PayU2Blog Update

Date Mon, October 13 2008

A while ago, I vented my frustrations about PayU2Blog and although my issues seem to have been ‘resolved’ I am still unsatisfied with their customer service. Still, I will continue to use them as long as they pay but not give a damn if sometihng should happen.

The resolution was not a happy one. I simply unpacked my computer and was able to log in with my old password which was saved in Firefox. I also had access to the e-mail with the password in it which was saved on my computer.

Fortunately, PayU2Blog seems to have taken my advice because there is now a form of sorts to reset your password.

The program had continued running while I was gone and I was able to pick right back up where I left off desipte the fact that I had missed over a month’s worth of jobs. I was not penalized in anyway.

Unfortunately, I never found any human contact and the experience still has me feeling like PU2B doesn’t care about its workers or customers. This does not give me much faith in the company. Alas, what can I do?

And the Gold Goes To..

Date Fri, October 10 2008

Sadly, I don’t even know who placed first overall in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Luckily, I’ve got a copy of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games to experience the excitement all over again for myself.

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (MS@OG from here on out) has many events in several sport types including athletics, aquatics, gymnastics, archery, table tennis, fencing, shooting and cycling. There are also “Dream Events” which are all locked at the beginning of the game which put fantastic spins on traditional events. The game encompasses most of the Olympic disciplines and you will see familiar events such as the long jump, table tennis and basketball. Although some of the events are a little less typical, they are all Olympic events.

And what fun is it to play these events as one of your favourite video game heroes or his friends. Sonic and Mario bring along their pals so you can kick butt as Luigi or Tails, Dr Eggman or Bowser, Princess Peach or Amy. In all, there are 16 characters divided by type (power, all-around, speed and skill) to choose from and everyone will have his favourite.

There are 3 standards modes of playing for single player in MS@OG: single match, circuit and mission. As the name implies, you can choose any single match in any sport with any character in “single match.” Most events consist of 3 rounds and your scores are either added or averaged to determine the winner and the top 3 competitors earn a bronze, silver or gold medal.

There are 3 circuit classes – Beginner’s, Advanced and Master’s – each containing 5 circuits made up of several events from different sports. The circuits involve a special opportunity to win called the “Circuit Chance” which will double the points you earn in 1 chosen event. Contestants earn up to 10 points each match which are added to all the match points to determine the winner of the circuit, who earns a trophy.

There is also a “Free Circuit” where you can choose the individual events or have the game select random events.

Each character has 5 missions, not all of which are unlocked to begin with. Completing all 5 regular missions unlocks a 6th final mission which is usually a dream event. Missions require you to complete certain events with certain criteria like within a certain time frame, without being hurt or scored against, with a certain score, with a handicap or before another character.

Gameplay is done mostly with the touch screen and stylus, making good use of the DS features, although a few buttons are used. Many of the events involved running which means rubbing the stylus back and forth quickly; this can soon tire your arm. There are some unique elements particular to the DS, such as making sound to increase your score. During some events, like the long jump, ‘clapping’ (I tap the mic with my stylus) into the microphone encourages your character to do better. For the hammer throw, making a sound at the right time increases your throw.

You can also expect to trace a lot of shapes (Trampoline, 100M Swim) as well as push certain button combinations (Platform, Table Tennis)

Gameplay can become a bit tedious, especially when it comes to a lot of racing or long races like the 400M race. I also find that the biking uses a lot of button mashing rather than calculated moves. It’s definitely a good idea to do a variety of events so that you don’t become bored or exhausted of any one. However, very few events are so tedious; most of them make better use of the controls.

MS@OG also makes good use of the dual screen by generally displaying information on the top screen, allowing the touch screen to be used completely for game viewing or settings/menu selections. In some events, like Table Tennis, the opposite screen is even used to display the character, allowing the view to be even larger.

One thing that I find unique about MS@OG is that it shows the actual World and Olympic records for events and, if you happen to beat those records in game, it tells you and updates them. Your scores can be submitted online through a WiFi connection.

And if you want to play with a friend or more, you can do that, too. MS@OG has Versus Play, like other DS Games. You can create a group with local friends via Download Play or play with others across the world via Wireless Play. There appears to be only a limited version of Download Play regardless of whether the other player has the game which is a bit disappointing. However, unlocking all the events expands the available games.

Of course, all your medals and trophies are stored in your Collection in your records. Here you can see medals by character (for individual events), trophies (earned in circuits), emblems (special accomplishments you unlocked during play such as winning an event without letting your opponent score or completing all of a character’s missions, and points and crowns (earning gold medals in all events for a character).

MS@OG also contains a gallery which lets you play minigames and learn about the history of the Olympics. As you complete the minigames, you earn rewards in the form of songs to play in the Gallery Jukebox.

Although some of the events differ in almost no way from actual Olympic events, MS@OG manages to still bring a unique flavour to their game. The dream events really add something new to the Olympics, taking events to a whole other level bye eliminating the laws of physics, gravity and even reason. ;) Although generally harder than the regular events, they are often more fun as well. They’ve even managed to add a bit of Mario Kart with the dream race, where you can use items to aid you.

