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Learn to Program With Small Basic

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Thank you No Starch Press for sending us this book to review!

Learn to Program With Small Basic: An Introduction to Programming With Games, Art, Science and Math is 317 pages long and written by Majed Marji and Ed Price. This book teaches you how to program with Small Basic, a programming language created by Vijaye Raji designed to teach children how to program.

Learn to Program With Small Basic teaches you the different features of Small Basic and how to use them. It has 19 chapters, each one covering a different feature of Small Basic. The first chapter introduces you to the language while the rest have you coding in it. It teaches you how to use features like if/else statements, subroutines, events, etc. To enforce these topics, code examples are given and there are named programs they want you to save. At the beginning of a program, you can tell if you need to save it if it says the name of the program as a comment. In the later chapters, you top most of them off with a game that uses the feature taught in that chapter. One of my favorite programs I made is the image viewer that lets you view pictures from Flickr.

Sometimes the book will show you a possible output of a program you wrote. There are also (optional) program ideas labeled in boxes that say “Try It Out.” After you write a program, there are sections explaining how the program works. For some of the larger games you would program, the book breaks the program up into steps, then explains what each step does. Sometimes the steps are small, and other times the steps are larger. Occasionally there will be a picture shown to help you understand the concept better.

As I went through the book, I found it fun at first, but then I lost interest about half-way through it. (That seems to happen with all of the programming books I tried.) Despite that, I’d say the book is pretty good. It’s very thorough on making sure the point gets across. The paperback version sells for $25.49 USD on Amazon. Surprisingly, the physical copy is cheaper than the Kindle version!


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Whelek Self-Inflating Camp Pad

Thank you Whalek for sending us a review sample!

Family camp-outs are fun and our kids aren’t too picky when it comes to just using a sleeping bag to separate themselves from the tent and gravel/dirt terrain underneath them.  My husband and I appreciated the foam padding we brought along, but sadly, foam often breaks apart over time.

The Whalek sleeping/camp pad is pretty durable and has many nice features with my favorite being the self-inflation.  The valve is easy to use, though if there was an instruction manual included, I would have gladly read it.  The construction is solid and looks like it can take a bit of a beating.  The carrying bag on the other hand isn’t as forgiving as I can already see some loosened stitches.  This can be problematic as we all know that putting things back in their original containers is never as easy as removing them!

 

My 5’7” body fit nicely on this sleeping mat, but my 6’2” husband had his feet dangling off the end a bit.  In conjunction with a sleeping bag using this camp pad is more comfortable than without. However, if I had a choice between a sleeping mat or an inflatable air mattress I would choose the latter without a second thought!  A couch still trumps an air mattress if there isn’t a bed available.  

The asking price of $60 is a bit more expensive than the others available on Amazon or Ebay.  The sleeping mask is a nice add-on though and I enjoyed using that more than the mat.   I do plan on bring this along on our next camping trip and I enjoy the compact size after a couple of attempts of folding and squeezing it back into its carrying bag.  The Whelek Self-Inflating Camp Pad is great for camping trips and I recommend picking one up if you love sleeping outdoors.

 

 

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The Marijuana Project: A Story Of Medicine And Morality

Thank you to Ascot Media for sending us this book to review!

Sam Burnett is a self-employed security consultant, highly respected in his field. Sam came from humble beginnings and built a successful consulting firm through hard work and determination. Sam’s services range from security risk assessments to designing physical and electronic security systems for private companies.

One day Sam receives a phone call from MedLeaf, a medical marijuana manufacturing facility seeking a license in the state of New Jersey. Sam’s reputation in the security industry results in MedLeaf reaching out to Sam for help in designing and implementing a multifaceted security system to protect manufacture of the controversial drug. Sam, however, is married with two children and a conservative. He wrestles with his morals, faith, and the legality of marijuana. His world is turned upside down in a compelling story that weaves not only comprehensive information on security systems but serves as a great introduction to the marijuana debate that continues to polarize our country today. 

The Marijuana Project is a fictional novel written by Brian Laslow (pseudonym). It chronicles Sam’s uneasy decision to work with MedLeaf over a two-year period that becomes increasingly demanding. At first, Sam battles with his conservative values whether or not to work with MedLeaf because he is against all types of marijuana, legal or otherwise. He seeks advice from his wife, friends, and business associates. Sam concludes that since marijuana is a highly priced commodity, it still needs protection regardless of his personal views. MedLeaf is eventually granted a license to produce marijuana, allowing Sam to begin developing the complex security system that will protect the manufacturing facility. 

