Friday, December 24, 2010

Untitled Monstrosity

This really was supposed to be a post on my favorite Christmas movie.  I'm not really sure what happened, but I apologize anyways.

You may have noticed, but almost certainly did not care that there hasn't been a blog post around here for quite some time.  Originally I was planning on skirting this issue; hoping that a shiny new blog post about my favorite Christmas movie would distract you from my apparent laziness in much the way that shiny things distracts me from updating my blog... wait scratch that last part.  Since you take the time to read this nonsense, I thought I owed it to you to let you know what is really going on here.  The truth is far more terrifying then the pleasant fiction I created in this paragraph, so only continue if you are not easily frightened.

Last month I participated in nanowrimo, which is a fancy word for writing a novel in a month.  Their definition of a novel is any work of fiction of at least 50,000 words.  Nanowrimo is actually a ton of fun, and I highly recommend doing it, but that's a story for another day.  As the month went on, I found it difficult to keep up with the hectic nanowrimo schedule and write here at the same time, but I knew that I could finish the project and come back here.  Or so I thought...

After finishing nanowrimo I proudly printed out what I had written and looked over it.  It needed to be proofread and edited, but I would work on that in January.  Right now I thought I had earned a month off, but I had thought wrong.  In my haste to finish and move on with my life, I had forgotten an important principle Friedrich Nietzsche mentioned: Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.  From this it follows that if you write a book, the book also writes you!  By writing the book I had told it what its world was like, and opened up the door for it to tell me what my world is like. Slowly but surely that manuscript began to exert control over me.

I cursed my blind ambition as the book started controlling my life.  While I longed to tear up the carpet and install a hardwood floor down there, my new overlord would not permit anything of the sort.

"I'm not writing any more words for you this year!" I shouted at it defiantly.

The book stared at me and I was reminded of an unfunny joke I had heard as a child: Where does a 50,000lb  gorilla sit?  The answer is anywhere it wants.  The novel had accumulated a similar bulk and started throwing its weight around to dictate policy.  The untitled monstrosity gave me an ultimatum; if I was not going to update it, then I could do nothing productive at all!  I was forced to play video games, watch movies and catch up on my web comics.  Whenever I would think about defying it, a horrific manifestation of its presence filled my mind, threatening me with its countless words and its endless punctuation marks.  So many words that a mind might break!

I drew a picture of it here so you can see why I have been living in fear of it.  As you can see, an evil face appears to have formed on the back cover.  To intimidate me, the book has placed the skulls of several small horned creatures that it has already killed.  The message is clear, mess with it, and I would be next.  Finally, the book appeared to have a blazing inferno behind it which makes it seem very menacing.  In retrospect, a raging inferno is probably not a good thing to stand in front of if you are made out of paper.  I valiantly shoved  my evil creation into the fire, buying my freedom.

I still cannot sleep soundly, knowing that I must one day complete the manuscript, and print out that dread tome once more.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Doodle Devil

It was brought to my attention that the creators of the Doodle God game has a new game out for Halloween, Doodle Devil.  According to its advertisement in the store, this game will let you destroy everything you created in the Doodle God game.  Well that sounds like a change of pace from the tough element creation plaguing the end of Doodle God.  Let's check it out.  It should be noted that this costs the same amount as Doodle God, $0.99.
Spooky

Does the promise of a new type of game play interest you?  Well don't get your hopes up, because by destroying the world what they actually mean is creating a bunch of new elements.  These elements you are a assured will destroy the world for you.  Gotta watch out for nasty things like Friendship and religion, they will apparently destroy the world.  The point is, if you enjoyed playing the original game, you'll likely enjoy this.

The game play is clicking two elements to create new ones.  Some are logical, such as computer and computer creates internet.  Some are attempted social commentary such as television and human creates zombies.  It does prove that you are better off using the internet than watching television though, you still become a zombie, but you get friendship too!  Some combinations only make sense in hindsight such as human and copyright gives you lawyer.  Some don't make any sense to me whatsoever.  Rat and air creates dove.  I've heard pigeons are the rats of the sky, but I never heard doves lumped into that category.  Hints are obviously really useful in this game as a lot of the combinations did not seem logical to me at all.

Additionally, there is currently as of 11/8/2010 a bug with the hint system.  When I only had two elements left, the hint that shows you some of these elements may combine brought me to two categories full of elements, none of which reacted to form new elements.  I dutifully kept at it, eventually testing them all.  It put me to brute forcing the last combinations though, which isn't a ton of fun.

This game is not connected with an achievement network yet, so there is no way to show off your progress.  You can, however, spam your element creations on Facebook, if your are seeking a way to get your friends to hide your status updates. Clicking extras will let you download two images to your phone.  Under credits you can donate an additional 0.99$ whenever you feel like it.

Final Thoughts:
If you love Doodle God, and want to play what amounts to one chapter of the same game for the price of four with no mini-games or achievements, then this is for you.  In their defense they have promised to update both games, but as of right now, I say just stick with Doodle God.  The mini-games and quests are needed to avoid boredom from setting in.

Friday, November 5, 2010

epicurious

I like to shop for groceries.  I know that's weird, but I enjoy picking out healthy foods that are tasty, and trying to get a good deal as well.  Maybe its the challenge.  In any case, sometimes I get excited and buy food without any clear idea of how I am going to prepare it.  In this example it was Bluefish.  As you can see Wikipedia left me hanging.

Epicurious is a free application to help you find recipes using things you may already have at home.  The recipes are mostly taken from Gourmet magazines and websites including Gourmet magazine, Bon Appetit, and more.  They are all tested out and most of them are reviewed by your peers.

When you first launch the application you'll get some seasonal recipe suggestions, my recommendation is to click the big find a recipe button below these.  This will bring up epicurious' powerful search engine.  You can search for meals by Main Ingredient.  You can search for meals by course which is shown in the picture to the right.  Options include Appetizer, Breakfast, Brunch, Buffet, Dessert, Dinner, First Course, Hors D'Oeuvres, Lunch, Main Course, Side, and Snack.  You can choose by cuisine which will allow you to select every type of food you've heard of, and a few I'm sure you haven't.  The Dietary Considerations can be amazing if you are having guests over that can't eat certain foods.  It lets you filter the recipes gluten free, low sugar, low sodium, kosher, Vegetarian, Vegan, Low Cal, and several others.  Dish type lets you select from Sauce or Soups, Stuffings or Vegetables.  If you are looking for special Valentine's Day or Halloween recipes, Season or Occasion can help.

At the very bottom is a search box, which you can combine with any of the above categories.  I type in Bluefish, with Dinner selected, and peruse the three entries  I find one with a good picture that was rated 96% would make again based on 25 reviews.
Looks Good to me!
Next I click on recipe to look at what ingredients I need to make it as well as how long it takes to make.  I can also read the reviews by clicking reviews (shocking).
Since I like this recipe, I click the plus button and add it to my shopping list.  This gives me a checklist of everything I need to make this recipe.  You can put more than recipe in there at once.  Once you have the information on the list, you can check off the things you already have to prevent double-buying confusion.  You can also email the shopping list to someone if you can manage to get someone else to do the running around for you.  I have never gotten to use that feature myself.

