06. October 2011 · Comments Off on Our Beyblades Adventure · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,
Those happy kids are creeping me out.

It all started with a neighbor’s birthday party…not long after we moved here.  One of Jacob’s new Cub Scout den-mates invited both Jacob and Timmy to his birthday party.  It was a Beyblades tournament.

Our sons weren’t familiar with Beyblades at the time, I had sent a starter kit as a gift to my college roommate Megan’s son for his birthday late last year, but that was direct through Amazon, and none of us were familiar otherwise.

After the birthday party, our boys were hooked.  Similar to Cars, Bakugon, Pokemon, etc., each individual toy was inexpensive, but once your kids start learning about all the toys that could be acquired, they began to ask for more and more Beyblades.

Six months later, I was watching our boys play Beyblades in one of their stadiums, and they were discussing “balance”, “stability” and “agility”.  It got me thinking about physics.  In July on a trip to the planetarium, they boys realized how many of their Beyblades are named after characters in mythology (Pegasus) and astrology (Libra).

This led to a blog post for GeekMom.  You can read it here.

About 6 weeks later, I received an e-mail from a representative at Hasbro, asking if we’d like to “sample” their Fall 2011 Beyblades product line.  From what I saw in the e-mail, they were offering us $65 worth of products, free of charge, if we would check it out and I’d write up a follow up for GeekMom.

The box arrived in late September, the boys played with it for about 10 days and they (by “they” I mean “Timmy”) gave me some very detailed feedback.  Here is the follow up blog post reviewing the products.

Jacob showing off the interchangeable plates for the “Triple Battle Stadium”.

Timmy took his newest Beyblades to his after-school child care today (I’m in the midst of hiring a bookkeeper for the base Thrift Shop and we had interviews this afternoon) and the lead provider asked me at pick up time where Timmy got the Tornado Beyblade he had.  She said the other little boys who were playing with Timmy were admiring it and planning to ask their parents for one.  I had to explain that it came from Hasbro for our review and should be in stores really soon.

These Beyblade XTS Tornado battlers should be in stores by now.  You CANNOT take these ones apart, which makes them less-authentic, apparently.

07. June 2011 · Comments Off on A Blast from the Past: Smarties! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

A small British grocery store opened up right up the street, called The British Pedlar.  The ladies who are running the store are very kind and they have just about everything that I remember from my childhood, when my mom would frequent the British grocery store in Virginia Beach OR she’d bring things back from our trips to Hong Kong when I was a kid.

The store has everything I remember except one thing: Bovril!  Click that link to read more about Bovil not being available in the U.S.  The ladies said it’s just too complicated and the FDA is really slow-rolling the customs approval process even for the non-beef version.

On my last couple of visits to the store, I’d pick up some treats for the family: locally-made banger sausages (Mom, we’ll hit the store and I’ll get you some while you’re visiting next month, they have THREE brands to choose from!), McVitie’s Digestives, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars and Smarties candies.  I’m accustomed to the Smarties being sold in small cylindrical containers like this:

Ha ha!  Fooled many of you, didn’t I?  Perhaps the introduction about British food tipped you off…but I’m sure many of you were still thinking about “American” Smarties:

For the unfamiliar, Nestle’s Smarties are very similar to American M&Ms.  Chocolate drops covered in a hard candy shell.  But there’s a…well…fruitiness to the Nestle Smarties that I’ve always enjoyed.

Anyway, on my most recent visit this week, the store was out of the smaller packages of Smarties, so I picked up a bigger box.  I’d never seen the bigger box in detail, so I was intrigued by the picture on the back.

Love the “colours”!

Spirulina?  Really???  http://www.foodnavigator.com/Legislation/Spirulina-faces-legal-questions

I knew there was a fruity flavor (flavour?) to the Smarties but I never realized I was tasting the all-natural coloring to the candy shells!  The kids got a kick out of the picture and the information, then got a bit squirmy about eating any more of the green ones, ha ha!

Eating Nestle’s Smarties brings back so many memories, and I enjoy sharing these things with the boys.

12. February 2011 · 5 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,
Not a complete fail, but a “mostly” fail.

Today I officially gave up on the CrashPlan 30 Day free trial to send files to “the cloud”: the CrashPlan Central offsite servers.  I had a 30 day free trial to try this out, and after 27 days, I had only uploaded 60% of the files.

