Friday, August 24, 2007

Spork Spork Spork!

I randomly stumbled across this strange eating implement one day on and after reading colorful reviews I decided I had to try one.

And try I did – I was on a photoshoot this past summer and the photographer had one of these sporks, made by Swedish camping gear maker Light My Fire. I was able to briefly try out the spoon-end in some potato salad but did not get to try out the sporky-fork/knife end. Grr. So last week I stopped by REI and picked up a lime green spork for $3 (you can buy a set of 4 for $9) and have been trying to remember to use it for as many meals as possible to get a good feel for it.

Light My Fire Stats:
Heat resistant PC material
Machine washable
Extremly durable
Civilized colors
Weight: 9 gr
17 cm

I am rather fond of the spoon-end. It's deeper than most spoons and so holds more than you'd think - very good for people who prefer the larger spoons in their silverware sets (which I do). I like it especially for cereal and soups. It is good for potato salads, too.

The fork is a bit unwieldy, but then so are most wide-tined plastic forks. I had roasted cauliflower and chicken and was dipping both into ketchup. Admittedly, roasted/baked cauliflower is a bit rubbery so I think any non-metal fork would have issues with that. The chicken was much easier to stab, though the fork had shallow stab-depth for the large pieces of chicken. The chicken itself was a whole breast. Because the knife serrations are on the side of the fork, unless you have a second spork with you, you have to use your fingers to hold your food while you cut it with your spork. By that point you either a) could of done with just a normal fork and knife or b) eaten the item with your fingers (I mean, you're probably camping anyway, right?) As it was, I had to use my fingers. The serrations worked okay but I'll have to test it on more foodstuffs before I make a decision on it.

I justified my purchase of this spork by declairing it my way of not using any more disposable plastic utensils. Lately I've been eating a lot of deli salads that require flatware of some sorts and I just hate throwing away those spoons and forks. (Still need to find a way to circumvent those plastic containers, though). It's something of a novelty item, really, though as advertised you can put this spork in your kid's lunchbox or keep it in your backpack/purse for those times when you need a spoon/fork. Making it a double-ended utensil cuts down on bulk and minimizes the clutter of multiple utensils, though it can be messy switching back and forth between ends during a single meal.

Is it worth it? For me, probably not - I don't travel much and there's metal flatware both at home and the office so I really don't need my own spork. If I travel more or go on more picnics/roadtrips/etc. then I'll probably be taking it with me. It's novel, it works better than a true spork, it's sturdy, and I paid $3 for it so it BETTER see some action. ;)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Picross DS

A review of Nintendo's PicrossDS

Picross DS Wikipedia article
Nonogram - Wikipedia article about nonograms (what Picross is)

About Picross
Picross is a puzzle game that is often described (and not just by me) as a cross between sudoku and minesweeper. Basically you have a grid in which you need to fill in squares in order to make a pixel picture. Easy mode grids are 5x5 and Normal mode grids (so far) are 15x15 and apparently they can go up to 20x25. The grids start out blank (unless you choose to start with a hint). From there you must figure out which squares to fill in by looking at numbers along the top and left sides of the grid. The numbers tell you how many squares are filled in that row and in what groups.

For instance, a row may have the numbers 5 3 3 next to it. That means that there is a group of 5, a group of 3, and another group of three squares colored in - each with at least one blank space in between them (groups cannot be touching, obviously). So you compare the info of the rows with the info of the collumns and based on how much room you have, where those squares should go.

Some of them are easy. In a 15x15 grid, if you have a row that's "5 4 4" then you add those up in your head (13) plus one blank at least between each number for a total of 15. That means that the 5 and the second 4 MUST be touching opposite sides of the grid. Nice.

If you're patient, you can use lots of logic to fill everything in without time penalties (if you guess wrong then you get penalized minutes to your time score). I'm not very patient so I choose to have a hint at the start.

Picross DS fun stuff
Each level is themed so you can kind of guess some of the things you're trying to 'draw'. Like, one level was all African animals, another was fruit, another was sea animals, etc. Being able to guess pixel pictures is handy for when you get stuck and have to guess at a square placement.

Each puzzle starts out as a complete mystery so you have NO idea what you are drawing. Once you've completed a puzzle, though, it gets a little icon in the menu so you know what it is. It also records your best time for each puzzle so you can try to beat your best times on each puzzle.