I don't think I need to do Pros and Cons for this one.  Basically its a free application that is really useful.  On the negative side, I've heard some stories of random crashes, but my wife and I have not seen any yet.
    Final Thoughts:
    Epicurious has a very simple to use interface that connects you with over 25,000 delicious recipes, most of them with pictures and reviews.  Everything that I have made off of this thing has been delicious, and it is very easy to organize shopping trips with the shopping list feature.  Yes, there are ads, but they allow you to get all the above for free.  If you never knew how to prepare a certain ingredient, want to impress guests, or are bored of eating the same old thing, check this application out, because it is great.

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Halloween Candy

    It was requested that we take a look at the nutritional value of all the Halloween candy you just earned or had left over.  This then will let you know which candy bars are going to give you trans fat, and which have no fat. Also, see if you can guess which candy has as much saturated (bad) fat as eleven strips of bacon.
    No you can't you greedy Pirate!

    Starting with not-going-to-kill-you-if-you-eat-one and working down, here is a list of my favorites in the Halloween candy field.  I tried to keep my comments and comparisons with steak to a minimum.

    Starburst were one of my favorites when I was a kid.  They are tasty and individually wrapped, which can possibly help you control the amount you eat.  Of course each chew is 60% sugar, but one chew is only 5 grams, so if you limit your portions, then you aren't doing too badly.  Another point in Starburst's favor is their complete lack of fat.

    A fun size package of Skittles while having 20% of your vitamin C and being coated in insect secretions, also contains 15 grams of sugar in a 20 gram serving equaling a candy that is 75% sugar.  No wonder the rainbow tastes so good.  Skittles are a low fat food for what that's worth.

    The miniature Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are only 7grams.  1 gram of that is saturated fat, 3 grams are sugar.  So not great for you, but if you only eat one small one, its a fairly ignorable offense.  You do get 1 gram of protein as well.

    Butterfingers never really appealed to me as a kid or an adult.  I hate the sensation of the candy getting stuck in my teeth.  An 18g fun size bar has 8 grams of sugar and 2 grams (10%) of your saturated (bad) fat for the day.

    Kit Kat bars taste pretty good and they were at one point my favorite candy bar, but I overdid it on them a long time ago.  Looking at the minis which you can have 5 of, or the snack size, of which you can have 3 (2 bars each), they are both about 42 grams of candy, giving you 210 calories.  Which is a lot, but then we are looking at candy not at granola bars.  One serving has 21 grams of sugar so it is exactly 50% sugar.  They do however contain a large portion of saturated (bad) fat.

    Rolo's are a candy that I did enjoy, but they manage to be 60% or more sugar by weight, and they have 35% of your daily saturated (bad) fat.  The ingredient list shows Trans fat as well.  Why do the ones we love hurt us?

    Snickers are another candy bar I never really cared for.  In this case not a bad choice.  Snickers fun size bars are 15 grams of which 8 grams are sugar.  They also contain Trans Fat, so steer clear.

    My favorite candy is of course the worst candy you can eat, Twix.  As much as I love these bars one 57 gram package has more than half of your days saturated(bad) fat and has the deadly Trans Fat as well.  Twix bars taste great for sure, but ounce for ounce they have more saturated fat then Prime Rib!  Not that I have the option, but I'd rather have the steak, especially since I can skip the trans fat and the 28 grams of sugar.   Apparently you should stay away from caramel in candy bars.

    Final Thoughts:
    Candy is not healthy, but you should be able to have it in moderation... unless you are eating a Twix bar.  In that case you are better off eating ten strips of bacon because that would have less saturated fat.  (Seriously)  Make sure you read the labels and avoid anything with Partially Hydrogenated anything.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    Food: Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Nut

    Once more we look at Nature's Valley Granola bars, this time at their Sweet and Salty Nut bars.  At a simple glance we can see that the bar is coated with a cream reminiscent of the yogurt covered bars we looked at last week.  Those bars were more sugar than anything else, so I am already thinking that this will not be the coveted best snack bar in show.  Let's see what a bar that promises me that it will be "dipped in a delicious peanut, almond, cashew or mixed nut butter coating" can do for my body!

    Click for a bigger size
    Looking at the nutritional information we can see that the bars both contain Nature Valley's friend High Maltose Corn Syrup.  Since that is apparently not sweet enough for the public to consume, they throw in High Fructose Corn Syrup as well.  For good measure we get table sugar in the ingredient list three times, and fructose as well.    That's quite a few types of sugar which gives the impressive stats of 31% sugar for Peanut and 37% sugar for Pecan.  Based on those facts alone I would think they should be passed, but lets see what other goodies we get from these bars.  The Peanut bar is giving you 4g of Protein, which is nice, but the Pecan bar has a dark secret hiding at the bottom of the ingredient list: Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed oil.  That's right, these bars have Trans Fat!  That's... really sad Nature Valley.


    Let's see what hidden treasure we have in the other flavors:
    Almond - Just your usual High Maltose Corn Syrup, High Maltose Corn Syrup, and sugar teaming up to get you a bar that's 34% sugar.
    Cashew -  Pretty much the same statistics as Almond, but with a different nut obviously.
    Roasted Mixed Nut - Another product with Trans fat in it.  Stay away!  Other than that very similar nutritional information to Almond and Cashew.  The real kicker here is that the package actually states "High in protein and absolutely free of trans fat and cholesterol, those bars are the perfect heart-healthy choice to keep you moving."  Right... No trans fat, except for the trans fat.  How responsible.

    Final Thoughts:
    Just when you thought a bar containing 40% sugar was the bottom of the barrel, you find a granola bar that's somehow worse for you!  Ignore the taste, and think about whether or not you want to increase your risk of coronary heart disease.  (Hint: No you don't)   The worst part is the outright lying on the package of the Roasted Mixed Nut bars.  Sure there is not much of it in there(less than .5g per serving) but any amount is very bad for you.  Staying far away from these bars is my suggestion.

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    iPhone Apps: Dragon Dictation

    I like the iPhone, but trying to type long emails, texts, or novels on it is amazingly irritating.  Between the screen not registering your finger, having to hold down a letter to put an accent mark over it, or auto-correct flavoring your text it can be a major pain to use.  Is Dragon Dictation the app that will end having to go back and edit what you are trying to say before you click send?

    In a word, No.  
    In a short sentence that may seem like an insult: You talk funny.  
    In a paragraph:  Dragon Dictation works well once you train yourself to use it.  Everyone says different words differently, and the software is not smart enough to discover your pronunciation oddities.  You must speak slowly and carefully for it to understand you, and even then it will most likely pick up some words incorrectly.  When we first started using the software, it was entertaining to see just how badly it would mangle what you are saying.

    Once you get used to talking to it, it is much faster to record lengthy messages using it then by pecking at the touchscreen and hoping for doesn't get auto-corrected to fir again.  (I guess that's useful if you work with certain species of evergreen conifers in the family Pinaceae.  Most of us probably use the word "for" more often.  Anyways)  

    The software launches to a large red button which you tap to start recording.  In the screenshot to the right, the app recognized me saying record and printed it.  From here I can click the red button on the bottom to record more, the keyboard button to edit the recording with the keyboard, or the far right button to open up the paste to menu shown.  Clicking one of the destination buttons will open up the associated application, where you can double tap to get the paste dialog.  Pretty simple and easy to use.

