Archives for posts with tag: review

I was playing Alter Ego last night during an unintentionally extended break from studying. It’s a text-based RPG (role-playing game), somewhat similar to those Choose-Your-Adventure books, where they tell you to turn to page X if you want to do this, turn to page Y if you want to do that, except you’re not playing a predetermined character by the author. You’re playing yourself.

Instead of earning gold to buy swords which can hack up a Level 150 monster, Alter Ego takes you through the various stages of normal, unspectacular, human life — infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc. — and in each stage, you have a wide, wide range of possible choices, and your decisions will ultimately impact your future. In this way, the game achieves its goal to provide a place to imagine what your life would be like if only you did X or were more like Y.

The one qualm I have about Alter Ego is that they just don’t allow you enough turns per stage. This means that you don’t get to experience all the possible scenarios of each stage per run of the game, and I feel that’s just not enough to complete what you’re supposed to complete in each stage of life. For example, I was finally able to get through all the “college experiences” I needed to graduate…by the time I was in the OLD ADULTHOOD stage. >.> Would I even need a college degree by that point?

That the number of turns is limited is probably why the game is so short. I did not want to die yet (“there’s still so much I haven’t done!”), but there was no other choice: My time was up. They congratulated me on my death. I closed the browser window with the feeling that life is really transient. Did I not just run through a person’s entire life in a couple of hours? I was born, I grew up, I grew old, I died. Everything passes…so quickly. And it makes you think how fast real life passes you by too; in my case, I’m almost finished with another year of university! How can that be possible? I haven’t done that much yet!

Reflections aside, Alter Ego is a refreshing take on a fantasy-dominated game genre. Sure, there’s no images, but a game that is so personal in nature would not work with petty graphic representations. Try it — I’m sure you’ll like it. See what your life could turn out like if you make the same choices as you do in reality now, or become the exact opposite of who you are now…and see if your life turns out better (or worse). Perhaps you’ll walk away with some interesting reflections on life that may help you in reality.

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Earlier last week, I went to browse around Chapters and happened to come across this very cute USB hub man by Kikkerland:

Adorable USB hub man by Kikkerland. Sadly, it's not fully functional on my computers.His smiley face was irresistible, and since I had a Chapters gift card to spend, I decided to take him home with me.

I just released him from his plastic trappings today. He has a long USB cord that extends from his head. As soon as I plugged him into my computer, his green indicator light (his heart?) lit up immediately. Awwh.

Everything seemed to go smoothly as I extended his arms with two of my USB flash drives. Files were easily and quickly read. Then, I decided to plug my MP3 player into the his leg… And it read that too. At first. But after a minute, my MP3 player disappeared from “My Computer” and there was no way to access it.

I reasoned that, even if it failed to work with my electronic devices, it would be still great if it could handle four flash drives. So, I took out my MP3 player and stuck two flash drives into the two remaining ports. They were read, and the windows asking me what action I wanted to take regarding each drive popped up, but seconds later, all four of my USB drives plugged into the little guy were unaccessible! It was as if I disconnected all the drives; they were not being read at all. Unplugging any two USB drives, though, allowed the remaining two drives to be immediately read.

And so my fifteen-minute affair with a smiley USB guy ends in tragedy. It’s a shame that I’ll have to return him, not only because he’s adorable and that going back to Chapters is inconvenient, but because he would have rendered fumbling blindly around the back of my processor for hidden, dusty USB ports unnecessary.

Well, it was nice knowing you, USB hub man. You and your cute green heart.

I have not had chocolate candy bars for a long time.

There was a time when I stuffed my face with cookies and Tim Bits (doughnut holes from Canadian coffee shop Tim Hortons, for those who don’t know), but that stopped when I started caring about my health and weight in general.

So when I decided to take a walk down my gustatory memory lane today by enjoying a Coffee Crisp bar, let’s just say I had a knock-out punch from the deathly amount of sugar packed in that 50 gram bar.

A Coffee Crisp chocolate bar. A wafer containing coffee creme surrounded by a thin layer of chocolate. However, I only tasted the sugar.How on earth did I enjoy these things in the past? Really, you can’t taste anything besides the sugar! Sure, there’s that hint of coffee goodness, and a suggestion that there is actually chocolate somewhere in the coating, but the first thing that hit me was the sugar. Halfway through the bar, I didn’t even want to finish it — a shocking statement from someone who loves her chocolate and sweet things so much.