Each level has its own theme for the squares, which is fun. Easy mode levels were 'apple' themed, so each square was like a red (square) apple and when you clicked on it you whittled it to a core. The African animal level's squares were grass patches so when you filled them in, it mowed away the grass. Apparently there is a bubble-wrap level - I can't wait for that one. Should you dislike a level's theme you can revert to the generic blue-square theme.

There's also a head-to-head time-challenge mode, a daily-picross mode, and you can download puzzles via Wi-Fi. Also, in normal mode, once you've completed a row of puzzles, you unlock the ability to do a quick special level, of which there seem to be two kinds. The first kind involves giant flying pixels that you must tap quickly to 'tag' - needing to tag a certain number of them before time runs out. The second kind involves drawing the shown image (in a grid, of course) before time runs out.

There seem to be 135 single-player puzzles from what I read online (not counting what you can download.

You can turn off the music but keep the sound FX.

You can save your progress on one game at a time - when you turn on your DS it will ask if you want to restore your game so you don't have to go through the menus to go back to it.

Not good stuff
Each cartridge only holds scores and stuff for one person, unlike games like "Brain Age" that have multiple slots for multiple players.

By default, on larger puzzles you have to zoom in (it shows you the larger puzzle in the top screen) so as you fill in squares, the screen floats around to keep you centered. If you aren't careful, this can cause you to tap the wrong square and incurr a penalty. However, I discovered that by using the D-pad you can turn this off. Nice.

If you like games like Sudoku and minesweeper and you like stylus-based games (you can use the D-pad for this game, too) then Picross is a fun game. I find it addictive - and it's $20, so it's one of the lower-priced games (new). Reccomended.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Clif nectar® cacao bar

I am not normally into the whole energy bar thing. I prefer to obtain my nutrients from foods I recognize as actual food. But there's something to be said for having some handy munchies with you on a hike or bike ride. My problem is that I cannot eat grains (especially corn), casein, or soy. This makes finding a replacement for the traditional granola bar somewhat of a challenge.

Earlier this week on a whim I went to the energy bar aisle of my local grocery store. There are so many kinds it boggles the mind. I noticed the word "Organic!" plastered over a lot of the boxes and thought I'd read some labels and see if there weren't any that were Kara-friendly, as I like to say.

Sure enough, the Clif nectar® series of energy bars are gluten/soy/wheat/dairy free and are made only with ingredients that are also gluten/soy/wheat/dairy free (dunno why they seperate wheat from gluten in that statement...). I got the "cacao - organic chocolate, fruit & nut bar" that is "dark chocolate walnut" (it's hard to pin down the name - there are several sentences on the package). And in fact, there are only 5 ingredients total:
• organic dates
• organic walnuts
• organic unsweetend chocolate
• organic cocoa
• organic vanilla
(may, of course, contain bits of shell or pits)

The bar is kind of on the small side, 1.6oz/45g - but the wrapper is pretty (that counts for something, right?) and is designed to make you feel that you are saving your health, the rainforest, and small children in Antarctica by purchasing and eating this energy bar.

I don't care so much about the nutrients - I just care that it's putting something into my stomach to stop hunger. So if you want to know those things you'll have to go read your own package. I do, however, care about taste. The bar itself looks remeniscent of a fudge brownie and kind of smells like one, too, albeit with a bit of a Fig Newton-fruity-sweetness hint to it. It tastes like mashed up dates with dark chocolate and tiny bits of walnut. Which is what this is. The bar counts as two servings of fruit because that's what it is - mashed up fruit that resembles... not.. fruit.

Overall it's not bad. I haven't had a regular Clif bar in years or even a PowerBar but from what I recall this Clif nectar® tastes a sight better. If I could eat granola I think I would stick to granola bars but for my restricted diet these are something of a treat.
3 out of 5 stars for gluten-eaters
4 1/2 stars out of 5 for restricted diet folks

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Vibram FiveFingers: Surge

My Vibram FiveFinger Surge shoes got here Tuesday. I was very excited about these shoes - I originally read about them on and then scoured the internet for reviews of this peculiar footgear. This link in particular was very interesting in what it had to say about foot health and how we are NOT built to wear shoes - how going barefoot is the healthiest thing to do for our body. If only we had a way of protecting our feet from modern day debris...

