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First Picture of My New iPad Pro, in One Hand

October 1, 2015

For those of you following me on the Twitter, sorry to show you this twice.

For everyone else: my new iPad Pro arrived today, ahead of schedule. And I cannot wait to fill up its memory:




But, seriously. Find out more here.

T Muraoka’s Biblical Aramaic Reader (2015)

September 29, 2015

Muraoka Aramaic


Any time you see a T. Muraoka volume that retails at under $30, it’s worth paying attention to.

Peeters has released the short but sure-to-be excellent volume, A Biblical Aramaic Reader: With an Outline Grammar.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

This reader is for anyone very eager to read the story of Daniel in the lions’ den and many other fascinating stories in their original language, Aramaic.

A brief outline of Biblical Aramaic grammar is followed by a verse-by-verse grammatical commentary on the Aramaic chapters in the books of Daniel and Ezra. Both the outline grammar and the grammatical commentary presuppose basic knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew. Constant references are made in the commentary to relevant sections of the outline grammar. The commentary is written in a user-friendly, not overtly technical language. Some grammatical exercises with keys and paradigms conclude the Reader. Also suitable for self-study.

At just under 100 pages, it looks great. Find it on Amazon here.

Baron Fig’s Confidant Notebook, Reviewed

September 28, 2015

The first thing I noticed about Baron Fig’s Confidant notebook is that the paper is a delicious off-white. The paper’s thickness is perfect: there’s not very much writing bleed-through at all, even when using a Pilot G2 07 gel pen. That’s probably my first desideratum in a notebook, and Baron Fig nails it here.

The Confidant comes with blank paper, ruled paper, or dot grid paper, which is what I reviewed for review. The grey dots are visible and usable as guides for diagramming or sketching or writing… but they’re also subtle enough to stay out of your way. A great balance here.


Confidant Page Up Close


The Confidant lays flat, just as Baron Fig claims, though sometimes a bit of pushing down on the pages is required for them to stay flat. But this will happen naturally as you’re writing or sketching anyway. The binding itself lays flat as you’d hope. As you can see:


Baron Fig Confidant with writing

You guessed it: I started this blog post in my Confidant notebook


The acid-free paper means the book is built to last. And the dimensions just feel perfect to me: 5.4 by 7.7 inches. It’s 192 pages, with 12 pages at the back of the journal which are perforated. In other words, it’s enough space to keep you supplied for a while, but not so much that you’ve got a bulky journal to carry around. The portability is right on.

The cloth cover looks and feels good. The binding is sewn (yes!), which is, of course, one reason it lays flat so well.

I was not as impressed with the aesthetic of the binding: I thought it could have used maybe a thicker piece of cloth to cover up the binding construction that is so easily visible? I might just be missing that the look is intentional, but it didn’t appeal to me.




But let me step back for a moment. The packaging is top-notch. The notebook comes in its own attractive case, so that it’s gift-ready:


Confidant Gift Box


And as design goes, these folks are impressive. (See their Website here, for example.) Here’s a little clip from the insert that comes inside the box with the journal:


Confidant Design


The Confidant notebook comes with a ribbon for marking your place. I greatly appreciated this. It is about twice the thickness of most other ribbon markers, though, so it felt to me like it was out of step with the rest of the notebook. I have gotten used to this over time.


Overall, the critiques above notwithstanding, I’ve had a positive experience using the Confidant, which gives me a notebook I really do want to reach for and write in! It goes with me in my satchel just about everywhere I go now.

You can learn more about the Confidant here and order it here.

Bonus paragraph: Baron Fig also makes the pocket-sized Apprentice notebook, which I think is an A+ in its class. It fits perfectly into even small pockets and isn’t a nuisance there. I’ve been carrying one of those around, too, so I don’t have to whip out a device every time I want to write down an action item I’ve committed to. The 3.5″ by 5″ little guy comes in a three-pack. More info on the Apprentice notebook is here; you can order here.



Many thanks to the awesome people at Baron Fig for the notebooks for review! Check them out here.

Children’s Book Review: The Little Snowplow

September 25, 2015

The Little Snowplow


We need the little snowplow in our neighborhood. Last winter we saw more than 100 inches of snow pile up. The kids loved it, and we parents sort of did, but it made getting around a challenge. And it got old fast.

Enter the little snowplow:

On the Mighty Mountain Road Crew, the trucks came in one size: BIG.

That is, until a new snowplow joined the crew.

“You’re such a little snowplow,” the big trucks said.
“Leave the heavy lifting to us.”
And off they roared.

