner was the tri-hole as it creates a somewhat flat and not brittle point (similar to what I imagine of the El Casco) with the double burr coming in close second.  I still say these pencils wear down fast, but again that sweet smooth ride makes up for it, and I also wield a pencil like a club.  Ferule and all it measured in at eight inches.  The silver finish is incredibly smooth as well.  Again this is not a pencil you stumble onto, it is something you hear about.  Your perceptions may be influenced by those who told you about this piece of wiring greatness.  It is made of California cedar, and Japanese graphite.  Palomino makes lots of pencils (more reviews to come.)  You have to want it with these, they are about 25$ per twelve.

It rated in at an easy B grade (the graphite) I wouldn’t call it an HB and this lends a little validity to my argument that they wear down quickly.  However I am a junkie of the first order.  I am easy to please when it comes to things I am passionate about, and I am easily effected by the Blackwing cult.  As so this will be the standard of a pencil for me.  This is not your work horse, it is a treat.  They can be found on Amazon (if they are in stock) cwpencils.com, and eBay.  I hope you start spotting them in my photos soon.  Have a happy New Year.

Hrolf the Ganger

Tarken By: James Luceno ** Book Review **

 With the new Star Wars movie on the way a question quickly arose.  Since the movie is taking place after the original trilogy, what happens to all of the books and such that were written about that time period?  Well to the great anger of many, and my personal joy the answer was simple.  None of those books count any more.  Not even a little bit.  Unceremoniously booted out of the canon.  This makes me happy.  There are a ton of those books, and given that a lot of them came out when I was in elementary school or before, it simplifies my life to have a whole new canon that also reflect the newer movies.  Here is your canon now as I understand it.  All the movies, the clone wars, the Star Wars comics currently being published by Marvel (awesome if you wanted to know), Rebels, and when I started this there were four novels.  It is about one of those novels that I am here to review now.

Tarken is a story set before the events of Episode IV: A new hope.  It centers around a time when the Death Star (not yet named) is being constructed under the supervision of Moff Tarken.  James Luceno has done a splendid job of fleshing out the life of Wilhuff Tarken.  Taken bought the big chicken dinner at the end of Episode IV, so he has always been one of those great characters that there was just not enough of.  Taken crops back up in Clone Wars here and there, but with this novel we finally get the full dose of Moff We were hoping for.  If you account for the fact that he spends the book running around with Darth Vader, well to an Imperial fan thats just plain awesome.  As with all of the Star Wars novels (new ones) I’ve gotten through so far the story is really just filler.  The entire book is an excuse to tell Tarken’s life story and allow you to see it applied to a filler story.  I am more than a little ok with this.  Whoever Tarken applies the Imperial justice too is fine by me really, it is the history I am after.

Final words:  in no way does this book disappoint, Easy A+ for me.

Hrolf The Ganger

**Note** with school and such keeping tabs on my time, I listened to this on audio book from audible.  The Narrator Euan Morton was great.

The Billion Dollar Spy, By David E. Hoffman. **Book Review**

 This blog is called Books Brass and the Bear for a reason.  If you have seen the pictures of (or been inside of my home) you will know that, well…books.  All the books.  Books by the ton.  BOOKS.  There is obviously not a bear in my house, thats just my rather high opinion of myself (I’ve come to terms with it.)  Heaven help you when we get to the part of brass…

Anyhow lets talk books again.  Books.  I am sorry I just enjoy saying the word at this point.   BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKSSSSSSSSSSSS….

Here is your actual review.  Now that I am sitting here, it occurs to me that I am uncertain of how to write a general book review without giving it all away or just saying here read this.

While perusing the local Barnes and Noble history section recently I encountered this.  Here are a couple of facts about me.  I love first edition hard backs, my wallet is not as crazed about them.  It prefers to wait for a soft back, to buy used on eBay, or try a particularly shady book out with a free credit generated monthly by my audible account.  This book did not meet the criteria of “save money and do not take me home right this moment.”  This book was ripped from the shelf and taken home and I was not disappointed.

The book centers around Adolf Tolkachev, and the time he spent as a spy for the United States during the cold war in The Soviet Union.  This book was extremely well researched and not only covers the events described (and holy wow they have pictures) but does a marvelous job of setting the context for what it took to be a spy or an American intelligence operative inside of The Soviet Union.  There is not a single loose detail in this book and it was hands down one of the most satisfying reads I have had in a while.  Satisfying like a ham and cheese sandwich with a cup of coffee is supposed to be.  I do not want to give it away, but I will say that if you enjoy Tom Clancy, you will love this, and it is non fiction.  I will also say that this book should leave you believing the world to be a little less bright for the loss of some of the people in it and the contributions made for the fight against the red menace.  It details not just how Tolkachev turned and what he did, but his motivations, the lengths he went to, his great love for his family, with tidbits thrown in about actual spy gear, and the fact that every American combat aviator who ever had to fly against a piece of Soviet designed air power, owes their respect, and their lives to Adolf Tolkachev.

The Bear’s rating on this book, A+.

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