My opinions and insights about the products and services I've used may save you time and trouble before you make your next purchase or help you find that book, hotel or gadget that you've been hoping to find.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Distant Worlds - Music From Final Fantasy Concert Series

Distant Worlds: Chicago The Celebration
Photo by Brad Sylvester
I've seen symphony orchestras before, but I have never seen a symphony audience quite like the one that attended Distant Worlds: Chicago The Celebration performed by the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra and Chorus with an assist from vocalist Susan Calloway. Arnie Roth was the conductor and Nobuo Uematsu was the primary composer for the performance of music from the Final Fantasy video game franchise.

To start, the attire of the symphony audience ranged from black tie and gown to jeans and T-shirts to complete Final Fantasy character costumes including prosthetic ears, silver wigs, and what I can only describe as post-apocalyptic royal court finery.

During the concert itself, the crowd cheered enthusiastically between songs and called out to the conductor, the composer, and each other. The Chicagoland Pops Orchestra seemed both taken aback and energized by the back and forth between the music and the audience. The entire performance was accompanied by theater-sized High Definition video from the 25 years of Final Fantasy games as well as new footage from Square Enix.

The concert itself was preceded by an "intimate performance" by conductor Arnie Roth and composer Nobuo Uematsu. The two performed chamber music arrangements in the lobby for about 20 minutes finishing with a lively samba version of the fan favorite Chocoba Medley.

The main show included perhaps 16 pieces selected from the Final Fantasy games including songs from the yet to be released Final Fantasy XIV.

The merchandise stand offered CD and DVD sets of the music from the 14 releases of Final Fantasy dating back to it's initial launch in 1987 as well as plush toys, T-shirts, coffe mugs, and the other usual and sundry merchandise items one might expect. By the end of the night, everything was sold out with the exception of a few T-shirts, no doubt undersized for the aging, and decidedly grown-up fan base of Final Fantasy.

Square Enix, the firm behind Final Fantasy, was present as well with a Theatrythm tournament in the lobby. Theatrythm is a game based on the music of Final Fantasy that requires players to match the beat and perform specific maneuvers on the touch screen of a Nintendo 3DS with the stylus. Ironically, the grand prizes for two waves of the tournament were a Sony PS3 and an Xbox 360. I guess Square Enix didn't want to leave any of the big three console makers out of its promotion.

The Distant Worlds Concerts are an ongoing series making its next appearance tonight, December 8th in Montreal, Canada, and then moving on to Paris, France, on January 12th, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on February 14th, Munich, Germany, on March 2nd, Omaha, Nebraska, on March 21st, and Vienna, Austria, on June 14th. Having traveled about 1000 miles from chilly New Hampshire to slightly less chilly Chicago, Illinois for this show, I can only say, if you or a loved one are fans of Final Fantasy or spirited symphonies, go see it if you can.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America iPhone App

Screen shot courtesy of
National Geographic
Whenever I plan to go birding, I bring along at least one field guide to help me identify the birds I might see. Sometimes, I’ll also bring along a Birding checklist or Journal in which to record the birds I might see that day. Of course, there are binoculars and a camera, perhaps a scope and a tripod… Sometimes, I start to think that it’s more about the gear than the birds. That’s why I’m excited about the new iPhone App from National Geographic.

Read more

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Angie Mohr's 'Piggy Banks to Paychecks: Helping Kids Understand the Value of a Dollar' -Book Review

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a financial education book referred to as a real page-turner, but Angie Mohr’s “Piggy Banks to Paychecks: Helping Kids Understand the Value of a Dollar” is just that. It provides a complete lesson plan for parents who want to give their kids a solid understanding of personal finance. It’s also a useful review for adults who need a refresher course in money matters.
“Piggy Banks to Paychecks” is amazing for its simple, easy to understand language as it is for its scope. Mohr’s book covers every aspect of personal finance with the thoroughness of a successful professional accountant with over a 1000 clients to her credit, which she is, with the language and pacing of a veteran writer with over 1000 published articles to her credit, which she is as well.
The book begins by giving parents the tools to conduct a thorough evaluation of what they thought they knew about personal finance. Common money myths and bad money habits are detailed in the introductory chapters which also supply a quick quiz to let parents test their own knowledge.
From there, Mohr carries the reader quickly through an entertaining overview of the origins of money and basic macroeconomic principles before diving into the things kids will need to know as they transition into independent adults. Mohr addresses everything from decisions about allowances, spending, earning, budgeting, credit cards, borrowing, investing, taxes, insurance, business principles, and more. Each chapter is broken up into clearly labeled sections for each principle and followed by a quick summary of key points.
In between demonstrating effective ways for parents to teach their children how to handle money, “Piggy Banks to Paychecks” offers real life stories from real parents. These stories show what others have tried with their children and more importantly, whether it worked or not. These anecdotes provide the financial equivalent of color commentary as Mohr delivers the financial play-by-play.
Regardless of your own level of financial sophistication or ignorance, Angie Mohr’s “Piggy Banks to Paychecks: Helping Kids Understand the Value of a Dollar” is the right tool to help you teach your kids how to grow into financially responsible adults. It’s been said that it takes money to make money, but in this case, an investment of less than twenty bucks can help you improve your financial IQ and help set your kids start out with a firm financial footing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson

Princeton University Press has recently published a new field guide called "Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East" by Dennis Paulson. I have written a full review of the book for Examiner.com which can be found at the below link:

My review of "Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East"

or buy it from Amazon at the link below:



Monday, January 9, 2012

Delta Airlines

My son is currently attending college in Montana, and he recently flew home for the holiday break. We purchased his ticket online from Delta Airlines a couple months in advance to be sure he had a ticket and to get a good price on the ticket. Delta was the lowest cost airline we could find that flew to Bozeman, Montana.

I was worried about extra fees that he might be charged with at the airport since, as a college student, he did not have lots of cash to bring, so I checked the baggage police. The itinerary we received with the ticket confirmation said that the ticket price included one checked bag. Great.

On the way home from Montana, he brought only a carry-on, so it didn't matter. On the way back after Christmas, however, he had some extra things he wanted to bring so we packed him a suitcase to be checked. Upon arrival at the airport, he was told that the checked luggage would require an additional fee of $25. We had not brought a copy of the itinerary with us to dispute the fee, and I was not in the mood to argue, so we just decided to pay the additional fee.

We handed the Delta baggage checker two twenty dollar bills for the $25 fee. Even though they do accept cash, she told us that they do not make change and could not accept our cash as presented. Fortunately, I was there and had a debit card to use for the fee. A fee, I might add, that should not have existed according to the terms under which we purchased the original ticket.

The route we chose, because of the lower cost involved two stops, one in Detroit and another in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis flight was delayed and nearly canceled because they did not have enough flight attendants available for the flight. They managed after a significant delay to call in someone to take the flight on short notice.

The flights themselves were ordinary, but the delay and especially the extra fee tacked on despite our having been told that the first checked bag was already included in the ticket price, however, force me to give Delta Airlines, a negative rating. If there's another option available for even a little more, take it instead. Any difference in price in Delta's favor will probably be eaten up by erroneous baggage fees anyway.