    One more feature that is not initially obvious is that you can click on words that it recorded to select other words that sound the same.  So if it hears "load" but you said "little", you might be able to swap the word without typing on the keyboard.
    Pros:
    • This application is free!
    • Eventually it can be a big time saver

    Cons:
    • Most people will have to learn to speak to it differently to get it to work.
    • It cannot recognize every word yet.
    • It clears anything you record if you exit the application.

    Final Thoughts:
    This application is free and has a simple and effective interface.  The app saves you time, so according to that time equals money formula, this is free money.  Its actually nowhere near as good as free money, but it is worth trying for free.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Food: Nature Valley Chewy Granola Bars with Yogurt Coating

    Our next Granola bar is another selection from General Mill's Nature Valley series, Chewy Granola Bars with Yogurt Coating.  The short description of these bars is: "Indulge in an extra measure of sweetness - as well as calcium: Nature Valley Chewy Granola Bars with Yogurt Coating."  Extra measure of sweetness?  That might seem a bit unnecessary in a line that's 25% sugars normally.  To the facts!

    Looking at this bar we find that it does contain 10% of your daily recommended calcium.  If you ate ten of these, you would be all set on your calcium and carbohydrates for the day.  This bar is smaller for the price then the other bars we have reviewed, weighing in at 35 grams.  This means that the 14 grams of sugar equals 40% of the total weight of the bar.  For reference, one serving of Oreo cookies has a similar ratio of sugar to total size.  Oreo cookies have High Fructose Corn Syrup, these have High Maltose Corn Syrup, which is likely no better.  Two grams of protein and one gram of dietary fiber are half the values present in the Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars, which we decided aren't that great to begin with!

    The granola bars come in three flavors of Yogurt. Vanilla, Strawberry and Blueberry are your flavor choices.  All flavors taste fairly good, but then again they should for their sugar content.  The nutritional information does not significantly differ for any of the flavors I looked at.

    Final Thoughts:
    This snack is roughly equivalent to one serving of Oreo cookies.  (That's 3 regular cookies or 2 double stuffs for reference.)  The Oreo cookies might even have the same amount of calcium if you are a dunker.  If you are not a dunker, you should consider dunking.  I'm getting a bit off topic, but the point is that  Nature Valley Chewy Granola Bars with Yogurt Coating are not what I would turn to for a healthy snack.

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Junk eMail and Mailinator

    Everyone wants to send you spam, and it feels like you can't sign up for anything without an email address these days.  Well here are a couple of solutions for this issue.  Your first option is to register a junk email address on one of the main email sites, then give that out to people instead of your real email address.  If you are going to do this, its much easier at hotmail.com then at gmail.com.  That takes too long for me, though.

    Mailinator is my go to place when I don't want to give out my email address.  The beauty of this particular webmail  site is that you don't need to setup an email address beforehand.  Just think of a random email address, say GiantSquid.  Next, add it to a mailinator domain like mailinator.com or suremail.info or mailinator2.com.  Now start signing up for things as GiantSquid@mailinator.com.  That's it - no registration or anything!  Then you go to Mailinator, and where it says check your inbox type in you email address.  There is no password, so don't use this for your super secret mail.

    Things to consider:

    • Your inbox will only hold 10 emails at a time.
    • Emails will be deleted after 24 hours.
    • Emails cannot contain any attachments.  On the other hand, you won't get viruses from your mail here.
    • Anyone who knows your email address can see your email.

    Final Thoughts:
    Mailinator is great at what it does.  Some places that really want to spam you will not accept mail from mailinator.com  Good thing they have a numerous alternate domains.  Check their main-page to get an alternate domain and a random email address if you are having trouble thinking of one.  They have options for monitoring their mailboxes by RSS, widget, and Google chrome extension.  If you really need added security try checking your inbox on mailinator.  At the top of the screen is an alternate email address.  You can have mail sent to this random jumble or letters and numbers and it will go to your box, but people cannot log on to your box with it.  Still not very safe without a password, but its not trying to replace gmail.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Food: Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars

    Our next stop on the granola bar study is Nature Valley, famous for making several hundred different brands of granola bar.  Nature Valley made the first granola bars I saw in college, these Oats 'n Honey bars.  Since a friend let me try them I started buying them in bulk for random snacks, something I had a lot of since the cafeteria was a horror show.  Was this a healthy decision?

    Looking at the Oats 'n Honey bars the first conclusion that can be reached is that typing the apostrophe in Oats 'n Honey is really irritating.  Moving on to the productive part of this program, we can see that this granola bar has no trans fat and no high (insert sugar) corn syrup.  We may notice that sugar is the second ingredient, with honey and brown sugar syrup not too far behind.  Sugars total 12g in a 42 gram serving.  Oats 'n Honey bars are 28.5% sugar and 14.2% fat.  Comparing this to the Fiber One bar we looked at last week we have more sodium (95mg vs160mg) and less dietary fiber (9g vs 2g).  These bars don't taste bad, but they aren't really amazing either.  The only thing this bar has over the Fiber One bar is 2 grams of protein.  In my opinion, not worth what you lose.

    Let's see how the other flavors stack up:
    Peanut Butter - Trade a gram of sugar for a gram of protein, good trade.  These taste better than the Oats 'n Honey, with a little bit of the creaminess of peanut butter.  Click here for Full Nutritional Information.
    Cinnamon - One extra gram of sugar from the Oats 'N Honey, but again a better taste.  Click here for Full Nutritional Information.
    Maple Brown Sugar - Oddly enough there isn't more sugar in this despite the name, I guess that's as much a condemnation of the other bar's almost 30% sugar content as a recommendation for this one.  Nothing noteworthy in the flavor department.  Click here for Full Nutritional Information.
    Roasted Almond - Has one gram less sugar than Oats 'n Honey, and tastes good.  There's a faintly sweet almond taste, making this one of my favorites.  Click here for Full Nutritional Information.
    Apple Crisp - One gram less sugar and one gram less protein.  Click here for Full Nutritional Information.
    Pecan Crunch -Same nutritional information as the Oats 'n Honey, slightly tastier. Click here for Full Nutritional Information.

    Final Thoughts:  I want to cut these guys some slack for using all natural ingredients, however, General Mills makes it hard by raising the percent of the bar that is pure sugar, and sucking out the fiber as compared to the Fiber One bars.  Not the healthiest snack in the world with nearly 30% sugar.  The search continues.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Bubble Bobble

    Two couples are on a double date at a bar, when an overly drunk man-maybe even Super Drunk- kidnaps the two women and turns the guys into bubble-blowing dinosaurs.  Happens all the time and is actually the main reason I try to avoid the bar.  What options do the two brave men have?  Only one:
    Their adventures are documented in one of the most popular and entertaining video games for the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Bubble Bobble.  Bubble Bobble puts you and a friend in the roles of Bub and Bob who have to traverse over 100 rooms to have a chance to rescue their girlfriends.  The game is unashamedly cute, has simple but catchy music, and very addictive game play.  The game starts off extremely easy, but gets quite hard near the end.  On the other hand, I've never seen a game give you such a variety of different power-ups or ways to get an extra life, so you have a fair chance as long as you can learn how to ride on top of the bubbles.  (Hold jump and up).