Overall, my favourite events are 10m Platform (swimming), Trampoline and Vault (Gymnastics), Table Tennis, Fencing, Dream Long Jump, Dream Fencing and Dream Basketball. All except 10m Platform and Table Tennis require use of the stylus and most of which also use the buttons.

In terms of difficulty, MS@OG does not require much of you, which is why it’s a great game for kids of any age. Although it make take some time to get used to the controls, it’s likely that there will come a time when you are always scoring a medal or trophy.

Overall, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is a fun game which creatively uses the DS as a system. Although it would be nice if there was a more extensive option to play with your friends besides only Download Play and some of the events are a bit tedious, it offers a lot of variety and lovable characters so that you can compete at the Olympics in your own home and experience the Olympics for yourself.

Vroom Vroom!

Date Mon, October 6 2008

I just recently uploaded some photos of our car, a 2004 Suzuki Forenza, to my Flickr account and considering as I was posting them at Lavish and my blog, thought I would post one here as well. We’re really enjoying the car and, luckily, since my father in law works for a financial company, he was able to refer Ryan to someone and auto insurance was pretty quick and hassle free to set up.


Add a little spice

Date Sat, October 4 2008

As I wrote my last review for the TGI Fridays potato skins, I mentioned I hadn’t planned on reviewing food. Shortly after, I tried a new product and immediately wanted to review it. Funny how that works, huh?

Contessa Foods is a company that claims to be “green.” I read this on the package of Orange Chicken as I as cooking and although it wasn’t a factor that lead me to make the purchase, it might affects others. Their line of frozen foods seems to consist of stir fry type entrees, especially Chinese.

Contessa Orange Chicken boasts lots of vegetables along with white rice, sauce and battered chicken akin to frozen stir fries. The first thing I notice was that the directions were a bit more complex than many stir fries, not much as it still took me less than 20 minutes to make but enough.

The chicken, rice and sauce are each packaged in a plastic bag (not very green, huh?) while the veggies – consisting of broccoli, baby corn, carrots, red peppers and water chestnuts – are loose in the big bag. Instructions say to cook the rice separately in the microwave or on the stove top.

Then, with cooking oil of cooking spray, sautee the veggies for 5 minutes, add the chicken for another 4 – 5 minutes. While doing this, thaw the sauce under warm water for 30 seconds. I found 30 seconds to be far too little time to thaw the sauce, under hot water. It might be wiser to pop the package in the microwave (watch carefully!) for a few seconds. You’re also left with a wet bag if you’re like me and forget to dry it off. All in all, I think that the water method is not the best way to thaw the sauce.

After 5 minutes of sauteing the chicken and veggies, add the sauce until it’s warm. I also added the rice, too. You’re supposed to serve them separately but since I like to mix anyway, I did.

One thing I could tell, when adding the sauce, is that it was very Asian. This is not the type of orange chicken one will get in an American Chinese restaurant. The smell of it is akin to the smell of local Japanese food that neither my husband or myself like. I suspected right away that he would not like this dish.

I was right. While it’s not bad, I suspect most Americans except a more Americanized version of this dish. I wound up eating it myself, in portions, because I knew he wouldn’t like it.

The rice and veggies were soft, the chicken was delicious and there was a pleasant spiciness without being too spicy overall. However, the sauce just didn’t do it for me. Also, since I don’t love all my veggies, I passed on the broccoli and water chestnuts; luckily there weren’t too many of them. There seemed to be the most corn overall so someone who loves broccoli might be disappointed but it would be easy to add extra vegetables to the dish.

I thought the packages of chicken and rice were pretty small and overall this dish which claims to be 2.5 servings is more like 2 and probably won’t feed a hungry tummy. It might be worth adding a side dish like spring rolls or corn soup.

If you want something really Asian, you might enjoy this, otherwise I would pass and try Contessa’s beef stir fry or get the orange chicken from a take out restaurant.

Let It Rain!

Date Tue, September 30 2008

I really have nothing but good to tout about the Peerless 5 Spray Shower Head. It totally transformed my shower for less than $20. Before, where the water fell straight down from the shower, I actually have a spray that shoots out and I don’t have to stand right next to the wall. This also eliminates the leaking into the bathroom floor.

Although I originally was not fond of how it looked (ours is black), it really has grown on me. Ryan initially liked it because he thought it looked really nice and I now agree.

The features (like a massage spray) are really something we weren’t even looking for when we headed into Wal-mart (where we bought it). They’re definitely nice, easy to use and really add value to this shower head.

This was also easy to put on. I believe Ryan only used a wrench to replace the old shower head with this one and it didn’t take very long at all.

I was really surprise with how much this improved my shower experience, especially at such a great price. I only hope I’ll have as easy a time if I ever need bathroom faucets.