Enter the FiveFingers. They protect the feet allowing for them to move as if you were running around barefoot. Because the shoes act as a protective glove, all of your normal foot muscles are activated when you walk - muscles that atrophy from wearing shoes. FiveFinger fans tout the benefits of the shoe, saying they have increased foot strength, cured foot and leg pains, better balance, better posture, and more. Beyond that, the shoes sounded like fun to wear - they are so light you hardly notice you're wearing shoes at all.

Now, as a kid I grew up in the countryside where I could run around barefoot quite a lot and I love to go camping where there's no danger of glass or metal to cut my feet on so I can run around without shoes and feel the dirt beneath my feet. So these shoes sounded pretty awesome to me.

As I said, I got the Surge model (the middle, grey ones in the picture). They are the thickest pair with neoprene fabric to keep your feet warmer in cold water. The extra fabric also provides the feet better protection from stray branches and thorny things on trails, which is why I chose these. That and Alaska is cold.

I'd read all about people's first time wearing these shoes so I was prepared. Putting on the FiveFingers (FFs for short) for the first time was interesting - getting each toe into its slot was weird but once in the toes felt fine and I didn't feel strange about having 'stuff' between each toe. In fact, I didn't really notice much at all - which is saying something as I'm one of those people who detests anything being between their toes. Overall, the FFs literally fit like gloves, nice and snug around the arch, around the toes, and around the heel. I was a little worried about my smallest toes as they didn't quite reach into their slots but I found that as I wore the shoes around my feet spread out a little and so it wasn't an issue at all.

For the first two days of owning the FFs I wore them indoors only since they can't be returned if they've been worn outdoors. There's not much variety in surfaces in a house and office to show the worth of these shoes but it was enough to make me confident that they at least fit well.

This evening I finally took 'em outside. I ran around the backyard lawn and it was like I could feel the give of the ground beneath my feet, wheras if I were wearing normal shoes it would of been... well, the way hardpacked ground feels in shoes. I immediately was aware of how you have to move differently in FFs - you stay up on the balls of your feet just like if you were barefoot. It takes some getting used to because you're aware that you have something protective on your feet so you're wanting to put weight on your heels, but that causes jarring to the bones just like if you were barefoot.

Next I had to take them down to the river. I hopped on my bike - that was strange, too. I don't ride my bike "properly" in that the pedals rest beneath the arches of my feet when I ride (I don't use toe clips). So just like if I were barefooted, I had to use the balls of my feet and kind of grip with my toes a little to pedal.

At the river I experienced all kinds of terrain. Dirt trails with tree roots, sand, gravel, mud, water, cement blocks, boulders, tree stumps, turned earth and woodchips... All of it was so sensual. There's no way to experience it than to wear FFs. You simply do not get any sensation of texture wearing regular shoes but most of this terrain would shred and bruise bare feet. It was amazing and felt so wonderful to sense the give and texture of everything I walked on and yet have my feet protected. The woodchips and turned earth were a particular delight - and just like I've read everyone say I felt more a part of the environment I was in. The river gravelbed with its golf ball sized gravel was uncomfortable to walk on causing a bruising feel, just as it would barefooted, except did not cause any lasting pain. And the neoprene in the shoes insulated my feet well enough against the cold Matanuska water. I didn't spend much time in the water as I honestly didn't want wet feet. I'll have to try these out specifically for water at a later date and report back on drying time and things like that.

As far as balance and motion go, I haven't felt this agile since I was a kid. I was leaping up onto treestumps and logs at odd angles that I would of slipped and fell from had I been wearing shoes. I could feel the specific angles, textures, and edges of everything through the FFs and grip a lot of it or dig my toes into it. The closest thing to it would be to be totally barefoot.

I was gone for about an hour and now that I am home already I can feel the muscles in my feet starting to ache from being used. Vibram reccomends taking it slow with this footwear and slowly increasing ones usage of them in order to build up and strengthen the foot muscles.

The only cons I have with these are that the neoprene isn't very breathable, but there's no in-between model so I'll suffer. Also, the seam down the back of the ankle kind of rubs awkwardly on my left leg sometimes - I'll have to tape it.

Other than that, the straps work great, the Surges are very lightweight and kept my feet warm. Also, I'm having an easier time putting them on the more I wear them - my toes know where to go now. :D

The FiveFingers were everything I thought they'd be and I'm delighted to own a pair. I'll be wearing them as much as possible before the snow flies. If you think any of this sounds fun and you spend any kind of time outdoors and generally want or like going barefoot but can't then I totally recommend these shoes.