Variety, the Spice of Life?

Date Tue, September 23 2008

When writing my reviews here, I don’t like to get stuck reviewing too many similar products in a short time period so I try to mix it up: something electronic, something technology/internet related, something health and beauty related, so on and so forth. But does this enhance your viewing experience or take away from it?

Let me know!

My Nemesis

Date Mon, September 22 2008

That may be a little melodramatic but as I’m sure you’ve all noticed,. I’ve used a lot of products for acne treatment and prevention. While I don’t have the worst case around, I’d love to not have a case at all.

Of course, I’d rather not try a prescription product or one that is very pricey so I stick to drug store brands. So far, I prefer Clean & Clear and Clearasil but it seems that every time I really like a product, they stop making it or the store stops carrying it. Why is that?

For instance, I really liked Clearasil’s daily face wash (and the product line’s new look!) but was disappointed to find they didn’t carry it at the BX in Misawa. Furthermore, once I was able to look at a bigger store, I couldn’t find it. I was also confused ebcause the look had changed – and not for the better. So last night I picked up what I believe to be the equivalent in their new line of products and will be doing a review of that shortly.

Last one to the castle is a rotten egg

Date Sun, September 21 2008

Ah, the fun of racing. Of course, this time I’m talking about Mario Kart DS, probably my favourite Nintendo DS game. Sadly. I’ve only really played one other version and that was the one for the Nintendo 64. Luckily, I loved it so much that I only ever played another game or two on that system. Period. Also, luckily for me, the version on the DS has some of the tracks I grew to love. If you also fell in love with previous versions, you’ll find tracks from the SNES version and the GBA version, too.

The concept is simple, you play as Mario or one of the franchise characters and you race others. You hit item boxes to get items to help you on your way and make the game a little more exciting. Besides racing, you can do time trials, battle or missions (which seem to be common with Nintendo DS games).

To to the spirit of Mario Kart (one of the things I love most about this game), which is being pitted against your friends, you can play with others via 2 methods. The first method is called multiplayer and is with a friend (or 7!) in within range of your system. You can play with those who have the game (Normal) or those who do not (simple). Friends without the game can download a more limited version to their Nintendo DS for the time being. Of course, with the WiFI capabilities of the DS, you can also play with anyone across the globe as long as you have access to a compatible wireless network.

Besides that aspect, how is gameplay? I find it to be pretty fun even when it’s just single player.

Like previous versions, you can play Grand Prix which is divided into 4 Cups made up of 4 tracks to compete for bronze, silver or gold place. In this game, you can also get a rating of letters or stars. Letters A – D work like grades in school and stars – from 1 – 3 – are even better ratings above A. The Grands Prix are divided into classes based on speed (engine size), also like previous versions: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. In this version, you can also play the 150cc Mirror version which is a flipped (not backward) version of the tracks.

The game comes with several Grand Prix cups locked. By playing each of the Cups before it and earning the gold, you unlock the cups. Each cup can be unlocked in each of the engine classes.

The Grand Prix is also divided into two classes – Nitro and Retro. Nitro contains new tracks and Retro contains tracks from previous games.

If you’re not interested in playing a whole cup or want to play more than one, you can play Versus. This gameplay consists of track after track according to settings you choose which include engine class, kart difficulty, course order, rules (or lack there-of) and teams. You can play free for as long as you want and quit at any time. If you want to play to a certain score or a certain number of races, you set that in the rules.

To practice the runs, play time trial. Time trials have a new feature where you can send or relieve a “ghost,” that is a slightly transparent recording of an already completed time trial. You can see how you’re doing against your previous trials or those of a friend.

Like previous versions, you can play Battles. Mario Kart DS includes Balloon Battles although, there is a slight difference from older versions. Instead of starting with 3 balloons, you start with 5, only 1 of which is blown up. Using the microphone, you blow up the others up to 3 at a time. Once all your active balloons are popped by items and damage, you lose, even if you have balloons in reserve so you must always blow them up.