I didn’t get enough time to test restoring the files after a full upload, therefore I cut my losses and will do backup another way.

Besides, with the recent news about Mozy, I wonder how much longer “all you can eat” offsite data storage will remain affordable.

By the way, until the end of February, CrashPlan is offering a 15% discount to Mozy customers who are bailing because of Mozy’s recent price schedule changes.

Paul and I attempted some file transfers to each other, but that wasn’t very stable either.  Our network settings had to be very precise to maintain a connection.  Paul’s fiber broadband pushed about 2/3 of his files to me, but my slower connection only allowed us to give him about 1/3 of the files.  I have dynamic IP addressing — so a system reboot would change up our settings and kill the connection.  We pushed our respective computers into our firewall’s DMZs, which made me incredibly nervous, and if that’s how we had to keep things permanently, that was also a no-go.

I will caveat things to say that it wasn’t a complete wash.  Without paying, you can still use the CrashPlan GUI to manage in-house backups free of charge, as well as backups to friends.  I’m probably going to stick with that.  It’s the only GUI that allows “cross-flow” between PCs and Macs.  It also allows you to attach external HDs and network-attached-storage into the setup.  Other programs, such as Mozy and Carbonite, have restrictions on that.

While I’d read dozens of testimonies to how great CrashPlan worked for their individual needs, I feel that our family’s network setup simply wasn’t going to support things.  We have an AT&T DSL connection coming into the house that typically allows for about 7 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload speeds.  When CrashPlan was running, those speeds dwindled down to about 20-40%.  Especially when CrashPlan was running on our PC and was uploading data to CrashPlan Central.

We couldn’t watch videos anywhere else on our network (i.e. via Netflix streaming, Wii or on YouTube on our computers), so I removed Crashplan from the PC and suddenly things sped up.

This morning I re-installed CrashPlan on the PC but cut it off from external network connections.  I am hopeful that will be okay.  I will keep it to back up our 3 computers’ files to each other, and we at least have that.  Better than nothing, right?

In the meantime, I’m pricing 2 TB external HDs and will be replacing our two smaller external HDs for day-to-day backups.

26. January 2011 · Comments Off on Like Watching Paint Dry · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Paul and I have gone nearly a week uploading to each others’ computers with CrashPlan.  It’s been quite successful, in that we are successfully connecting to each others’ computers consistently.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that I’m seeing just how slow my AT&T DSL network is.  I purposefully selected a data plan that matches what we’d need it for the most — which did not include extreme gaming or running a small business.  Something middle-of-the-road.

With his FiOS network on the East Coast, Paul has already uploaded all his data (nearly 100 GB) to “the cloud”, while I’m less than 10% through.  No fiber availability in my area, unfortunately.

Paul’s upload rate to my own machine is more than twice as fast as my upload to him.

At my house, we’re also challenged with trying to do other things on our network while CrashPlan is active, like uploading pictures and videos.  I have to shut down the data transfer if we’re doing particularly important work.

Ever the optimist, I really want to see this through – I wholeheartedly believe that once the initial transfers occur, you can leave Crashplan on and it does periodic updates only…requiring much less bandwidth.

Fingers crossed!

This week my youngest son is celebrating his 6th Birthday. I won’t be specific about which day, but with family in town this weekend, I made some pre-birthday cupcakes to serve as dessert.

Last weekend we were at our local mall-like-shopping-location. It isn’t really a mall, since it doesn’t have that old-school enclosed building thing going on. It’s of those open-air places, where you walk outside between the pretty-people stores.  Each of the past 4 locations we’ve lived has had one nearby.  Most of you who live in suburban America know what I’m talking about, right?

We ventured into Williams-Sonoma — the lure of free samples usually attracts my boys. The thought of one day having a kitchen like what’s in their catalogs attracts me. There was a lovely display of Star Wars-themed kitchen supplies. Of course we were attracted to the display like white on rice!  There in the middle among the cookie cutters and pancake molds were these “cupcake decorating kits”.

My kids begged “Please? Please? Please?” for one of the kits, so I caved in and let my youngest son choose the kit.   I’m so glad he picked the Rebel Alliance kit instead of the Galactic Empire one.  I thought the set was pretty cute, and at the time I didn’t think anything of paying $12 + Northwest Florida tax for it.  How could I turn down classic Star Wars???