    Each room has a number of enemies in it who must be defeated before you can progress to the next room.  Defeating enemies is as simple as hitting them with a bubble then popping it.  You score exponentially more points for each enemy you pop at the same time.  In each room after the first one, a point item and then a power-up item will appear.  If you don't defeat the enemies quick enough, you get a "Hurry Up!" warning, which makes all the enemies turn angry-red and move faster.  If you take longer than that you encounter the evil invincible white whale.  This guy is scary, he can't be killed, and will stalk you around the level, speeding up until you kill the last normal enemy, or die to his ghostly(or is it bony) maw.
    Baron Von Blubba
    The levels get harder and harder until you reach the trick level, level 100.  In this level you need to quickly grab the crystal ball, then get to the door which will appear.  If you defeat all the enemies like normal, you'll get a first class ticket back to level 1.  Make sure you die if you miss the crystal or door to prevent an eruption of controller-throwing behavior.  If you manage to get out the secret door, you'll get to play through several bonus levels.

    At the very end of these secret levels, Super Drunk(that's actually his name) is waiting for you, giving the game an epic boss fight at the end.  To defeat him you must climb to the top of the room, grab the Thunder Drug which causes you to blow thunder bubbles, and pop them, connecting 60 lightning bolts with Super Drunk.  Meanwhile, he tears around shooting a spread of 6 bottles and only pausing when hit by lightning.  This is a tough fight, and I was never able to bring him to justice as a child.  Since Bub and Bob are such good friends, they wouldn't think about completing the game solo, and so you get a bad ending if you manage to sober up Super Drunk by yourself.  This is very hard!

    Luckily this is one of the few games that earned the Wife's Seal of Approval, and so I was able to enlist her help at defeating this foe.  Unfortunately, the high frustration factor of facing off against the drunk caused her to threaten to revoke her seal.  As she explained to me, "This game is about being cute jumping and blowing bubbles, not being killed repeatedly."  Although when she said it, the sentence had a few more colorful metaphors thrown in.  A controller may or may not have been hurled across the room.  To take him down, you need to play defensively, find his pattern, and run under him when you can.  After an hour or so of trying, persistence paid off and Bub, Bob, their anonymous girlfriends, my wife, and I all learned the most important magic in the world.

    If you've played this game to death, try it on the Super Game, which is accessed by typing in the password EECFG then selecting 1 or 2 player start.  This causes different enemies to appear on the levels then normal and also gives the Super Drunk an extra 20 life he doesn't need.  It also allows you the real ending pictured above.

    Final Thoughts:  I can't imagine a person who would not like this game.  If you haven't played it you really owe it to yourself to give it a try.  It must be mentioned that this is a fantastic 2 player game, and is accessible to non gamers as well.  Something about wading through endless purple whales, space invaders, angry springs, while happy music endlessly plays in the background draws people in.  For a twenty year old game there is a lot to it with hidden levels, multiple endings, and multiple game modes.  Bubble Bobble can be found on many different platforms, including the virtual console on the Nintendo Wii.  Worth every cent of the $5 it now costs!

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Food: Fiber One Chewy Bars

    We return to food to review a few granola bars, starting with the Fiber One model by General Mills.  The theory behind granola bars is that they are good for you and provide a tasty snack.  Some accomplish this better than others.  As we've seen before, food companies can't really be trusted.

    Nutritional InformationFiber One is generally a pretty safe brand to buy food from.  Their Oats & Chocolate granola bar does not contain High Fructose Corn Syrup (although every other flavor does) or Trans Fat, so we are off to a good start.  It does contain High Maltose Corn Syrup, which is another corn based sweetener though.  There hasn't been as much testing on this particular type of artificial sweetener so its long term effects aren't well known.  Even if its not as bad as High Fructose Corn Syrup, its high on the list of ingredients, meaning there is a lot of it in there.  You also have regular sugar(twice) and honey thrown in for good measure.  Looking at the Nutritional Facts table we see that each bar has 10 grams of sugar.  We also see that the bar itself is only 40 grams.  So one tenth of the bar is fat, and one quarter is sugar.  Not a good start.

    On the positive side, you do have 9 grams of dietary fiber, which is 35% of your daily value.  There are also 2 grams of protein, which may or may not fill you up for a bit.  I have to say it tastes pretty good.  Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips and a bunch of sugar makes most people happy.

    Other flavors available include:
    Oats & Peanut Butter-  There's that High Fructose Corn Syrup!  I didn't find these to taste as good, maybe its because they have one less gram of sugar.  Click here for full nutritional information.
    Oats & Caramel-  High Fructose Corn Syrup is back again.  Click here for full nutritional information.
    Oats & Strawberry-  High Fructose Corn Syrup once more.  Click here for full nutritional information.
    Oats & Apple Streusel-  These actually have 11g of sugar, making them the worst bar in the series, naturally we have High Fructose Corn Syrup as well.  Click here for full nutritional information.
    Chocolate Mocha-  If you guessed High Fructose Corn Syrup, you guessed right.  Click here for full nutritional information.

    Final Thoughts:
    Although it is better for you than a candy bar and provides a good amount of fiber, I am hoping we can find something a bit better for you than a bar that's 25% sugar.  I found the Oats & Chocolate to taste best, it also spares you High Fructose Corn Syrup, although High Maltose Corn Syrup likely isn't any better for you.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Doodle God

    Picture+Blog=This!!
    Some Early Combinations
    Today we'll look at another of the most popular downloaded paid apps, Doodle God.  Doodle God is a puzzle game in which you combine simple elements to make more complex ones.  You begin with the four traditonal elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air.  Simply tap or click the elements to combine them.  At the beginning, there are many physical combinations which are pretty easily conceptualized, such as Earth plus Fire gives Lava or Lava plus Water gives Stone and Steam as shown in the picture to the right.  I hadn't played anything like it before and it is entertaining trying to make new things.  Some of the matches are non-physical like Fire and Water gives Alcohol (Firewater).  These are harder to find, but the system does allow you one hint every few minutes.  (On the mobile version you can get a hint every time you enter the app, so you can kind of cheat the timer that way.)

    Doodle God costs $0.99 on the iPhone and iPad, but is free to play online. (The game isn't on Android, but there is a game on android called Alchemy which is almost exactly the same.)  You can play it on their site or on Kongregate to get two badges.  To complicate the issue, however, the developer publishes updates to the mobile versions, but so far does not update the web version.  The updates cover three chapters and take the total amount of elements up from 115 in 14 categories to 248 in 26 categories.  This greatly extends the life of the game as the early elements are much easier to find anyways.

    Bird+Tools=I'm a bad player!With Chapter 3, you can create games in order to unlock a matching mini game called MatchTrix.  This was a very good idea, as by the time I got to this point, I was quite a bit frustrated with the main game.  Elements slowly fall from the top of the screen, and by matching elements that create new elements they disappear, but now the newly invented element will also fall.  You can setup chains of combining products for more points.  Also by tapping the falling element you can switch it for whatever element is in the box at the upper left.  Its similar but different from Tetris.

    Chapter 4 gives you Bejoined, a Bejewled style game.  It unfortunately becomes near impossible to make any matches that progress the game once you get above 60-80 elements.

    The music that comes with the game is good, but there are voices that comment on your progress.  They are so annoying that you may want to smash something after listening to them for long enough, especially if you are having trouble matching.  Thankfully, the developer allows you to enable or disable music, voices, and sound independently.  The artwork on the little icons is decent as well.  Each discovery gives you a fanfare and a little quote, some of which are also entertaining.