Xpress Yourself

Date Sun, September 28 2008

Third time’s not the charm but I really hoped it would be with my Nokia 5310 XpressMusic. In truth, I can’t give an accurate review of the phone itself because my provider, T-Mobile has customized it to their liking, with their software. I can only review the phone they gave me and as such, the review won’t necessarily apply to all Nokia 5310s. Because this is so closely related to the cell phone service, I will also be reviewing that but not yet.

To start, the Nokia 5310 is a slim little SIM-using, GSM phone that is very slick. With black keys, a dark grey exterior and several choices for colour accents including orange, red, blue, purple and silver, this phone is very pleasing to the eye.

One of its key features, as a member of the XpressMusic family, is the ability to listen to music transferred from your computer. It also comes complete with a 2.0 MP digital camera with which you can take pictures and record videos, radio, up to 30MB internal memory, convert application (currency, weight, etc), Bluetooth capabilities and a slot for Micro SD memory cards to store your music, pictures and videos. Typically standard features like WAP web browsing, text and multimedia features, voice dialing, ring tones, themes and application support also exist.

Software aside, the 5310 XpressMusic comes with its own USB cord for data transfer as well as Nokia’s microphone and ear bud headset and charger (of course). The phone also comes with a micro SD memory card of 1 GB which is easily replaceable if you fill it.

The Nokia 5310 both sounds and looks like a dream come true and it just may be. However, because of TMobile I am not able to use all of these features as I would like to and I believe performance is hindered by the software variant the company uses.

Still, there were definitely some features I came to enjoy. The sound quality on this phone is pretty decent and I enjoy listening to to the radio with the head phones. The headset works well with its button that can end calls or change radio stations and songs and makes it easy to multitask even though it’s not wireless.

What I like the most are the buttons for the music. The 5310 XpressMusic has 3 dedicated music buttons along the left side that serve to play/pause, and shift back or forward. When listening to the radio, these buttons change the station from a list of presets. This features works well, as it ought to considering it is a big selling point.

As a side note, I have yet to transfer music so I have only enjoyed these buttons for the radio. There is an option to automatically scan and add all stations so the phone will automatically pick up strong signals. Any stations that are not added can be added manually.

Now, on to the software variant that T-Mobile uses. This information may not apply to the Nokia 5310 in general.

I found the menu a little confusing at first and not as intuitive as I would have liked. Part of this is due, I believe, to having the T-zones in the menu so this does not reflect Nokia. Having T-zones as an application and being able to access the same exactly T-zones online, via the browser, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

However, what I didn’t like I was able to easily change. Users have options to change both the order and view of the menu. I changed my menu to display in tab form because I feel I get the most space usage. Users can set to grid or list view as well. Menu items can be ordered anyway the user chooses.

One thing I did immediately was to take off the My Faves display and replace it with navigational icons so that I can more quickly access things like my message inbox, radio and camera. The My Faves display allows users to quick add, edit and view information about their 5 Faves. I prefer to have quicker access to certain features, instead. If some of the features weren’t buried several menus deep, I might not do this. For instance, in order to access the camera, a user must press Menu > scroll the Fun & apps > Media and then finally select the camera. The radio is also located in the Media menu. It would be nice if both of these features, or at least the camera, had a dedicated button.

The menu also contains sub menus for logging (which are extensive), settings, music (on the internal drive or memory card), phonebook, fun & apps (which contains your gallery, games, applications, media, etc), messaging, IM & E-mail and T-zones (internet access including browser and bookmarks).

For the most part, it’s easy to use these features. I automatically went to settings and changed things like the security keyguard, call timer, and navigational shortcuts. One downfall I think this phone has, which is because of T-Mobile, is that the right soft key can only link to T-zones on the home screen, while all other keys can be cusotmize.

Another unfortunate limitation of the phone, because of T-Mobile, is that some features are not fully enabled. Third party applications are automatically blocked and although users can download ring tones and themes to use, they may not work.

My last gripe is that the reception is really touch and go. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s not generally good, either. Sitting still, the phone can range from 4 bars to none in just a few seconds and it’s quick to switch back and forth. I have had more than one call drop, as well. Unfortunately, it seems like this is more an issue with the phone itself than with the service.

Overall, the phone has been decent and most of the troubles I have had to deal with were because of T-Mobile. If you read about my frustrations and having to return the phone twice while I still wound up with a phone that did not correctly work, you can rest assured that this was also T-Mobile’s responsibility. However, they have been quick to exchange and try to help me with my issue even if they did not understand it.

I hope to write a review of my T-Mobile service after I have spent more time with them. In the mean time, I do really like my Nokia 5310 XpressMusic, I just wish all the software worked.

Punch punch kick!

Date Sat, September 27 2008

So, a while ago I considered getting some yoga DVDS to do at home considering how much I dislike exercising and even moreso, in public. I reconsidered the idea lately and thought that maybe, instead of yoga, I might try Tae Bo. I recall doing it in gym class in high school and although it was silly, it got your heart working. I think either idea is better than using a drug like Leptovox. Anyway, I was browsing Amazon and found that they have a lot of workout DVDs for pretty cheap so I think I will invest in a couple once I have some money.

If anyone has any specific DVD or trainer they like, let me know!