Tonight my mom and I made some cupcakes for dessert, using 1/2 of the baking cups and toothpicks.

That’s what this kit is: baking cups and toothpicks.  Probably about $1 worth of product, to be honest.

We devoured the cupcakes and the used baking cups went right into the trash, but I made a point to insist that no one lick the toothpicks and make sure to recycle them.  The pictures on the toothpicks are made of a slightly-waxed paper.  Not quite cardstock, but a little heavier than just plain paper.

My opinion?  $12 for this kit is a considerable indulgence.  My kids were smiling all evening from the cute toothpicks, and one could argue that doesn’t make this all a waste.  If you aren’t picky about the baking cups — considering R2, C3PO and Chewie were all on the bottom of the finished cupcake where no one will really see them — you might be able to get away with making the toothpicks on your own.

Consider how many different characters you could glue to toothpicks and stick in cupcakes!  Maybe this is what I’ll do for next weekend’s Mario Brothers cake that’s been requested for the party next weekend.

20. January 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,
Isn’t Schoolhouse Rock the BEST????  I Googled images for “Hooray” and this scene from the episode on “Interjections” appeared.

Yesterday we had success! Paul and I did a couple more tweaks with our respective firewalls, and after dinnertime, the grey lights turned green on our CrashPlan GUIs!

This point-to-point uploading is going much much faster than uploading to CrashPlan Central (i.e., “The Cloud”). Paul’s machine to mine = 4.1 GB in about 12 hours, my machine to his = 1.7 GB in about 12 hours.

All of this is faster than my uploading to CrashPlan Central.

If this is successful, then perhaps I’ll pick up a 2 TB external HD at Best Buy and use this as my official backup plan. What we’re doing right now is experimental, lots of band-aids in place to make this work, but I need a long term plan still.

19. January 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

I called it. On Saturday I enrolled in CrashPlan for the 30-day free trial and so far I’m not that impressed. Their website claims “Free, Easy, Automatic Backup”. So far, no.

Paul kindly offered to sign up also — we can always backup to each others’ machines with the CrashPlan GUI without charge — and we’ve spent the past 48 hours attempting to connect to each others’ computers without success. Too many firewalls, port settings and over-my-head troubleshooting going on here. Paul and I exchanged no less than 30 e-mails last night bouncing different ideas to make this work. Most of the ideas were his…since he’s the one who does IT stuff for a living and understands it more than I do.

I guess using iChat or IM might have been easier to discuss this, but for some reason we didn’t.

Until we get the point-to-point backup working, I have a batch of files uploading to “CrashPlan Central” which is their offsite server system. This is what I’d have to pay a monthly fee for if I choose to go beyond the 30-day trial.

Unfortunately, the backup to “the cloud” has been taking FOREVER. I have a 77 GB package I’m trying to upload (pictures, music, videos) and after 4 1/2 days, 7.9 GB has been uploaded.

Go ahead, do the math. About 10.5% uploaded in 4.5 days = 47.25 days to upload this batch of data. And this is only from the MacBook! This doesn’t include the PC’s data (another 125 GB).

One of the things I did to try to speed things up was direct-connect the Mac to the DSL modem, taking the computer off the WiFi altogether. I also closed everything this Mac was using that involved the Internet. Things like the webcam, weather station and my iPhone on the Wireless were still taking down the bandwidth periodically.

CrashPlan offers to send you an external hard drive to directly upload to, which caught my attention at first, but for $125 for that service, I figured the time would be cheaper.

I understand that once this initial upload completes, the worst of it will be over and we’ll have our data in place. I’ll see how this does through the weekend. If I see better progress, this might be worth keeping…but so far, I’m not quite impressed.

01. January 2011 · Comments Off on Ninja!!!! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

“So — first Yoshi?  Now Ninja???  What’s next?  Ginsu?”

Yep — this will be a more positive commentary than the Yoshi review, I promise!

Dave and I got a nice generous Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card from Dave’s brother for Christmas.  Earlier this week we took a trip to Pensacola to run some errands — which included a fail attempt at dinner at Bonefish Grill, boo!  After eating at Moe’s Southwest Grill instead, we saw that we were just a couple doors down from Bed, Bath and Beyond.  So we stopped in and picked up a couple of much-needed kitchen accessories.  A burr coffee grinder and a new blender.