Admittedly, I did not know much about marijuana other than it’s a drug that can produce a “high” due to its THC content and that it kills brain cells. Regarding medical marijuana, I knew that it is beneficial for people dealing with pain and is helpful for cancer patients. Laslow provides a wealth of information about marijuana that ranges from its addictive qualities, to whether it’s a gateway drug and laws regarding the legalized sale of marijuana to the public. Besides the information about marijuana, the author clearly demonstrates his knowledge of security systems with comprehensive attention to detail. This includes the physical protection of the manufacturing facility, the product, the transfer, and its employees in addition to policies, procedures, and protocols. 

In the story, Sam also researches medical marijuana and its effectiveness in treating patients with medical issues. Once more, Laslow provides a bulk of information regarding the different types of strains used in treating patients with a variety of health-related complications.

There were two issues I had with the book. Sam is portrayed as a conservative Catholic. Sam’s use of profanity occurs a few times in the story. I originally dismissed it as stress from the situations Sam was experiencing. A story from the Bible, however, is taken out of context to justify Sam’s choices. In another example, Sam reminisces about an experience he had while serving on a Catholic school board. I was dismayed at his use of language and approach to dealing with a diocese. Although Sam has a strong will and determination, I viewed him as someone driven by pride who wasn’t afraid to show it more than a man led by God.

The second issue I had with the story was the ending. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched too many action movies or read too many of those types of books, but it was disappointing because I expected something more extravagant. Although the ending made sense, it did not seem plausible, as the buildup to the climax was intriguing and kept me hooked. Nevertheless, I applaud the author’s style of writing. It was clear and concise and left no holes. Further, Laslow remained objective throughout and only provided facts ultimately leaving it up to the reader to decide whether marijuana has merit in the medical industry today. 

With the wealth of information from the book, I researched many of the marijuana facts on the Internet and discovered they were correct. It also led me to read about security for the protection of marijuana manufacturing facilities and the types of crimes that can occur here. I can clearly see Laslow did a great job in providing an authentic fact-based fictional story about security systems and medical marijuana. I learned a lot and I highly recommend The Marijuana Project for readers looking for a thrilling ride as well as those interested in learning about marijuana in a fictional setting.

 


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stephenrowan
I come here after quite a while since 2016 and entire this term i have miss the chance to get information from a bonafide source y... Read More
Friday, 21 April 2017 00:44
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Power Rangers 2017 Movie Review

Go Go see a different movie. That's all I can say about the 2017 Power Rangers movie. It was truly an odd experience for the ages. I want to make a few things clear before I write why it was so awful to me. Power Rangers has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, so I guess you could consider me a fan of the series. This includes what Power Rangers is based off of: the Super Sentai series in Japan. I would also like to make it clear that I am working with a slight bias: while things like the Power Rangers should be meant for a younger audience first, this doesn't mean I can't enjoy things not targeted towards me. So let's rush to the command center; this is a Power Rangers movie.

Power Rangers starts with Zordon, leader of the first team of Rangers on Earth 65 million years ago. His Green Ranger, Rita Repulsa, has betrayed her team and she is ready to rip out the source of Earth's life, the Zeo Crystal. After Zordon hides the power coins, he calls on Alpha 5 to send a meteor crashing down to Earth. We then fast forward to years later when our first protagonist, Jason, is caught stealing the football mascot of a rival school. As punishment, he loses all opportunities given to him and is forced to attend detention every day as a troubled student. Along the way he meets the four other future Rangers. The characters Billy, Kimberly, Trini, and Zack end up in the same spot the coins are hidden. When they try to escape gold mine security, they end up getting hit by a train. Though it seems this is the moment they die, they wake up at home faster, stronger, and better. Eventually they meet Zordon and Alpha 5, who warn them Rita Repulsa will return. If they can't learn to morph and work together within eleven days, the world shall end.

