Monday, December 29, 2014

Brain Fitness by Professor Richard Restak M.D.

book cover
Optimizing Brain Fitness
by Professor Richard Restak M.D.

DVD & Paperback book
12 lectures
29 minutes per lecture
Publisher: The Great Courses

Source: Bought through Great Courses for $20.00.

Book Description, Modified from Great Courses Website:
Your brain is constantly changing through a process known as brain plasticity. While it was traditionally thought that our brains were fully formed by adulthood, the truth is that our life experiences continually shape and mold our brains in fascinating ways. You can improve your brain in a range of areas, including memory; attention and focus; learning and creativity; and sensory acuity and fine motor skills.

Dr. Restak includes exercises that will enhance and improve your brain's essential functions, like:

-In one minute, name as many animals as you can without repeating them. You'll have to use your working memory to mentally eliminate animals you've already named. A desirable score is between 17 and 20 animals.

-Close your eyes and envision the room around you, and then open them and check for accuracy. Repeat this memory-recall exercise and pay closer attention to smaller details, such as the number of magazines on a table.

My Review:
Optimizing Brain Fitness is a set of lectures about your brain which included exercises and games to improve your brain function. The DVD set came with a course book that covered some of the highlights of each lecture. The professor was very focused on what he was saying, so he often didn't follow the director's cues about the camera changing. This was distracting. The visual components added little to nothing to the lecture, so it might actually be easier to follow these lectures as audio only.

In the first few lectures, I often thought, "okay, that statement obviously meant something significant to you, but it means nothing to me." It was technical, but the problem was more like he was leaving out connecting information which he assumed we knew. The course book didn't fill in the blanks. This got better as the lectures went on, though, and the last three lectures were pretty good in terms of being understandable and applicable.

I had hoped to learn about the research on brain plasticity and practical, everyday things to help improve my brain. He didn't usually explain the specific research studies behind what he was teaching. He did have some practical exercises, like knitting or cooking, but many of the exercises were basically things you find in brain-puzzler books. I'd rather spend my time cooking than doing puzzles that have no direct real-world application, so I was disappointed there weren't more "real life" workout examples. There was some good material in these lectures, but it could have been so much better.

If you've seen this DVD, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion in the comments.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City by Steven L. Tuck

book cover
Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City
by Professor Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.

DVD & Paperback book
24 lectures
29 minutes per lecture
Publisher: The Great Courses

Source: Bought through the publisher catalog. (The DVD format can get as low as $59.95 when on sale.)

DVD Description, Modified from Website:
While the account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 is compelling, Pompeii holds a much more intriguing story for historians: a tale of everyday 1st-century life, flash-frozen in time.

In the opening lectures, you'll consider the geology and geography of this region and learn about the area's pre-Roman settlers. Next, you'll hear how the city was rediscovered in the 1700s, and examine the cutting-edge excavation techniques used to uncover the city's buried treasures. Then Professor Tuck reconstructs a typical day of Pompeian residents, including:

-Follow Chryseis, a slave girl, as she accompanies her mistress to the public baths.
-Trace the steps of two city officials as they survey major civic structures and carry out their duties in local government.
-Attend the elaborate funeral procession of the exalted priestess Eumachia.
-Visit a fullonica—the ancient equivalent of a dry-cleaner—and meet the owner, a freed slave named Stephanus.
-Witness the rituals experienced by a young bride on the night before her wedding.

You'll gain remarkable insights into agriculture, commerce, civic planning, entertainment, local government, private life, and other aspects of the Pompeian experience. As you visit cliff-top villas, local businesses, civic buildings, and private homes, you'll examine the intriguing clues these structures hold about the lives of everyday individuals. Finally, you'll relive the cataclysmic eruption of 79 through computer reconstructions, images, and maps that trace the impact of Vesuvius on the surrounding communities.

To bring these structures to life, Professor Tuck shares exclusive photos he's taken of the surviving ruins and art, later artists' renditions of Pompeian life, videos, and remarkable computer reconstructions of these ancient structures.

My Review:
Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City is a set of DVD lectures on daily Roman life and Pompeii throughout its history. The DVD set came with a course book that summarized and covered the highlights of each lecture. The professor enjoys talking about Pompeii. He clearly conveyed the information and covered a lot of information without leaving me feeling overwhelmed.

I visited Pompeii and Herculaneum during one day back in 1997. It was an awesome experience, but I would have liked more time to simply "be" in the houses and streets and really look at everything. I felt like I was missing the significance of much of what I was looking at. I've watched documentaries and read books on the cities in an effort to capture what I was missing that day, but only this lecture series had everything I've been looking for. This is great resource for anyone going to visit the city (or who wish they could) or who are simply interested in the details of everyday Roman life.

As we get the history of the city, we visit various parts of the city through photographs and short videos. The professor pointed out the significance of what we're seeing and what it tells us about the people who lived there. He did a great job of explaining what information he used to come to various conclusions. I loved that he wasn't just "telling stories" to fill in blanks in knowledge but was using valid sources to help us understand what we really do know about what we're seeing and what life was like. I'd highly recommend this DVD lecture series.

If you've seen this lecture series, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion in the comments.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Daily Painting by Carol Marine

book cover
Daily Painting
by Carol Marine

ISBN-13: 9780770435332
Trade Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: November 4, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Jump-start artistic creativity, experimentation and growth, and increase sales--for artists of all levels, from novices to professionals. Author Carol Marine was suffering from painter's block--until she discovered "daily painting." The idea is simple: do art (usually small) often and post it online. Marine reveals the tips and tricks that helped her and other daily painters pick up the paintbrush and start creating beautiful, bountiful, marketable work.

My Review:
Daily Painting is a book about painting, though much of it applied to any art medium. The author paints mainly in oil, but watercolor and acrylic paintings and even an ink drawing are used in the illustrations.

I was already painting small and often when I picked up this book since I've found this a great way to learn how to paint. I still found this book encouraging and useful. She suggested working in 6" by 6" panels (or similar small size) and setting aside a regular time to paint--daily, weekly, whatever--so you can get regular practice.

She described what daily painting is, why you should do it, and the materials and set-up she uses (mainly oils to paint still life, but she also suggested other topics to paint). She then taught the basics of value, color mixing, proportion, and composition. She described how she works--a "loose" style in oils. Then she moved on to advice from different artists in dealing with artistic block. She wrapped up the book by describing how to photograph your work to post it online and how to sell your work online. She gave enough detail for all but the most novice computer users.

I was left wondering how one ships a painting in the mail--it's assumed we will, but it's not described. Perhaps there are no special considerations so she didn't feel the need to include it. Otherwise, she did a good job of describing daily painting and the process of photographing and selling art online.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.