The blender is what I’ll be discussing today.  My 15-year-old Oster basic-of-basic blenders was ready to kick the bucket: the motor starts to stink if it runs for too long, and the gasket sealing the bottom had some cracks and therefore leaks.

After pondering favorites such as the Magic Bullet (too small for mass quantities of margaritas or daquiris), we opted for the Ninja Master Prep Professional.  It looked like a, well, different blender concept.  Instead of the motor and blade pivoting underneath your food, it’s on top.

So here’s what we brought home:

From 2010 12 30 Ninja Blender

This includes a single motor unit, plus three Lexan-type plastic pitchers in different sizes. Each of these pitchers includes its own blade apparatus:

From 2010 12 30 Ninja Blender

From 2010 12 30 Ninja Blender

So each pitcher has a special lid, with a small hole in the top, this is to fit the motor apparatus on top:

From 2010 12 30 Ninja Blender
From 2010 12 30 Ninja Blender
From 2010 12 30 Ninja Blender

And here’s the entire setup:

From 2010 12 30 Ninja Blender

Not your normal blender, that’s for sure. It claims to “crush ice into snow” and “blend frozen fruit into creamy smoothies”.  I checked out some reviews on Amazon.com, which were mostly very positive, with the occasional 1-2 star review (average review of 4 stars).  I noticed the same complaints from those negative reviews: the plastic fittings for the motor to turn the blades had shredded or rounded off.  Hopefully I can exercise some extra care in that area and make sure the motor is seated properly before turning it on.

The very next morning I broke out one of my frozen smoothie fruit kits and whipped up a smoothie.  It worked like a champ!  It blended up very quickly and without large chunks.  I think they have something there with the design of the bowl/pitcher…with little blades every 2-3″ in the container, there’s nowhere for the large chunks of food to hide.  I’m not quite sold on there being only one speed (“On”) but apparently you have to show some finesse with how to pulse versus steadily run the motor to have things working right.

I’ve yet to use it as a food processor or to crush ice, assume that if those experiences suck enough, you’ll hear from me about it.

30. December 2010 · 6 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

Opened up my Yoshi Blade…seemed to cut up an apple well enough.  But then I read the care instructions, which I’ve transcribed here for your reading pleasure.  Remember, this is NOT a metal blade, but a ceramic one.  Still, some of these warnings are a bit extreme…I’m kind of miffed about not using it to “chop”.

“The Yoshi Blade is for slicing only — not for chopping.”

“Use Yoshi Blade on a plastic of wood cutting board only.”

DO NOT use the Yoshi Blade or the side of the blade to chop food”

DO NOT use the Yoshi Blade to cut frozen food”

DO NOT use the Yoshi Blade to cut hard cheeses”

DO NOT use the Yoshi Blade for carving poultry or meat with bones”

DO NOT cut on ceramic plates, marble, stone, glass or tile”

DO NOT bend, twist, pry or apply force on the tip or side of the blade.”

DO NOT use Yoshi blade to smash garlic or other foods with the side of the blade”

DO NOT place Yoshi Blade in or near open flame or heat source, as ceramic blade will get hot”

“Yoshi Blade is NOT dishwasher safe. Hand wash only in warm water with mild soap”

NEVER let the Yoshi Blade soak in water for any period of time.”

30. December 2010 · Comments Off on Yoshi! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

This Yoshi?

No, this one:

Today I ran up to Publix, our local grocery store, for some last-minute items for chicken parmasean. While there, I came across a section with a bunch of those “As Seen on TV” gadgets…all marked down!

I very very rarely succumb to the “As Seen on TV” craze. I got Aqua Globes one as a housewarming gift, and some of that Mighty Putty to attach metal to metal (it served its purpose, it was temporary). I see the commercials all the time — in fact, Mighty Fix It, which has been advertised a lot lately, looks intriguing to me.

But the Yoshi Blade was staring at me on that “As Seen on TV” shelf, with a sticker on the package that said “$10”.

Half price, whoo hoo!

Well, not really half price. If you buy it from TV, you get two blades and two veggie peelers for $19.95 (plus S&H, which I gather is $6.99 PER knife/peeler set).

So I bought it — I haven’t opened it yet, but I’ve seen the commercials (which you can see here), and I’m curious about how sharp it is…and how long it’ll stay sharp. I have the worst luck with good knives…