So first let me give thoughts on the two elephants in the room. Billy is made to be an autistic kid, and they let you know very earlier on how different he is. Speaking as an autistic man, it seemed more like they were playing autism like it was down syndrome. He would constantly remind the movie audience that he was autistic. He would also have a lot of strange quirks that replaced character. Not only was he token, he was a poorly developed character. Trini, the lesbian character was a much bigger token. I'll hate myself later for putting it this way, but she was a “millennials'” version of coming out. In the scene where she admits to her team she's gay, she says, “My family is just so normal, all they care about is labels.” This story arc doesn't go anywhere and it seems to be just thrown in for brownie points. While it seems people on different sides got worked up over these characters, the controversy wasn't worth it. They used these things to replace actual character. The theme song could have been "Go Go Token Rangers anyway". Jason was token jock, Zack was token smooth talking loner and Kimberly was token cheerleader brat. 

The Rangers might as well have been a super hero retelling of the Breakfast Club without any real character development. Despite a scene around a bonfire sharing their deep dark secrets, none of them really have any reason to work together and the audience doesn't really know them. Like I said early, they go through the movie as character traits, not characters themselves. By trying to make these Rangers more “realistic and relatable” they come off as more fake and unrelatable. They hate their town right until they face Rita Repulsa. Most of their time as Rangers are spent training in montages. When they can finally work together, they spend about 5 to 8 minutes of time fighting in the suit while the rest of the climax is a long zord battle. The only two characters that at least tried to be a little fun was Zordon and Rita. I actually found it quite interesting that they tried to set Zordon up as a previous Yed Ranger. While Rita was slow in the beginning, she became a corny, over the top and insane villain, and that's what a Power Rangers villain should be. Yet Zordon's potential was thrown out when you realize they set up this idea of him being revived only for him to sacrifice himself so he could revive Billy when Rita drowns him. Rita’s monster, Goldar, did not look threatening at all; living molten gold doesn't look good no matter what you do. 

The cinematography didn't do anything for the movie. If it wasn't just shaky cam, they had a lot of close up shots to the face during emphasized dialogue. Someone must really hate lighting in this movie as well. The colors of the movie seemed to have had to fight to really stick out from all the grays and dark lighting of the movie. It seems modernizing a story means trying to force it to be dark and edgy without reason. Not every superhero has to have a miserable background before becoming a hero. Inspiration can come from the top.

Morality wise, aside from the implied homosexuality of the Yellow Ranger, this movie has low brow humor and a lot of rage and hatred that border between teen angst and blind rage. You're constantly reminded until the very end of the movie how much they hate their town and their own situation. This idea of being a bad kid, an outcast in detention is slightly glorified as well.  They push that whole 'it's cool to be different from the crowd' ideology in the wrong way. It's sad this is being pushed so hard towards kids. I say the movie earned its PG-13 rating at least.

This movie definitely has the crowds divided. Critics hate it and most audiences adore it. Its opening weekend scored the movie a strong $ 40.5 million. All I ask is for readers to remember that high sales does not equal quality. Some of that old Power Rangers camp might have actually made this movie better. For this writer, I give it a 3/10. Effects are cool the first time you see it but the rest of the movie is a shallow cash grab banking on nostalgia and ”relatable teen” story tropes. Go Go far away from this movie.

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Iserlohn Bronze Wind Chime

Thank you Iserlohn for sending us this bronze wind chime!

When my oldest daughter was a toddler we did a nine-hour road trip to Missouri to visit my mom and step dad.  It was a nice trip, but when we were half-way home on the way back, the unimaginable happened.  My daughter puked in the car when we still had another 4.5 hours to go!  We stopped at the closest gas station and used up a lot of paper towels to clean up what we could.   The gas station attendants knew what was going on and took pity on us and gave her some lemon lime pop to soothe her stomach a bit.  While we were at the counter my daughter took notice of the wind chimes and as many toddlers would do, grabbed one and broke it.  Since the gas station refused to let me pay for the broken wind chime, we bought a different one that used to be a lot fuller and purpler than it is today.  

 

It’s definitely time for a replacement.  Upon opening up the new wind chime, I noticed that some of the chimes were tangled, but thankfully they were easy to separate again.  There are also two extra hangers included with the wind chime.   The build quality is good and it looks pretty sturdy with the exception of the plastic ring on top.  While it won’t rust like the previous one did, I still wonder how much of a beating it will take with the 50MPH+ winds we can get here in Illinois.  