Perhaps I’ve been sensitized to large amounts of sugar since I’ve stopped regularly consuming junk food, or maybe it’s because I’ve grown to like dark chocolate too much to revert to candy bars. In any case, I don’t think I’ll be having another Coffee Crisp (or any candy bar, in fact) for a very long time.

(Image courtesy of candywarehouse.com)

I don’t usually buy anything to drink when I’m out, because I always bring a water bottle from home with me. But, while I was out exploring the city with my transit pass, my water bottle ran dry, and so I went in search of something to drink in Wal-Mart. (Yeah, I happened to be in a mall. Which, sadly, had no water fountains, as far as I knew.)

I ended up purchasing Aquafina’s plus+ Vitamins 10 CAL. yumberry pomegranate, a vitamin-enhanced water only available in Canada at the moment . I didn’t choose this because I needed the vitamins (I eat enough veggies and whole grains to get my nutrients, thank you); rather, I bought it because it cost only $1 — the same amount that a regular, 500 mL bottle of re-filtered tap water would’ve cost me. “Why not spend that $1 on something new instead?” I reasoned. And besides, this bottle has 91 mL more liquid — my economics professor would tell me that this gives me more consumer surplus.

The nutrition information for this water sounded promising. (Well, actually, they called it “Medicinal Facts”, probably in an attempt to tap into the public’s general desire to be healthier these days. All it did for me was remind me of horrible bitter tasting liquids… So much for that marketing campaign.) For the entire bottle, you will consume:

  • Calories: 10
  • Carbohydrates: 16 g / 5%
  • Sugars: 0 g
  • Vitamin C: 148 mg / 250% DV
  • Vitamin E: 7.8 mg / 80% DV
  • Vitamin B5: 5.3 mg / 80% DV
  • Vitamin B3: 5.0 mg / 20% DV
  • Vitamin B6: 0.7 mg / 40% DV
  • Vitamin B12: 2.3 mcg / 120% DV

A tasty drink with that many vitamins for only 10 calories and no sugar? It sounded too good to be true. I read on to the “Non-Medicinal Ingredients” list:

Water, erythritol, natural yumberry and pomegranate flavours, citric acid, xanthan gum, calcium lactate, potassium citrate, Reb A (PureVia brand natural pure stevia extract), modified corn starch, red colour, calcium phosphate dibasic, gum arabic, ginger extract, dandelion root extract.

…Wha? What is all this stuff doing in water? Water should not contain that many unpronounceable ingredients, nor should it contain xanthan gum or corn starch! (And it even dares to call itself a “natural health product”?) I was a bit hesitant to buy it after reading this, especially seeing the use of a non-sugar sweetener (I don’t trust any sweetener other than sugar, even if they say it’s an natural extract), but it was either this fancily-packaged and potentially tasty concoction, or a bottle of tap water. Let’s just say, there was little competition.

At first, I thought it tasted okay. Maybe I was just thirsty. Or maybe it did taste good. In any case, I could taste some kind of fruit flavour. However, after a few more sips, I began to recognize the off-taste that the artificial sweetener gave. Sure, it’s not asparatame, it’s not Splenda, but the sweetness just didn’t taste right. It left an odd aftertaste. I didn’t really want to finish the remaining half of the bottle, but I was thirsty. Although I was beginning to question whether the drink itself was causing me to be thirsty once I drained the bottle — why did I feel almost thirstier than before?

The label recommended that people 12 years and older should drink a bottle one to two times a day. I’m thinking, “Why should I fill myself with weird chemicals to get my vitamins, when I can eat real food?” Granted, a bottle of Aquafina plus+ does provide quite a lot of vitamins for very little calories, which is good for our weight- and health-conscious society, but how much of these vitamins do we actually absorb from such enhanced waters? A Google search yields conflicting results. What articles tend to agree on though is that we absorb nutrients better from real, solid food.

But I suppose this is a good substitute for those downing three Cokes a day, AND don’t mind the unusual taste of artificial sweeteners. After all, since you’re going to put so many man-made substances into yourself anyway, why not drink something that will somewhat nourish you instead?

It’s not by Apple, but the fact that “The William”, a new stovetop concept by designer Greg Beck, has an entire surface that can transfer heat (instead of just four burners) and is activated by the weight of pots placed on it, reminds me of Apple’s recent touchscreen technology.