    Pros:
    • Free or cheap.
    • Simple but addictive game-play.
    • The mini-game MatchTrix is change of pace and a lot of fun.
    • Open feint support!
    Cons:
    • Later matches can be more trail and error than anything else.
    • Voices are very annoying, especially if you not able to make a match for awhile.
    • Disparity in the different versions can be very annoying.
    • You can create Quick-Silver and Cyborgs, but no evil T-1000s.
    Final Thoughts:
    Doodle God is a fun game to play, despite some of the matches being insane.  (Nuclear Bomb + Demi-God gives you Flowers?!  How are you supposed to think of that?)  The mini game that pops up once you invent games is a very welcome change of pace after getting the last few matches.  There is no lite version, so if you are interested in playing it but uncertain about plunking down the dollar, check it out online first.  Worth looking at

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Trans fat and You

    You know trans fat is really bad for you, so you only buy packages that have 0g of trans fat in it.  You're safe right?  In most of the world, yes, but sadly not in the United States of America.  In the United States, Trans fat can be listed as 0 grams, as long as there is less than half a gram present per serving.  In our cake mix to the right, there are 12 servings.  Therefore, there could be up to 5.99 grams of trans fat in the mix.  The tip off is in the ingredients list.   The last ingredient in the picture shows Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil.  Anytime you see partially hydrogenated blank Oil, you are looking at trans fat.

    I know some of you are going to jump on the "everything is bad for you, so what does it matter" bandwagon.  Yes there are a lot of unavoidable things in life that are bad for you, and you can't avoid everything, but you might want to make an exception for trans fat.  According to the National Academy of Sciences, trans fat increases bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol while providing no known benefits.  What that means is that trans fat increases your risk of coronary heart disease more than anything else you can eat.  Furthermore a study running for 14 years following 120,000 people found that for each additional 2% of your calories that come from trans fat you double your risk of coronary heart disease.  That's not good at all, since if you live in a civilized part of the world, coronary heart disease will most likely kill you.

    As if that was not bad enough studies have also linked trans fat to promoting the development of Alzheimer's Disease and infertility in women.  Both of those are pretty bad as well.  There hasn't been enough evidence to prove it conclusively yet, but I wouldn't want to risk either of those conditions.

    I don't want anyone to think I'm picking on Betty Crocker, I found trans fat in every cake mix I saw at the store.  Let me know if you encounter one without it.

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Urban Rivals: Levels 1-15 and making clintz

    Since I've seen a few of my readers on Urban Rivals, I thought I'd post up a few tips and ways to make money.  If you haven't heard of it, click here to read my initial review or just scan the article for typos.  The first few levels go very quickly, and the first goal is to get to level 7.  Once you are there you can make clintz a lot faster.  As you work your way to level 7 keep these things in mind:

    General Tips
    • As soon as possible, try to narrow your deck down to one or two clans.  This will allow you to have active clan bonuses every game, which can greatly help your chance of winning.
    • If you are playing on the website, you should see two modes available, non-random and normal.  I suggest switching your game to non-random as soon as possible.  This will make it so that whoever has the highest attack always wins.  I can't really write a strategy guide for random mode other than kiss the blarney stone, keep a fish scale in your pocket, or whatever you kids do these days.
    • As you level up more game modes open up to you, and more ways to make clintz to buy better cards.
    • Make sure you check out any new cards your opponent has.  There are a few cards that can do 12 damage in one shot, so don't be taken unaware.
    • If you are playing in non random, and the two cards end up with the same attack, the one with less stars wins.  If the stars are equal, whoever played first wins.
    • The player with the most stars out plays first.
    • Completing missions is a good way to get going.  Missions can give up to 2k clintz, 15 credits, or rare cards!  Check out mission details on this wiki.
    • Remember to use you bonus XP frequently, as it refills fully when you level up.
    • There are some useful posts on the general help message board as well.

    Level 7-Daily Tournaments
    Every other hour there is a tournament that lasts for one hour.  If there isn't one currently going on, that means the next one starts at the top of the next hour.  Joining a tournament is simple, simply join the Fights Type 1 or Fights Type 2 rooms and do a quick challenge.

    As a beginner, you are unlikely to win the Tournament, but there is a 50 clintz prize for participating.  The tournament is based on how many points you score in a game.  A loss is worth a base of 3 points and a draw is worth a base of 4 points.  A win is worth a base of 8 points.  You get extra points for defeating a higher star card with a lower star card, for winning by KO with pillz left over, and for winning with more than 12 life.  (Tests have shown that gains from having extra pillz or life may be limited to 2 extra points per battle).  Most of the points come from beating high star cards with low star cards.  A 16 star deck will rack up a lot of points for every win.
    If you withdraw or get timed out, you will be hit for a -20 point penalty and if you finish with a negative Tournament score, you get no clintz!



    If you can finish in the top 1/3rd of a Tournament, you get an automatic credit added onto your account.  Additional winnings go out to the top 150 places in the tournament as follows:


    Clintz jackpot:
    Starts at 10000 Clintz and increases after each battle by adding the double of the Clintz won in the battle.
    1st - 5th: 2% each (example for a 350 000 Jackpot: 7 000 Clintz)
    6th - 10th: 1% each (example for a 350 000 Jackpot: 3 500 Clintz)
    11th - 25th: 0.4% each (example for a 350 000 Jackpot: 1 400 Clintz)
    26th - 50th: 0.3% each (example for a 350 000 Jackpot: 1 050 Clintz)
    51st - 100th: 0.2% each (example for a 350 000 Jackpot: 700 Clintz)
    101st - 150th: 0.1% each (example for a 350 000 Jackpot: 350 Clintz)
    Higher than 151st: 50 Clintz each
    The 1st player will also receive a bonus of 1 000 Clintz

    Certain times of day are more active than others, this means a higher jackpot, but harder to place.  A few are really easy to place in, during late night/early morning for Europe and America.  You can see all this information by clicking the game tab, Game modes, Tourney, History.

    Level 15-ELO Tournament
    ELO is a week long tournament, with the highest winnings in the game.  Its a point system that resets every Monday.  You start on Monday with 1k points, and that increases or decreases based on how you win or loose fights in the ELO room.  ELO uses the same basic deck as Type 1, with certain overpowered cards being banned.  In order to take home any winnings, you must play at least 5 games and finish over 1k points.  That will net you 2 credits and 150 clintz.  The rewards get good quickly though, for finishing with 1200 exactly I won 707clintz and 5 credtis.  The rare cards that are given out are usually worth at least 1k clintz, and the collectors are worth 10-1000 times as much!  The competition can be rough, but as I said, a lot of the overpowered cards are banned from this mode, so it is much safer than Type 1 and 2.