 

I like the bronze color, though this wind chime is available in silver as well.  Both models are reasonably priced at $19.99.  The design is sleek and the chimes sound great when there is a mild breeze outside.  Thankfully, I haven’t heard it in a violent wind storm (yet).


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Iserlohn Office Chair Caster Wheels

Thank you Iserlohn for sending us these office wheels to review!

I used to roller-blade quite often before having kids.  I still put on my Rollerblades every so often, but not as much as I used to.  I’m familiar with doing standard maintenance including rotating the wheels and greasing/replacing the bearings in them. There are many different kinds of wheels available and in varying degrees of firmness.  The softer wheels will give you a smoother ride, but will wear down faster.    Apparently, softer wheels are great on office chairs if you have wood, or another smooth floor surface.  I wish I had known about these before our wood floors got scratched up by the anti-scratch mats we bought for them. If we would have started off with these wheels, our ruined wood floor could have been avoided entirely!

Included in this $19.99 bundle are five orange or teal wheels with ABEC 7 bearings in them.  These are some pretty fast bearings! They make me want to roll down my driveway, or a big hill, or a long corridor if I worked in a stuffy office building.  If I did give into that temptation, I would no doubt lodge some gravel or sand into my wheels and ruin my wood floor some more!  

Installation was a breeze.  It took me less than a minute to pull off my old wheels and install the new ones.  The orange wheels are much brighter and are definitely more noticeable.  Black or gray would be more professional, but are not available from this vendor.  When going in a single direction the movement on these wheels is buttery smooth.  However, changing directions takes a little more effort with these wheels than the standard wide ones.  Vertically challenged people will be happy to know that these wheels will raise your chair an extra inch or so.

Despite the more effort needed to change directions, I’m still pleased with these wheels.  When we get our floors fixed and remove the throw rug covering the scuffs, we’ll be buying a couple more sets!


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Atown
How well do they roll on throw rugs or carpet tile?
Thursday, 30 March 2017 15:35
Cheryl Gress
They work good on the throw rugs in our office, like butter on the wood floors ... Read More
Thursday, 30 March 2017 17:28
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Battle Princess Madelyn First Impressions

The way of the knight is a path of honor, duty, and cute graphics. At least that's what it is according to Battle Princess Madelyn. This knight in training and her kingdom fall under siege to the forces of a cruel wizard. With her ghost dog Fritzy, fight, jump and bite your way to saving your kingdom.

The first thing this game says is that it is heavily inspired by the Ghosts and Goblins franchise, and this is true in every step down to the way Madelyn runs. While she tosses spears, she can either have her dog shoot balls of energy to stop her foes or she can channel his power to charge at enemies to devour them whole. 

The first impressions are great so far. The story isn't trying to be some deep and complicated trek into Madelyn's world and yet I was invested into the introduction of the game. The combat was simple, but it felt satisfying and fun. My spear wasn't too weak and the trusty ghost dog didn't make the enemies in my way super easy. The artstyle is visually pleasing; people may say doing retro graphics is a lazy indie trope, yet the team behind Madelyn worked hard to make sure the world pulls you in. 

The most important aspect of these sorts of games is the challenge. Despite my own experiences with Ghosts and Goblins, I had a hard yet fair adventure with Madelyn. The enemies were paced well, I didn't get to a point where I felt I could just rush through the game. The enemies were varied and unique. This game doesn't suffer from “enemy recolor number 1000” syndrome. I started my journey with Madelyn in a unkempt graveyard. I had to climb through an Underground Mausoleum and it ended with a boss battle with a giant skeletal knight. When a game is challenging, the satisfaction of beating a level or a boss is all the sweeter. 

I can't completely critique a game that is far from finished so I’ll talk about what should be improved or what I hope stays strong. The music for the first few stages was not what I’d call memorable. While the artstyle pulled me in despite being based on retro graphics, the old school music just didn't do the same thing for me. I hope that the rest of the tracks are more immersive as the game progresses. While the enemies were varied in my playthrough of Madelyn, I hope this stays true throughout the game's development. Recolored enemies can make or break a game; that's why I hope enemy design remains unique throughout the levels. 

Morality wise, you'll see themes of necromancy, and evil magic being used against this girl. Some people may also be bothered by the idea of her loyal friend coming back from the dead with the same evil magic. Though it could also be seen as a pure dog willing to help the hero. From the preview build, Madelyn didn't use any magic herself, this may or may not change. Though as it is now, I have a feeling that this game will be for most people.