There’s also a new version of battle, Shine Runners. In these, you collect little stars called Shines. Every time you are damaged or hit with an item, you lose a shine. Periodically, those players with the fewest sines are eliminated until only the player with the most Shines still remains.

The newest addition is that of the missions. With 7 different levels containing 8 missions plus a boss stage, you have to complete different tasks such as driving through gates, collecting coins, collecting and using items on others or doing turbo boosts to earn a ranking of stars or letters (the same as cup rankings). Each stage earns a ranking and each level earn and overall ranking.

One of the features I like about this game is the ability to unlock things. Completing tasks or racing well offers rewards of extra characters or karts. Overall, there are 12 characters including classics like Luigi, Yoshi and Princess peach as well as let known faces like Princess Daisy, Dry Bones and ROB 64. There’s also a total of 36 karts to allow you more customization than previous versions.

If you’d like to customize it even more, there are options to edit your nickname and emblem which appear next to your character on on your kart, respectively.

Of course, being on a dual screen offers some new incentives as well. It allows for information to be displayed on its own screen and the overall playing image to be larger and more detailed. The Nintendo DS has pretty good graphics despite its small size so this is definitely a plus.

During races and battles, the top screen shows up close racing view while the lower one shows a map of the track and stats of the other racers. In settings modes, the actual settings show up on the touch screen where you can select them with additional information or images on the upper screen.

The one qualm I have about how Mario Kart DS is set up is that it does not fully take advantage of the innovative touch screen. Besides the title and selection screen, the touch screen is not even a factor in the game. Even during those times, the keys can be used as well.

Overall, I really enjoy this game. I love to play with my friends but it’s just as fun to play by myself. The Grand Prix provides exciting new runs as well as ones I love from older games. Even after unlocking all the different tracks and earning gold in all the cups, I can still keep myself busy by trying to improve my ranking for tracks, cups and missions.

The option to play with friends in my living room or across the world also adds variety to the game and although I’ve unlocked almost everything n the game, I still play it frequently. This is definitely a game whose bright colours and fun sounds will attract children of all ages. At the end of the Grands Prix, the first, second and third place winners drive up to a platform where they are crowned; I would definitely crown this game!

Home Sweet Home?

Date Sat, September 20 2008

I’m so glad things are finally shaping up around here. Save for a few broken dishes (surprisingly, only one coffee cup broke in the move) and a need for more storage (we’ll be buying bookcases soon for books and DVDs) our apartment it starting to feel like home.

One of the things that really helps this – besides having our own stuff – is our brand new bedroom furniture ,which I absolutely love, and mattresses which are much nicer than any I have ever used before.

I only wish that furniture shopping was so easy when we were in Japan. If he hadn’t needed to wait for shipping, only to realize that our furniture was also damaged and ugly (but oh-so-comfortable!), I would have been a much happier camper.

If in the future, we decide to replace the sofa and chair (or perhaps we’ll just have it reupholstered), we may look at a modern sofa. However, I’m very picky so it might still just be a hassle.

Also, on an unrelated note, I’ve just noticed some issues with the ads and EntreCard placement on this site. It seems that refreshing will fix the problem.

Can you hear me now?

Date Thu, September 18 2008

I’ve already blogged about my new phone, a Nokia 5310 from TMobile and pretty soon I can add reviews of my phone and the cell service as well. One of the nice things about TMobile is that, after a month, you can have your phone unlocked so that you can use it with a different provider in the future. Not all companies allow this (if they did, there wouldn’t be a need to hack the iPhone) so it’s a nice touch. A lot of people wind up looking for Nokia unlocked phones or other brands so that they can have a phone they can take with them everywhere but it’s not always an easy task.

PayU2Blog (Sponsored Bogging)

Date Thu, September 18 2008


Payu2blog is one of those companies in blog advertising which I’ve used. Unfortunately my experience, until this date, has not been the best. While I am hoping to resolve this issue with them as soon as possible, they’re simply doing all they can to make this nearly impossible. If you are a current blogger for PayU2blog or are considering their services, here is a heads up.