    ELO Tournament prizes:
    * [Cards] 1 Collector card(s) for 12 random players from the ELO Tournament Top 100
    * [Cards] 1 Rare card(s) for 50 random players with more than 1200 ELO points
    * [Credits] the 1st wins 50 Credits.
    * [Credits] the 2nd to 25th win 20 Credits.
    * [Credits] Players beyond 25th, over or equal to 1300 ELO, win 10 Credits.
    * [Credits] Players beyond 25th, over or equal to 1200 ELO and below 1300 ELO, win 5 Credits.
    * [Credits] Players beyond 25th, over 1000 ELO and below 1200 ELO, win 2 Credits.
    * [Clintz] 1st wins 4% of the Clintz Jackpot.
    * [Clintz] 2nd wins 2% of the Clintz Jackpot.
    * [Clintz] 3rd wins 1% of the Clintz Jackpot.
    * [Clintz] 4th to in 0.5% of the Clintz Jackpot.
    * [Clintz] 11th to in 0.25% of the Clintz Jackpot.
    * [Clintz] Players beyond 25th and over 1200 ELO split the remaining 86.25% of the Clintz Jackpot according to their ELO scores.
    * [Clintz] Players beyond 25th and over 1000 ELO with at least 5 games played receive 150 Clintz (not taken from the Clintz Jackpot).

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    Angry Birds

    Do you like swiping your finger across your iPhone, Palm, Android or Nokia smartphone but lack a compelling reason to do so?  Well then I might have the game for you.  Angry Birds is a very addictive puzzle game that has you swiping your finger to slingshot birds at the pigs that stole their eggs.  Along the way you'll most likely have to destroy various structures built of wood, glass, and stone.

    I'm angry that I can't aimThe story plays out through cut scenes after certain levels.  The gist of it is an epic adventure of a group of limbless birds who have somehow managed to produce eggs.  Naturally, the are upset (angry) when some (equally limbless) pigs steal their children.  The main goal is to pull your finger back and release to send the birds flying towards the pigs.  Although you start out with the plain red bird, you eventually get birds that split into three, explode, boomerang and have other skills.  Also the puzzles get more and more complicated as you progress.  In the screenshot you can see me whiffing on my first shot.  The bird in flight was launched from the slingshot at the left, and the two red birds on the bottom are my last two shots.  The game starts off just that simple.  Hopefully you can aim better than I can when trying to screenshot something.

    The game costs $2.99 on the iPhone, although there is a lite version to test it out.  The beta version is free for the android and has more levels than the lite version.  That's not fair!  Try it out for yourself, but it is probably worth the price for the amount of game-play you get. This game seems to have the Tetris effect; many people who rarely play games will happily play this for hours.

    If you want a walk-through for each level and the locations of the hidden golden eggs click here, don't buy one of the several pages of apps that offer the same thing.

    Pros:

    • The game has been updated several times at no cost, providing more birds, and more levels.
    • You can play a round in less than a minute, making it ideal for a mobile game.
    • There is an achievement system that lets you share your level of obsessiveness with your friends.

    Cons:

    • Can kidnap you or a loved one for months.  Its that addictive.
    • Not a lot of variety in game play.

    Final Thoughts:
    Angry Birds is well worth the price.  It is fun to play, and that's not just my opinion.  Angry Birds is the #1 paid app in just about every country that has the concept of money (and some that don't).  This game is a lot of fun and if you are a perfectionist, will keep you busy for months.(Seriously)  If you don't have a smartphone and want to try the game, Rovio plans to port this game to the Computer, Playstation Portable, Playstation 3, possibly the Nintendo Wii, and DS, and perhaps certain deli-meats.

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    Movie Review: Little Hercules




    Many people have made movies and television shows about Hercules, the son of the Greek god Zeus and a mortal woman.  We've seen Hercules joking around with Bruce Campbell, we've seen him beating up James Woods.  Last year, Hollywood gave us a fresh take on the legend.  What if the Greek Gods lived to this day, but didn't know it was the current day?  Also what if Mount Olympus was right over Burbank, California?  Then you would have a pretty bad movie, all things considered.

    The movie picks up with Hercules sitting around Mount Olympus, talking with his fellow gods. It should be noted that Socrates is now a Greek God.  All of the sudden Marduk (played by Paul Wight aka The Big Show) arrives and starts trying to pick a fight with Zeus.  Marduk is a Babylonian god who feels the need to hang around Mt. Olympus constantly.(We later find out his house is a flaming crap-hole.)

    Hercules takes advantage of the fight to escape to Earth.  Once in Burbank, he begins to have a series of wacky adventures.  He has trouble fitting in, but eventually is befriended by a boy about his age. The kid's mother decides that she should take care of Hercules and send him to school, despite him throwing her date into their swimming pool for some reason.

    Soon Zeus realizes the only way to contact his son is by toilet phone.  No really.  Anyways, Hercules answers the call on the tele-john and finds out that he can only waste his strength three times before he's only as strong as a normal person.  He must choose to be a mortal or a god.  Also there's a bet with Marduk and Olympus is at stake, but no pressure.
    Do you think the Liquid Plumber can take out the Hulkster? 
    Marduk cheats on the bet by becoming a private coach for the school Hercules is going to, and creating teams consisting of Hercules versus the rest of the school.  There's a competition, a conspiracy, and some really bad special effects.

    I won't spoil the secret ending of the movie, but I will give you a final warning not to buy or rent this unless you are planning to give it the MST3K treatment.  If you are looking for a good Hulk Hogan movie (and I can't imagine that you are) you would be much better off watching his cameo in Gremlins II.

    Bonus clips(There is sound but its very quiet):
    Hulk Hogan flushing.

    Final rating:
    7/876 Toilets

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Food: Chobani Greek Yogurt

    Today on Random Task we have a special investigative report on Chobani's Greek Yogurt.  Is it made in Greece?  Is it healthy?  Tune in to find out.

    Chobani yogurt is made in New York State, not in Greece.  They call it Greek because of the straining process. This process removes most of the liquid, concentrating the protein.  This also removes the vitamin D, but that's not a big deal since you can get that from the Sun.  (Our vampire readers are encouraged to try a different brand of yogurt.)

    As you can see on the packaging, the yogurt is stated to be bursting with fruit.  Now when I read that, I expect that if I open the lid too vigorously, fruit will "burst" out of the container with such force that my face will be covered in  blueberries.  That's not quite the case.  I don't mean to be overly critical here; the product has a good amount of fruit and it is sweetened with unrefined sugar.  What gets me is the false advertising.  Had they not built up my expectations with these ridiculous bursting rumors, I would have been more than pleased with the ample amount of fruit provided.
    As you can sort of see, there is about half an inch of fruit, and no evidence of Fruit Bursting.


    The yogurt contain a ton of protein(28% of what you need for the day) which makes it filling.  The protein has all the amino acids that our body can't produce, and several communities of happy bacteria.  Chobani Greek Yogurt has no fat, no cholesterol, and less sodium than the other brands I used to eat, (Yoplait, Activia, Stonyfield farms).  It also has no artificial sweeteners which is good, because those are deal-breakers for me.  Finally, it is gluten free (for the non-bread eaters), gelatin free (for the non-meat eaters), and not made near nuts or soy (for those who are allergic).  They really covered their bases here.


    Three flavors were tested in our lab, and by lab I mean my mouth.  Make sure you stir well before eating.
    Strawberry - Strawberry contains enough fruit so that you can have a piece in each bite if you mix it well.  One of my favorites, the strawberries taste very good.
    Blueberry - This was my favorite one, it tastes slightly better then the strawberries, and Blueberries are on the list of foods to have everyday if you can.
    Peach - The peach was my least favorite, but still good.  The taste seemed slightly bitter, and the flavor of the peaches didn't seem to go as well with the flavor of the yogurt itself.