I have confidence in Madelyn's development team; I have a feeling it will join Ghost and Goblins in my yearly halloween knight charity run. Best of luck to Casual Bit Games.

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Miracles We Have Seen

Thank you HCI Books for sending us this book to review!

Miracles We Have Seen is a collection of short stories from doctors around the world retelling their most memorable experiences throughout their medical careers.  Since there are many authors, divvying up the royalties would be a pain and it’s nice to know that 100% of the profits are going to various charities nominated by the contributing physicians.  Not only are you guaranteed to read some touching stories, you’ll be helping various non-profits as well!

There are many inspiring stories as well as tragic tales told throughout this book. In each of the eighty plus short essays you’ll see the date(s) they occurred and they range from World War II to this decade.  It’s sad to read about the deaths of those who suffered from now curable ailments.  For example, one of the stories is about JFK’s prematurely born son, Patrick, who only lived a couple of days because of his underdeveloped lungs.  Thanks to modern medicine, premature babies have a much higher survival rate. There are several stories involving AIDS, detailing the historic lack of and modern progress towards drugs that keep HIV patients alive longer than a couple of years.

Though this book isn’t meant to be spiritual, there are a few stories that are nothing short of miraculous and the doctors are convinced that something out of this world happened to some the patients they have seen.  There’s a story about a boy who most likely caught a glimpse of heaven by the sheer look of awe on his face before peacefully passing away while holding onto his mother’s hand.  Another event was about a resuscitated toddler who was pulled out of the pool by a child not much older than he was. When asked why she went in the pool to get him despite not being able to swim, she responded by saying that a man in white told her to.    

Since many of the stories are only a couple of pages long, this is a great book to pick up and read throughout the day.  My oldest daughter starting reading this book before me and it didn’t take me long to surpass her.  The stories shared are definitely worth the price of admission at $9.99 digitally and only a couple of dollars more in paperback format.


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Iserlohn Garden Hose

Thank you Iserlohn for sending us this 50-foot expandable hose to review!

Last summer we had the pleasure of reviewing VicTsing’s garden hose nozzle and my kids helped in the reviewing process by washing our cars with it and getting sprayed down when it was hot outside.  While I didn’t have any issues with the nozzle in that review, my hose was definitely aging and leaking by the faucet, causing a reduction in water pressure.  A new hose was in order and now we got one to test out.  

hose

Since it’s not even spring and barely in the 50’s temperature wise, our testing options are limited.  I hooked up this flexible hose next to our deck and proceeded to spray liquid and solid forms of dog waste off of our deck.  The water leaking issue by the faucet was gone and the water pressure was strong enough to remove some of the stain from our deck that was painted only last year.  For what it’s worth it was chipping last year too and we plan on using a different brand next time.

I like the braided fabric that’s available in multiple colors including black, blue, green, and red.  No matter what color you choose, the handy carrying bag is blue.  I also like that they include twelve extra washers for when the current ones get worn out and cracked.  While not part of the Amazon package, I also received another VicTsing garden hose nozzle which sadly disintegrated upon use.  Fortunately, last year’s model is still working perfectly.

broken nozzle

The brass connectors seem sturdy, though the rubber sleeves underneath them slide out of place.  The shut off valve is nice and works as expected.  Before using the hose, it managed to get tangled a bit but untangling it wasn’t that bad.  I like how this hose doesn’t kink-up and stop the water flow like my old one did.

Overall, this is a nice $26 hose that I would recommend considering if you’re in the market for one.  I have reservations about recommending the VicTsing garden hose nozzle now though.  


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New Life

Thank you MPRM Communications for sending us this DVD to review!

New Life is a touching movie that begins with a seven-year-old Benjamin as he moves to the U.S. and meets Ava, the girl next door.  Their childhood friendship develops into an adolescent romance and things get rocky in the college years as they attempt a semi-distant relationship.   While they’re only a couple of hours apart, they barely get to see each other with Benjamin juggling two jobs.   

Ava begins her teaching career and gets a sweet marriage proposal from Ben and accepts it.  It doesn’t take long for Ben to get lost in his work again and this puts a strain on their marriage.  Things also get more difficult for this couple, but I don’t want to spoil it.  All that I will say is that this is an inspiring movie about love, family, faith, and perseverance.  Even though life gives us challenges, God provides family and friends to help us cope through our struggles.  