Okay, you may be confused right now. So rather than try to describe everything, I think this video will explain it better:

Ah, cool, isn’t it? I was reading about this on Gizmodo, and it was so impressive that I decided to write something about it. (Well, I also decided to blog about it because I needed to write something here. I always put this blog off ’til later in the evening, but I never end up having time in the evening!)

At first thought, I really liked this. It would be AWESOME having this in my kitchen. I could see the advantages of having a completely usable stovetop, and not being limited to cooking on four predefined spaces: You can cook a lot more different things, and if you were transferring heavy pots between burners, you wouldn’t have the drag the pots very far (really, you just move it to another empty space).

But after a bit of thought, I realized that “The William” probably would work well with me, despite its goal of being accomodating to every cook. Often, the non-burner spaces on my stovetop (regarded as nonfunctional by the video) are where I rest my hot pots and pans. I can’t leave them on the burners, because I’m using them, but I never put them on my counters either, because that would damage them. So this brings me to the conclusion that a stovetop that automatically turns on whenever a pot is placed on top can be pretty annoying — what if I just wanted to put my pot of sauce down somewhere to cool down? I understand that you can click “Cancel” on the control panel to turn off the heat for that particular pot, but seeing that I randomly put various containers on my stovetop all the time, that process will prove to be just as annoying as Vista’s User Account Control.

Perhaps it would work well with other cooks. Perhaps not. In any case, “The William” is a pretty interesting idea, and I wouldn’t mind at all seeing this developed into a fully functional prototype.

This past Thursday, I bought a shelf at Wal-Mart. It wasn’t a pretty thing: An imposing, dark gray tower of five grates made of hard plastic that clawed painfully at your skin if you ever dared to run a finger along one of its cut edges. But, I was okay with that — all I needed was a shelf to store my ever-growing collection of stuff — so appearance was unimportant. This shelf by Plano Molding looked sturdy enough. And at $39.96, I thought it was a reasonably priced solution to my packrat-ish disposition.

At home, I gave the following instructions on the box a passing glance before ripping into it and pouring its contents out (five shelves and twenty black plastic tubes). After all, I’ve assembled utility shelves before, and this really was the self-assembly process I expected:

Assembles in 2 minutes!

  1. Organize shelves.
  2. Place poles in bottom shelf. Poles will “Snap-Fit”.
  3. Add next shelf…repeat.

So, I laid down the first shelf, and placed the poles into the openings… Or, rather, I tried to place the poles in. They didn’t fit! Each of the openings were ribbed (to give a snugger, sturdier fit for the poles, I’m assuming), but the ribs protruded so much that they made sticking the poles in next to impossible!

Nevertheless, I tried. I pushed the pole in as far as I could by putting my entire weight on it…and even then, it only went a third of the way in. No matter how hard I pushed, shoved, twisted, or sat on the pole, it refused to budge further.

My dad suggested filing the ribs down a bit. Maybe that was all it took to make it fit better. So, we took the poles out, grabbed a couple of hand files, and filed the openings down a bit. We stuffed the poles in: They fitted…a little better, but still, it took lots of effort, and the poles only went halfway in. Great.

So at 1 AM, after over an hour of struggling (er, what happened to those “2 minutes”?), we gave up. Making a sturdy shelf out of those poles (which weren’t even cut at a 90° angle) and mishappened gratings was hopeless: It wasn’t worth the time or effort to grind the openings down just to get the poles in halfway, nor would the shelf be sturdy with the poles not fully inserted. I went to sleep, convinced that I needed to make a bothersome trip back to Wal-Mart the next day to return the shelf.

But the thing was, my dad and I didn’t feel inclined to return the shelf the next day: It was going to be a lot of work to pack up the shelf, haul it into the car and then into the store, and then go through the troublesome process of getting a refund. Furthermore, we had already filed down one of the shelves — not only was the product not in its “original state” (although technically, it fit better in its altered state than the original anyways), but it seemed like a waste to return it after having worked on it.

Hence, we followed the totally illogical decision to keep filing down the openings until the poles would fit. It took two days — two days of hard, painful labour. I say “painful” because, in order to apply enough strength to file down the ribs properly, we grasped the rough surface of the files instead of the handles. So, on the second day of filing, when I took a break to go grocery shopping with my mom, I could barely dig through the bin of longan (a fruit which has a rough outer skin, kind of like really fine sandpaper) because the surface of my palms hurt so much from holding the hand files.