My five-year-old was enraptured at this point. And what young child wouldn’t identify with the little guy in the story? Each night he does his “reps” (raising and lowering his plow ten times). He pulls blocks of concrete. “Just in case.” Had he been training for 2015 in Massachusetts, he would have been oh-so-glad for all the hours he put in.

Then a blizzard hits–more than the little snowplow can handle, and the plow driver has to call for backup. In the end, against the odds, the little snowplow turns out to be a real hero, with his place secured among the Mighty Mountain Road Crew.

Most grown-ups will see the story coming–the motifs are familiar ones. One thinks of the setting and improbability of Katy and the Big Snow, with echoes of The Little Engine That Could, and a scene reminiscent of Little Blue Truck. The story ends with the little snowplow ready to bed down, though the “He could hardly wait for sleep” ending felt a little less satisfying than expected.

Still, The Little Snowplow is engaging. It’s an important idea that one can succeed even though small or dismissed by others. The message of the book is a good one, and the story moves along nicely. My three kids are all fans of the book.

The Little Snowplow is Lora Koehler’s first children’s picture book. Jake Parker illustrates the story. And the illustrations are great. They’re colorful, clear, and absorbing. They really make the book. There are enough of them, too, that a non-reader can easily enough make his or her way through the story. (See a few more illustrations here.)

I don’t even want to think about winter coming soon, but I’m sure we’ll continue to reach for this book when the snow comes–and we are reading it now, even with potential blizzards months away.

Find The Little Snowplow at Amazon here, or at Candlewick Press’s page here.



Thanks to Candlewick Press for the review copy, given with no expectation as to the content of the review.

New Caspian: Tomorrow

September 24, 2015

Dust and Disquiet Cover


Reminder: Caspian’s Dust and Disquiet releases tomorrow (iTunes/Amazon/band). You can read my review of it here. A rock-solid record (emphasis on the rock), and pretty moving, too.

Review of WaterField’s External Keyboard Slip Case

September 23, 2015

Logitech makes an amazingly good external keyboard, the K811, which I reviewed here. At the time I noted:

It would be nice if the keyboard came with a carrying case or simple sleeve, though–you’ll have to figure that one out on your own.

And, boy, did I figure it out! Turns out a San Francisco manufacturer named WaterField makes just such a product: the Keyboard Slip Case. Here’s their description:

Thin is in. The Keyboard Slip Case offers gentle protection in a slim ballistic nylon case with a lightly padded liner. A piping trimmed edge lets you choose to add a splash of bold color, or to stay under the radar with subdued tones. Pack it up and off you go.

I can at last not worry about whether my keyboard keys will pop off inside my messenger bag, and my neighbors and friends can now avoid the unseemly sight of my walking around with an external keyboard in my hand. (I mean, not literally just walking around with it. But going from point A to point B.)

The dimensions are 12″ x 6″ and 3 ounces, perfect for the Apple wireless keyboard and my Logitech model.

To remind you, here’s what the K811 looks like:


Image via Logitech

Image via Logitech


And now, in its case:


Keyboard in Sleeve


Pretty awesome, yeah? I know–I’m too excited about a piece of gear, but I use my K811 a lot, and am glad to protect it well.

The inside is protective yet soft:


Soft Inside


It’s made in San Francisco, so you’re buying a made-in-the-U.S.A. product with WaterField.

There’s even a nice little piece of trim that gives it a slight pop:




Here it is next to an iPad:


With iPad Air 2


The slip case is well constructed, and looks like it perfectly blends being lightweight with protecting your keyboard.

The keyboard fits snugly, so the lack of a closure is no loss. I’d initially wondered about this, but it’s not a problem. And it’s still easy to slide the keyboard in and out. (But if you’re worried, you can get this model.)

My only critique is that the nylon exterior is a little slippery. When carrying around an iPad and notebook and keyboard-in-its-case today, I felt the iPad slip against the keyboard case. So be aware of that so you don’t drop something!

Otherwise, the K811 has found its perfect match. Or as I put it in a six-word review on WaterField’s site:

Just what my external keyboard needed.

WaterField makes a lot of other really cool-looking gear, which you can learn more about here. Find the Keyboard Slip Case here.



Thanks to WaterField for the product review sample, given to me for purposes of review, but with no expectations or influence on the review’s content.

A Guided Listen Through Caspian’s Dust and Disquiet

September 22, 2015

Dust and Disquiet Cover


Caspian’s Dust and Disquiet releases Friday. At the time of writing, you can stream the whole album via the New York Times here. Or you can just take my word for it and buy it for yourself now (iTunes/Amazon/band), and listen as you read through this track-by-track review.


1. Separation No. 2 (3:09)


The album fades in with a gorgeous opening track. Is that a saxophone? I wondered on my first few listens through. Then felt embarrassed to learn my brass knowledge is not what it should be. It’s Jon Green on the trumpet. With effects. On top of a lovely guitar. Beverly, Mass. never knew so sweet a sound.