Although this movie isn’t overtly Christian, there are some references to prayer.  Also, while pregnancy is a topic, this film leaves the conception part to your imagination.   There isn’t any language, but before showing this to younger children, be warned that there are scenes involving sickness and death.

Story wise this film is good and the acting is well done.  I was nearly brought to tears in some scenes.  If  you’re looking for a cheerful movie, then you may want to look elsewhere.  However, if you want to see love story that brings hope in the midst of despair, thenn I recommend watching this film.   You can own the DVD for less than $13.  Unfortunately, I don’t see a Blu-ray version available.   Even in the inferior DVD format, it’s worth picking up!


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Days? Or Ages? The Genesis Question: A Layman Looks at Creation's Calendar

Thank you Bohlsen Group for sending us this book to review!

The author Jerry Harmon is not a bible scholar; in fact, he worked in construction until his retirement.  This book is the result of weekly meetings between the author and a couple of his closest friends as they embarked on an in-depth study of the first couple of chapters in Genesis.  Their goal was to determine if Hebrew text could shed some light on the seven literal days or several spans of time/ages debate of the Earth’s creation.  

Surely, God is all powerful and has the ability to age things like wine instantly in John 2:1-11, create life on the spot in John 21:5-11,  or to cause trees to wither on command in Mark 11:12-21.  However, science had disproved statements in the Bible that were taken too literally like the Earth being flat due to verses like Isaiah 11:12 and that the universe was  geocentric as possibly referenced from Genesis 1:16 with the moon being the lesser of two light sources.  Could it be possible that the days of creation are not literal?

All of the common viewpoints are addressed in the second chapter including sudden creation, the gap theory, the day-age theory, the intermittent-day theory, progressive creationism, the literary framework theory, and theistic evolution.  I like how each viewpoint is explained and a list of subscribers to those theories are listed as well.  The rest of the book isn’t as easy to follow, especially when it comes down to breaking down the Hebrew language.  Be sure you are alert and awake when reading this book, or much of it will go over your head.  Some of it still went over my head regardless, but I do recall some good arguments for a possibility of delayed creation.

It is argued that the sun, moon, and planets were created on the first day, but assigned their purpose on the fourth.  The passages in Isaiah 11:6-9  could be referring to Adam being formed as a child rather than an adult.  This theory would make a bit more sense because he would have to have a short attention span to be bored and lonely so fast on his first day of existence.  Also the ability to get to know and name each of the animals is quite a feat as well.

Not surprisingly, the verse Psalms 90:4 is brought up to suggest that each one of God’s days could be like one thousand to us.  In the end, Days or Ages supports the latter.  As to why, I’ll  leave that for you to read and find out in this 203 page book that sells for less than $14 on Amazon.


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Scratch Coding Cards

Thank you No Starch Press for sending us a review sample!

Ever since my son completed the book Scratch Programming Playground, he’s been hooked on Scratch and has been coming up with various challenges and games to create.  The collection of 75 Scratch Coding Cards are perfect for anyone who already has a basic understanding of Scratch and Is looking for some programming ideas.

Each of the glossy cards are broken down into three sections.  The first part is the setup and guides you though selecting the correct sprite.  The second part shows you the code pieces to drop into place.  The last section features a helpful tip to incorporate when running your newly created program. 

While the cards can be done individually, many of them are grouped together to make a bigger program.  Some of the games you will make in this set include a Pong game, a racing game, and an interactive pet.  These were some of my son’s favorites, but there were some duds and even a couple of repeats that he didn’t bother doing a second time.  

Some of the simpler programs just have a sprite make a sound or rotate when they are clicked on.  There’s a whole group of musical cards that will have programs play a rhythm, a chord, a surprise song or even allow you to record your own sounds.  Young girls may like the dress up program that lets you change the appearance of boy and girl characters.  Not only can they change their outfits, they’ll be able to customize their colors too!

There’s plenty to do in the Scratch Coding Cards set and the retail price is $24.95.  The sell for a little over $15 on Amazon and for that price I recommend checking them out for aspiring Scratch coders.  Many of the examples are freely available on Scratch’s website so be sure to check that out first.