For starters, the PayU2blog website isn’t very nice. There’s potential navigation links that have not been updated for months. In my opinion, these links needs to actually link to someplace or simply be removed. It’s also as if their parent company, Triangle Media, took a page straight out of the web 1.0 book. While I am not the biggest fan of the Web 2.0 movement, I applaud the advances it’s brought to site navigation and organization. Payu2Blog doesn’t take any good sense from those trends, however.

Still, I was ambitious and I’d just opened a brand new site (this one!) and wanted to dip my toes in the wide open waters known at blog marketing. Unfortunately, because my blog was brand new and little known, a lot of blog advertising sites wouldn’t have me. PayU2blog was the only one that would so I went along.

After being approved, I was sent a few e-mails with a generated password and general guidelines. My first issue with PayU2Blog would occur a bit down the road. I wasn’t sure about the policy regarding outside links in sponsored posts; as it turns out, their forum has a more detailed set of rules but few people can ever access it because all accounts are banned indefinitely upon registration. apparently accounts need to be manually approved but I’ve registered 2 accounts to no avail to good luck to you.

Although not pretty, the site is basically functional. I say basically because, of course, those navigational links that have never quite been updated so they actually link to things and some basic functions like changing your PayPal address cannot be done automatically but must be done through the internal messaging system.

However, besides those few hiccups, the site works relatively well (a word that I will leave open to interpretation). You sign in and are brought to a dashboard which doesn’t flow at all with the rest of the site but displays your inbox and available opportunities.

Now, if you were paying attention, you might wonder why I was able to join this site when all the others said “No.” I cannot tell you exactly but it seems like PayU2Blog has a catch and this is it: you have to do every opportunity that comes your way. Regardless of appearance or relevance to your blog. This definitely can stretch your imagination and writing abilities as well as look tacky on your blog, especially if you’re trying to make the sponsored links blend in as much as possible.

Still, if you’re looking for money, PayU2Blog is your service. With most opportunities simply requiring 150 words and 1 link for $5, a fair price for this type of work, it’s not too bad even if you do have to write about Depends. I was making a steady about the month or so I was an active member.

So what happened? Life.

More precisely, I moved and my password was saved on my computer (as well as the e-mail containing it) and there wasn’t any automated function to retrieve it on the log in page. Despite e-mailing countless times to several different e-mail addresses and having a friend mention my problem on the forums (which I still cannot access), I never heard a peep from the folks over at PayU2Blog.

From all this, it really seems like they don’t care much about their publishers and, if I were an advertiser, this would also make me wary. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like anyone is holding PayU2Blog to any sort of standards and it appears to be one of the less reputable blog marketing sites. From the quality of the links, I was sometimes dubious as to whether it was worth making a shiny penny or two for my posts.

Because of these reasons, I cannot recommend PayU2Blog. Although you might get paid, if something goes wrong, you cannot contact anyone to remedy the situation which does not make it seems as though this company actually cares very much about those who do its bidding.

I would love to be able to add to this review that my solution found a happy ending in the near future but who knows if I will be able to do so.


Date Tue, September 16 2008

It’s not exactly a secret that I’ve been writing blog advertising posts for a company or 2 and have been using my review site to try to garner some revenue. If you’re new to the world of blog marketing, you might just be wondering what the buzz is all about. If you have a blog, you can use a service like Snapbomb to find opportunities which will give you money to post about or write a review for a service, product or web site.

Snapbomb itself is a very clean, good looking website. Although it’s function is pretty basic, it still looks good and it’s easy to navigate the site where other would leave you confused. Your dashboard shows your blog(s) listed, and links to find opportunities and update your account are prominent. Compared to some sites I’ve seen, this is definitely a step up.

If you’re interested in the world of sponsored blog spots, Snapbomb might just be for you.