    They also have Vanilla, Honey, Plain, and Pomegranate, which all sound great to me.


    Final Thoughts:
    Chobani is tasty, filling, and very good for you.  If you want to try it, you can print out coupons on their website.  According to Eat This, Not That, its a "this".  It seems like most other yogurt is sugar and flavor in a container.It costs a bit more than other yogurts, but it is worth it.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    iPhone Apps: MotionX GPS

    I used to do a lot of hiking, and I still like getting out there when I can.  Although the main goal is having fun, exercise, and whatnot, we seem to like gathering data.  It can be very entertaining to see how far you went at what speed, and how much elevation you gained.  Also not getting lost is usually a plus as well.

    Motion X GPS currently costs $2.99 in the app store.  I think it initially was almost ten dollars.  Despite the price it quickly became the most downloaded GPS app on the iTunes store.  There are rumors that this will be published as an android application as well.  Like most paid apps, you get free updates once you buy it.

    MotionX can let you know a variety of information very quickly, as well as provide graphs.  Below is the stopwatch screen, which you use to start and stop the recording of data.  If you scroll down from the main screen pictured on the left, you are given a few graphs, as shown on the right picture.

    Looks Like a lake to me, but that's why I need a GPS app
    At any time during your path or once you've finished, you can overlay where you walked onto a google map of the area as shown to the right. Once you have completed your walk you can save these tracks and send them to your friends via twitter, email, or facebook.  You can even set it up to automatically send out updates on your last current position. This could be used to avoid panicking when one of your friends or family vanishes into the woods in another state.  (Not that that's ever happened in my life repeatedly).

    It includes a feature to have a voice randomly tell you how you are doing as far as pacing and other stats without taking it out of your pocket.  It also will let you access your built in iPod through the program.  You can also import GPX formatted locations.

    In fact there are a ton of features, so many that it might take some heavy use for you to find out the ones you will use.

    Pros:
    • Easy to use GPS.
    • Three ways to acquire your position. (Manually, GPS, or through a wireless network).
    • Many good features.
    Cons:
    • It can take a minute or longer to get a GPS signal if you are under trees.
    • It can take some reading to figure out all of the different features.
    Final Thoughts:
    This is a great application if you like hiking, geo-caching, running, or walking.  It is very powerful for the $2.99 price tag.  (Again, much more use per cost then EpicWin.)  I try to use it every time I hike or walk an area for the first time, so I get the statistics.  I'm not sure why it interests me, but there you have it.  There is a free version if you want to try it out.  If you are going to be outside and moving, try it.

    Saturday, September 4, 2010

    Urban-Rivals

    With a long weekend here, I feel like I should review a game so you all can have something to do if there is  rain.  Clearly your choices are do something outside or be locked in a room with only a computer to entertain you.  Also you have no ability to use search engines and no games on the computer.  Also you like whatever I like.  Also you read my blog.  Well that narrowed things down a bit.  Moving on...

    Urban-Rivals is another online trading card game although it is nothing like Elements.  You get a deck with at least 8 cards, and in every game you draw 4 at random.  These 4 cards go up against your opponent's 4 cards.  Each card represents one of the 600+ characters in the game, divided into 21 clans.  All matches are against other people, so some of the matches get quite intense.  As you play the cards gain experience, and level up, somewhat similar to that popular Nintendo series... (Warning, the linked song may become lodged in your head.  I'm sorry.)

    Each card has a power(the blue number) and a damage(the red number).  You and your opponent take turns playing cards, and which ever card has the higher power wins and does its damage to the other player.  The catch is that every battle both players get 12 pills that they can use whenever they want.  Each pill multiplies the characters power.  Playing one pill would make this guy have a power of 12, 9 would give him a power of 60.  This means that you can really win against anyone, not matter what kind of cards they have if you can out-bluff them.  It really is a lot of fun.
    Roger and you!
    The cards also level up as I mentioned before, although each card has a maximum level.  Cards usually unlock their ability when try reach maximum level, indicated by all of their stars being filled in and the experience bar turning purple.  In the case of the card above, he gets an extra 8 attack added after the pill multiplication phase.  Finally he has a clan bonus on the bottom, this only activates if you have at least two characters of the same clan in your hand at the same time.

    Urban-Rivals has a variety of different modes you can play in, twelve system run tournaments every day, a daily lotto, and a week long tournament are all free to enter.  Players are free to create their own events at any time with any rules they want.  Another nice thing is that in the week long tournament, players get to vote on which cards should be banned for each week.  So if you feel a card is overpowered, strike it down!

    As you play you earn clintz, which can be used to buy currency on the player market, credits which are used to buy new characters or clintz, and experience which allows you to play in new game modes.  The game has a large achievement system, with each achievement unlocking new cards, credits, or clintz.

    Pros:

    • Its Free!  It has an iPhone App, which is also free.
    • There is a ton of things going on in the game, and as you level up by playing, you gain access to a large amount of new game modes.
    • There are millions of players around the world.  There are usually 5-10 thousand games going on at any  given time, so its not hard to find someone to play with no matter what game type you are interested in playing.
    • There are frequent updates.  In the month I have played this game, they have introduced 4 new cards, and retired 2 to collector status.
    • It gives you practice with those multiplication tables.  If you need that sort of thing.

    Cons:

    • The beginner instructions leave a bit to be desired, especially in the browser version.
    • There is no starting player guide.
    • Math could be useful here.  Some people don't like that.

    Final Thoughts:
    This is probably my favorite game right now.  I found it a month ago through a banner ad, and it is very entertaining.  It also costs you nothing to try it.  The massive amount of game modes, characters, and other players make it always interesting to play.  A lot of the cards are pop culture references and are fairly funny if you get them.  Oh if you do decide to play, send me a friend request or list me as your sponsor, I'm playing as 38thdoe there too.

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    Chegg

    Buying textbooks for college (or for really lucky people high school and college) is a huge expense.  Lets say you buy a book from the bookstore for $200.   If you are lucky, they will buy it back from you at $100, then turn around and resell it for $175 and repeat.  Someone's taking advantage of you to the tune of a ton of money.

    Recently I was told about textbook rentals.  Basically someone really clever bought a ton of textbooks for the full price and rents them out at around 25% of full price.  If the publisher can manage not to put out a new version every year, then the people renting the books make good money.  Sure you still are being taken advantage of, but you are also saving a ton of money by not getting screwed by the bookstores.


    Chegg is the rental site I recommend, since they buy back any books that you may have sitting around (Which makes me think I might be able to convert junk to money at home).  They also apparently plant a tree if you rent from them.  And that keeps teenagers and strange blue skinned, green haired superheros off your back.  


    Finally, I managed to find you a coupon for the site:
    This coupon saves you 5% off a rental, and gives you $5 when you sell them books.
    Coupon Code:  CC135316


    Hopefully this post can help someone, somewhere.

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    Plants vs. Zombies

    You may have heard of Plants vs. Zombies, it is a tower defense style game where you defend your yard from the undead using different types of plants and fungi.  This game has been ported to just about every system except for the Android phones.  No idea why they seem to miss out on all the games.  You can find Plants versus Zombies for Windows, Mac OSX, iPhone, and next year to the Nintendo DS as well.  The price ranges from 2.99 for the iPhone app to around 19.99 for the Windows version.  Pro-tip: The iPhone app is cheaper.  The other versions have additional features to make up for the price discrepancy.