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Nintendo Switch Event impressions

For being a loyal My Nintendo member, I was offered two tickets to attend the Chicago Nintendo Switch demo event.  My husband and I planned on going without our kids since tickets were limited.  Thankfully, 360 PR was able to let us bring our three kids along and they had a blast testing out the upcoming console and launch titles with us.  The turnout was good, and I’d guess that there were three hundred or so people there.  The staff members were easy to identify with their red Switch shirts and warm smiles.  They were also very knowledgeable about the game demos and were happy to teach and assist if you got stuck in a game. 

Out of all of the launch games, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the most in demand and you had to grab game session tickets to schedule your twenty-minute play session.  Headphones were provided to help drown out the loud electronic dance music that the DJ was playing, as well as the substantial crowd noise throughout the event.  I really enjoyed my time with the game, though like many open world games, twenty minutes was barely enough time to get a good feel for it.  I was very impressed with the art style, the beauty of the world, and how much there is to do.  The clearly less than 1080p pixels on TV was rather annoying, but you do get used to it.  It looks gorgeous on the small Switch screen.  Combat was also fun, and there is a lot of variety as well.  You constantly pick up new weapons either found outside, or as dropped loot.  Items, including weapons, wear down and break, which is a bit of an adjustment from previous games.  Arrows also seemed hard to come by, but I can understand that given how powerful they are.  I definitely look forward to playing this game more once we get it, since we pre-ordered it along with our Switch.  

Some classic games like Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers and Sonic Mania added retro feels, but didn’t show off what the new console system was capable of doing visually.  ARMS was fun and looked good on the flat screen TV/monitors we played it on.  I thought it was one of the highlights of the show, but it's hard to say if it is worth full price, since it's somewhat of a one trick pony.  Some games like Splatoon 2 were playable on TV/monitors as well as the Switch itself.  In all honestly I was disappointed with the pixelated visuals of this title on the TVs there and while there are new weapons, I don’t think it’s different enough to warrant buying it at full price.  On a positive note, this did spark some interest in our kids playing the Wii U version we already own.

Super Bomberman R is a challenging co-op game that allows up to eight players.  The CPU players are pretty formidable and they won more matches than the humans did.  I wouldn’t mind owning this game, but I’ll be waiting for a sale on it.  

Another game I enjoyed was Fast RMX which is a fun racing game that adds a color matching element to change the color of your car’s exhaust to take advantage of speed boosts.  If your car is the wrong color, it will slow you down instead!  The graphics were decent in it but didn’t blow me away.  The local four player multiplayer is fun, and if you’re online, you can race against eight players.   

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looked well polished, though I only got to play it on a hand-held screen.  I do look forward to checking it out on a big screen.  This game is still a blast to play and the included DLC and added levels and characters make this title worth picking up, especially if you missed it on Wii U.

My son enjoyed playing Skylanders Imaginators and like the Wii U, the controller base has an IR reader for importing your favorite Skylander characters into the game.  One of the games that did not resonate with me was Has Been Heroes.  I enjoyed the row-based combat from Grand Kingdom, but the way this game implemented it didn’t seem to click with me.  

Skylanders 

One of my favorite games I played with my oldest daughter was Snipperclips – Cut it out, together!  It’s been a while since I got a good laugh from playing a game with someone.  In this puzzle game you must cut the paper based characters to rotate and fit into specified shapes.  This game requires good team work, communication, and accuracy when cutting.  Just when I was getting close to getting my daughter into the proper shape she’d snip me and I would have to start over to do my part.  This title will be available for $19.99 and I’ll be picking that up as soon as our Switch arrives.

The whole family got to play 1-2 Switch and thought that it was okay.  It had a guessing game where you and your partner had to guess how many balls were inside of a box.  Whoever was closer to the correct amount would win or in our case resulted in a draw since both parties were off by one.  The cow milking simulator was fun to watch as a bystander and the winner is determined by who can get the most cups of milk from the udders.  My husband and I faced off in a Western style shooting match and I shot my hubby down first.  No blood is shown, just the shadow of the loser kneeling before the winner.  I like how the speed in milliseconds is shown at the end.  While this game is alright, I’ll wait for it to hit the bargain bin before purchasing it.  (I still think this would have been a perfect pack-in title.)