I should say that, even though we were able to get the poles down almost all the way down in the end, trying to put the poles in still required lots of effort. I still had to put my entire weight on the poles to get them to go in, and when I was putting the topmost layer on (which was taller than me), I was literally hanging off the corner of the shelf so that I could use my weight to drive the pole down.

To be frank, I’m relieved that this whole ordeal has passed: I have a shelf, things look organized, my hand can start healing now, and life is good. But, I’m quite annoyed at Plano Molding for its empty promises of a 2-minute assembly and of the poles “snapping fit”. They could not have been further off from the truth: Never have I exerted so much effort to put together a piece of furniture, not even when I had to put a king-size IKEA bed frame together. However, what was worse than their empty promises was that, when I went to Plano’s website, they said this about their shelving: “And all Plano shelves easily snap together in minutes with no tools required.” Erm, “no tools required”? Seriously? If we had no hand files, the shelf would never have come into being. Sure, it would’ve resembled a shelf, but it could’ve collapsed if anything was placed onto it, since the poles weren’t secure.

Verdict: Don’t buy Plano’s crap products. I sure won’t be doing so next time, after this experience. I’m shocked at the fact that they even have fans on their Facebook page…but maybe their hunting/fishing/golfing equipment isn’t as defective?

I made a promise to myself that I will watch all classics, just because of their extraordinary reputation. I itch to know why they’ve been lauded as the best for decades.

So today, I watched Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), starring William Holmes and Jennifer Jones. It’s 1949, and Han Suyin (Jones) is a resident doctor at a Hong Kong hospital. She proudly deems herself “Eurasian” — she’s half English, half Chinese — and goes about her business believing that her heart has died after her husband was killed years ago. She meets Mark Elliot (Holmes) at a dinner party, and despite her initial reservations about this married man, they eventually fall madly in love.

A typical love story, don’t you think? I thought so. And I kind of wished that that was all I had to say about it.

A blatant issue was that their relationship seemed to progress too quickly. It did not correspond to how adamant Han had been about being perfectly fine as a widow, devoting all her time to medicine only, and not having affairs with married men. The first night, they had dinner together; this, I deem acceptable. However, they meet again, two weeks later, and they end up going swimming. I was shocked when Elliot dragged Han around by her hand, and even more shocked when they kissed later that night — what happened to Han’s values? why was this all happening on their second date? were people back in the 50s not more conservative than we are today? On the fourth night they meet, Elliot asks for Han’s hand in marriage. Em… No, thank you? I barely know you?

Another issue was the misrepresentation of Chinese culture. While the scenery is undoubtedly 100% correct — they did film in Hong Kong, after all — many simple things were overlooked:

  1. Han speaks Mandarin to the child she treats in her hospital. She’s in Hong Kong. Hong Kong people, especially during that time period, speak Cantonese.
  2. During the funeral procession in Macao, the music playing is actually wedding music. What a way to confuse the scene.
  3. Han’s uncle invites her in to have tea by saying, “Let us have tea and talk of absurdities.” Erm. Wha? I totally didn’t get why her uncle said this. Yes, Chinese people say, “Let’s have tea!” often, but they don’t tell their guests that they’re just going to bullshit with them for the next three hours while sipping on scalding liquid. No! In fact, which culture does that? Do we do that? “How about we go grab a coffee at Tim Hortons and talk about nothing for our entire lunch break?” If you did that often enough, you’d probably end up a loner.
  4. The fortune telling was absolutely hilarious. Hilarious because it was so absurdly wrong. Firstly, the rice scratchings Han did was incorrect; the process is supposed to work somewhat like a Ouija board — a “force” guides your hand to help you write the message you are receiving. Second, the entire process of kau cim (where Han took the bottle of sticks and turned it upside down until one stick fell out) was abhorrently incorrect. Kau cim is usually performed in front of deity’s altar, not in front of a fake fortune teller. This is because you are asking for the deity’s aid, and you can do so directly. You kneel, think of a question, and begin shaking the bottle at an angle (not upside down). By shaking on an angle, one stick will eventually fall out — this is the fortune that the deity has chosen for you. It was odd how only one stick fell out when Han turned the entire bottle upside down — gravity didn’t seem to give equal treatment to all the sticks in the bottle!
  5. The child that Han adopted was named “Oh-No”. What?! What was that? An attempt at humour? It better have been — otherwise, it is a very bad attempt at creating a “Chinese-like” name.

