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.
  • This application is free!
  • Eventually it can be a big time saver

  • 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

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.

  • Free or cheap.
  • Simple but addictive game-play.
  • The mini-game MatchTrix is change of pace and a lot of fun.
  • Open feint support!
  • 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