    The game itself is pretty simple, you plant sunflowers to generate sunlight, which you use to purchase offensive and defensive plants.  Zombies enter from the right side of the screen and attempt to get to your house on the left.  When the game starts off, you have weak zombies, one plant type, and only one lane to defend.
    Look a "screenshot"  How advanced.
    You earn a new seed packet at the end of almost every level, and the game ramps up to five lanes to defend.  The zombies start wearing armor and using interesting tactics.  The battle does not stay on the lawn, but progresses to the pool and the roof as well.  The difficulty builds at just the right speed, making this is a very enjoyable game.
    A later level.
    There is a lot of humor packed in the game as well.  All of the plant and zombie descriptions are worth reading for this reason.  The designer of this game also made Insane Aquarium, which was a fun flash game from a long time ago.
    There are a few achievements to get, a lot of them are quite difficult to get before you complete the game the first time, so there is a lot to come back for.

    Pros:
    • A very simple to understand game, but the slowly building complexity keeps it interesting.
    • The game has good music and effects.  Also they make a good music video.
    • Once you beat the game the first time, a lot of extras open up, so there is good replay value.
    • There are 49 types of Plants, and 26 types of Zombies, so there is a lot of variety.
    • The game has quite a few references, and the developers have a good sense of humor.
    Cons:
    • Playing this game could lead to a reliance on plants in a real world zombie attack.  Early studies have shown most plants to have neither the inclination to defend their owner nor the singing voice of the plants in the game.
    Final Thoughts:
    Even though it costs $2.99 on iPhone, the amount of play time the game has makes it worth the price.  I easily spent 100x the amount of time playing this as I spent using Epicwin.  It might not seem fair to compare a productivity app with a game, but since there are more efficient cheaper or free alternatives for productivity, it seems okay to spend the same money on a game.

    We all know that I have pretty high standards.  This means that if I actually go on the record as liking something, it is either really good, or the developer's taken my family hostage and are forcing me to write a good review in exchange for their release.  Worth looking into in either case.

    Even rarer that my approval however, is the approval of my wife, who is not a gamer.  If you see this seal, you know this game might even be liked by your non game playing friends.
    Pretty Snazzy, huh?
    Don't ask how long I spent making that... I'm not proud.  Well, maybe just a little proud.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Woot!

    If you are like me, and I know I am, then you like getting a good deal on everything you do.  There are many places online to get good deals, although some take time and effort to sort through all the deals they offer.  Since time is money, we don't have time for things that take time.

    That's where Woot!  really shines.  The site's motto is "one day, one deal" and that's exactly how the site works.  Everyday at midnight Central time a new item is listed.  The item stays on the site until it sells out.  The exact number that they have is not stated, but they usually do not sell out until late in the day if at all.  Woot usually has a very good price, although sometimes the electronics are refurbished.  If this is the case it will be stated right below the price.

    Woot typically sells electronics, but I've seen good deals on all sorts of things from ladders, tool sets and cooking gear to bags of crap.  In addition to the main site they have three main side sites, selling wine, shirts, kids stuff, and random stuff.  The shirts are user created and can be pretty creative.  I never really checked out the wine or kids sites, but I've drank some of the wine and I can endorse the quality if not the price.

    If you use the Google chrome browser, there is a very nice add-in called Woot! Watcher that will pull pictures and prices of the items for sale at the five main sites.  It also tells you if they are sold out and allows you to buy through the add-in.  There is a feature that will also auto-buy a bag of crap, although I haven't had any success with that yet.  There is a similar add in for Firefox, if that is the browser you choose.

    Bags of Crap are very rare items that sell for very cheap (I think around $5), and usually contains 5-20x the value of what you paid for it of random crap.  It is the most sought-after item on the sites.

    Finally, there is a deals site on Woot with hundreds of user submitted deals, but wading through that can be much more time consuming, so I usually don't venture in there.

    Woot is a lot fun to use, just remember that your loved ones will make fun of you when you buy hundreds of Christmas cards.  Time will tell on that one, though; I doubt the holiday is going anywhere.  My grandchildren will thank me for not having to buy their own Christmas cards.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Browser Games: Elements the Game

    When you have an internet connection and boredom, one of the few solutions is browser games.  The only problem with this is sorting through the massive amount of games out there (currently 32,005 on Kongregate alone) to find something that is free and fun before you run out of free time/ lose your internet connection/ get fired.

    One game that I've enjoyed over the last few months is Elements (the game, not the Periodic Table of).
    Elements is a Flash Based Trading Card Game, which most closely resembles Magic the Gathering.  The game is easy to pickup, but there is a lot of strategy if you want to get into it.  This next section details the differences between this game and Magic the Gathering and has no dirty language, so feel free to skip it, or read over it while daydreaming that I wrote something mildly entertaining.

    If you are familiar with Magic the major differences are:

    • Elements has 12 colors instead of 5.
    • Lands are called pillars/towers/pendulums, and the mana (called Quanta) they produce does not clear at the end of each turn.
    • Creatures attack the turn you play them, but cannot play abilities until your next turn.
    • Creatures do not heal at the end of every turn.
    • You can only play cards or activate abilities on your turn.
    • You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on cards.
    Other than that, the games are fairly similar.

    If you never played Magic you can still enjoy Elements; the tutorial is very good and will get you up to speed pretty quick.  My advice would be to pick Darkness or Aether for a starter deck, a lot of the other elements do not work very well by themselves.  I blindly picked Entropy my first time through and had to restart.  If you like the game you might want to check out the wiki starting with the aptly named Guide to Success in Elements.  The end-game for single player comes after you complete all the quests when you can go up against the False Gods.  They cheat by breaking the rules.  They draw two cards a turn, and can have more than 6 of a card in their decks for starters.  Still, they can be defeated if you plan a good deck.  The challenge kept me going back.

    Elements can be found at their creatively titled website
    http://www.elementsthegame.com
    If that is down or blocked by some sort of content filter the Elements team also host their game at
    http://www.elementsthegame.net
    Finally, you can also play it from Kongregate to earn a few badges over there.
    Once you create an account at one of their sites it is valid at all locations, which is a nice feature.

    Pros:

    • The game has regular updates and usually releases several new cards per update.
    • The game is well adapted to being an online card game.  Certain abilities such as mutation and the pandemonium card would not work in a non electronic format.
    • Three separate hosting sites make it likely that you'll be able to load at least one of them.
    • Free to play.  No pop-up ads or anything that annoying, and people who *do* donate are not granted any ridiculously powerful cards.
    Cons:

    • The challenge curve is pretty steep in some areas, it is very hard to earn your first victory against the false gods.  
    • If you pick a bad starting element, you may need to restart.  Not a major loss early on though.
    Final Thoughts:
    Elements is a complicated but entertaining flash game.  Unlike most "free" multi-player games this one doesn't give any advantages to people who donate, and doesn't punish you for not playing everyday.  The community is active, and friendly.  There's not much more that you can ask, other than them making an iPhone app to compensate for Apple's seething hatred for Adobe, which burns seven times as hot as our sun.  Where was I?