You would’ve thought that Hollywood spent a bit more time doing some background research before filming, especially since they had so many knowledgeable locals they could’ve enlisted. Nope. I bet the Chinese people acting out the funeral procession were chuckling as they danced to the wedding music.

The goal of this movie was to portray how Han and Elliot’s love overcame the prejudice they faced for having an interracial relationship. However, this theme wasn’t obvious while I watched the movie; what I saw more was the prejudice Han faced for dating a married man. Sure, her comments about being “Eurasian” popped up here and there, but when the gossip came up (for example, brought on by that annoying Ms. Palmer-Jones), it was usually about Elliot’s existing marriage.

Final verdict: Fail. Perhaps a great movie then, but not really worth the time now. A few scenes were just humourous enough to make me smile, but the mismatch between Han’s values and her actions as well as the incorrect depiction of Chinese culture forced me to spend the entire 102 minutes brooding instead of enjoying the film. Thankfully, the ending was a bit more creative, and saved me from enduring more of their overly mushy scenes.

I’ve discovered that eating cookies with creme filling always requires some sort of work.

For example, eating Oreos requires pouring yourself a tall glass of milk and getting your fingers wet as you dip the deliciously unhealthy cylinders of sugar/flour/shortening into it. One should never eat Oreos without milk. In fact, I actually dislike Oreos without milk — they’re way too sweet that way.

But today, no milk or dunking was needed, as I was eating Fudgee-os. For those who don’t reside in Canada, these are basically Oreo cookies, but with a chocolate filling and a more chocolatey cookie. I find Fudgee-os awfully good…once the filling is scraped off. I’m not sure why I find the filling so disgusting — maybe it’s because of their stiff texture, or their mutated “chocolate” flavour, or the shocking amount of oil they leave on my fingers after touching them. Or perhaps it’s because it’s actually possible to peel the filling off the surface of the cookie with your fingers neatly, so that you have an almost dent-free perfect circle of sugar, shortening, and artificial flavour to…uh… Well, to throw away, in my case. I’m not sure what one would want to keep that stuff for, anyway. The fact that this “creme” can keep its shape so well proves that it’s not what it claims to be.

But then again, we can’t expect real, quality ingredients when we buy cheap, commercial cookies.

In any case, once the filling is removed, the Fudgee-o cookies actually taste wonderful — a crumbly texture matched with a slightly bitter chocolate taste. Sure, they’re no match for a bar of Lindt Excellence 70%, but they’re not bad when you just need something to nibble slowly on.

Angelina Jolie stars as Evelyn Salt, a CIA officer, in the new espionage thriller, Salt. While Salt is interviewing a Russian defector, it is revealed to the CIA that a KGB sleeper agent named Evelyn Salt is planning to assassinate the Russian president when he visits the United States. Salt, of course, states that this isn’t true, but when she starts running away, the CIA can’t help but decide to hunt her down.

The whole movie proceeds from there, with high-speed car chases, guns, bombs, and loads of hand-to-hand fighting — exactly what we expect from Jolie. There is never a bored moment due to the adrenaline rush you get as you cheer her on for being able to evade capture and death…but as the movie continues, you begin to wonder: Which side is she on? For she seems to help both the CIA and the KGB. Did she not just celebrate with that KGB gang? Wasn’t she running away from that US Counterintelligence agent? But, the endless action keeps these questions somewhat at bay, and you decide to wait for everything to be explained later.

Things are explained later, in an exciting face-off between her and another CIA/KGB double agent whom she has known for a long time. And it would have probably been good for the movie to end there, for all the secrets to be revealed, and for Salt to return to whichever side she actually is on. However, the movie keeps going, and the ending shot is of Salt bruised and dripping wet, running through an empty forest in the dead of winter. You have to wonder: How on earth is Salt still going to survive? What is she going to do next? I mean, yes, she seems like she is very capable of making things work for herself, but honestly, it doesn’t seem possible for her to survive given her situation.

Final verdict? Lots of fast, furious fun, but ending that makes your head hurt. I’m not particularly a fan of action movies, so that from me is actually a great review. Watch it for the action and the well-executed stunts, enjoy the “which-side-is-she-on” debate, but forget about trying to make sense of Salt’s destiny beyond the movie.

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