After the three tracks Caspian previewed to introduce the album’s release, I was not expecting the soft, gentle sound of “Separation No. 2.” The lush tones, layers, guitar swells… everything is in sync. It’s one of the more evocative album intros I can remember hearing. Strings, brass, acoustic and electric guitars… YES.

The track is a mere 3:09, so leaves something to be desired. But you realize it’s the first of a pair, really. It’s the call to the response of the second track.


2. Ríoseco (7:52)


I could listen to this Caspian all day. The drums finally enter the record, about half a minute in. One wonders, too, if the bass’s album entrance only at 1:01 is deliberate–a sort of silence to honor the life and now absence of late bassist Chris Friedrich. (Also, now that you’re thinking about that, look again at the album cover.)

By 1:51 everyone is in and in lockstep. Guitars, bass, drums, effects strings–you get the feeling the band is just doing their thing for themselves, and you’re lucky enough to get to listen in.

“Ríoseco” is a really moving track. This is post-rock (or whatever) at its best… with pedal steel. No, it’s not country; it’s just awesome. I hope the band will be complimented and not bothered by the comparison with this track to (the best of) early-2000-era Mogwai.


3. Arcs of Command (8:49)


Caspian, you know, has a propensity to pull in ex-emo kids like me with the interlocking, layered, warm guitar parts, and then double their volume and quadruple the distortion. “Arcs of Command” begins more aggressively. Now that Caspian has got you all teary-eyed, they’re ready to rock those tears right off your face.

And dang it if they’re not going to do it in 5/4 time! Until they decide, that is, to turn the track into a blistering waltz. And that’s not the last time in the song they’ll change time signatures.

Especially after the first two tracks, the listener may well ask: What is this, a metal record? Caspian asks a lot of their listeners in this song, most of whom will be thrilled to oblige.

4. Echo and Abyss (5:45)

Where can you go after the heavy “Arcs of Command”? To another heavy song, of course, the build-up in which barely takes any time at all.

The (heavily processed) vocals cry out, as from an abyss, “Speak to me! Speak to me!”

5. Run Dry (4:36)

“Run Dry” is the albums “Whaaa…?” moment. The acoustic guitar with clearly audible vocals (“We are wide awake now….”) evoke Bruce Cockburn more than anything in Caspian’s back catalog.

Have we heard Calvin Joss sing before? After hearing him partway through Dust and Disquiet, we who love this instrumental band might still want more of his vocals in future records and/or side projects.

6. Equal Night (1:57)

A short two minutes serve as a sort of coda to the previous track. “Equal Night” brings the first part of the album (at least as I interpret it) to a close and prepares the listener for the second half.

7. Sad Heart of Mine (4:27)

The opening arpeggios call to mind the start of the record. If this were a cassette tape, it would be the perfect first track to Side B. This time, though, there’s a bit more of a joyful feel, or at least a post-catharsis mood, having worked through the first six tracks.

All of which is (deliberately?) ironic, given the track’s title.

8. Darkfield (6:36)

Don’t get me wrong–this is a fine song, and Caspian rarely if ever puts out what fans would consider a dud, but I found this track to be not as remarkable as the others. I was actually relieved for a bit of a break, in that sense, because there are still 13 minutes to go.

Take my assessment with a grain of salt, though–I’m a sucker for their quieter stuff. If you like the heavier, industrial sounds Caspian sometimes reaches for, you’ll likely love the track.

9. Aeternum Vale (2:08)

Another interlude, this one featuring some nylon-string guitar. It’s good in its own right, but seems needful preparation for the album’s long and (you guessed it) epic closing track.

10. Dust and Disquiet (11:26)

The album’s title track is classic Caspian. There are lots of dynamic shifts, builds, swells, memorable melodies, grooves, and tremolo picking. Lesser bands might give up on such a song and split it into multiple tracks. Not these guys.

And, no, 11 minutes is not too long for this track. It’s the exact length it needs to be to do what Caspian wants it to do.

The riff they finally end on will stay in your mind (and maybe even your heart, dare I say) long after the album ends.


* * * * * * *


The fall is here, and you need good music in your life. I’m grateful to Caspian for making such a thoughtful, emotive, meaningful, and well-executed album. I’ve already listened to it a dozen times, and even introduced my seven-year-old and five-year-old to it. (They’re fans now.) I will listen many more times to this record.

Check it out for yourself now (iTunes/Amazon/band). The album releases Friday, September 25.




Thanks to the good folks of Stunt Company for the album download for review. And many thanks to Caspian for making this record!


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