We got to check out some games that we anticipate getting review codes for since we’re on good terms with Ubisoft, NIS America, and SEGA/Atlus.  I’m happy to report that I earned a score of 5 stars in Just Dance 2017 to Joan Jett’s 'I Love Rock N Roll'.  Puyo Puyo Tetris is a fast paced and fun mashup of those two games and it switches between them every ten seconds.  Sadly, the CPU whooped me.  I had fun though, and that’s what counts.  Disgaea 5 Complete looks sharp with modern visuals, along with fairly revealing outfits when it comes to female attire or lack thereof.  While the gameplay is fun, I really am spoiled by the accuracy of a mouse from playing PC ports of the first two games.

Puyo Puyo Tetris 

Stay tuned for more in-depth reviews from us as we get to spend more time with these games after they are released.  I’m looking forward to the arrival of our Switch!

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Taco Bell's Naked Chicken Chalupa

Nutritional Info:
Calories: 440
Fat: 30g
Cholesterol: 70mg
Sodium: 1090mg
Carbohydrates: 22g
Protein: 20g

When I first saw the Naked Chicken Chalupa, I was equally intrigued as I was excited. As a prolific connoisseur of fast food oddities, I was immediately reminded of KFC's Double Down.  The Double Down replaced the buns with chicken patties and left the cheese, bacon, and sauce in the middle. The Naked Chicken Chalupa replaces the tortilla with a curved chicken pattie and leaves the cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce in the middle. I thought the Double Down was delicious so I was stoked for this new beyond-the-bun creation. 

When I took the chalupa out of my bag and unwrapped it, my first impression is that it seemed really thick for a chalupa. As advertised there's a cardboard holder covering about 2/3 of the chalupa. I took it out of its holder but it felt awkward to hold, I guess I don't regularly touch fried chicken patties. I put it back in its holder and took a bite. I was hit with a surprising amount of flavor. The chicken was moist and well seasoned and the avocado ranch sauce really compliments it. The breading on the chicken was nice, and didn't fall off chicken or stick to my fingers while I was eating it. I usually douse everything from Taco Bell with a packet or two of their fire sauce, but that was not necessary for this.  

 

The filling in the Naked Chicken Chalupa is its main downside. The stock Taco Bell lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese come off as incredibly bland when paired with the chicken shell and the sauce. Those items are just filler to round out the fact that it's a chalupa. Also while I really enjoyed eating the Naked Chicken Chalupa it wasn't as filling as a normal chalupa due to the lack of traditional chalupa shell. Its $2.99 price tag is only $0.10 more than a Chalupa Supreme which is great for a new/novelty item but you may not feel as satisfied after eating it compared to a regular chalupa. Fortunately there's a $5 box with the Naked Chicken Chalupa, crunchy taco, Doritos Locos taco, and a medium drink for a nice, "well rounded" meal. 

I really enjoyed the new Naked Chicken Chalupa from Taco Bell and hope it sticks around. The chicken shell is well made and flavorful and pairs exceptionally well with the avocado ranch sauce they use. I did end up putting some fire sauce on the my chalupa after the first few bites but it really does not need it. It's perfectly enjoyable on its own. The lackluster fillings are par-for-the-course from Taco Bell and don't detract enough to prevent me from ordering this again.

 

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God’s Silver Soldiers Comic Issue #1

Thank you Art Greenshaw for sending us an autographed issue to review!

The goal of Truthmonger Comics is to bring the much-needed messages of morality and spirituality into today’s youth through the medium of comic books.  Besides God, they are also inspired by the comic book legend, Stan Lee.  Some of the characters are dedicated to public figures who are living by their Christian values.  For example, the Silver Soldier Cecilia is named after the first lady of Texas, Cecilia Abbott.

God has appointed the Silver Soldiers to battle against the superhuman forces of evil in our world.  The soldiers have different backgrounds and are all united for this purpose.  The black Silver Soldier is an American Indian musician whose songs will now uplift instead of tear people down.  The green Silver Soldier is a surgeon with a drug problem.  A prestigious chef is given a second chance at life by becoming the blue Silver Soldier.  The yellow Silver Soldier is a college girl who has chosen to keep her child instead of aborting it.  A greedy financial programmer is picked to be the red Silver Soldier.  Last but not least, is the pink Silver Soldier who is a lying gossiper who has since repented of her sins.  Once assembled, the Silver Soldiers report to Angelica, an angel sent by God to cleanse to world of the evil that is invading it.

Individually the Silver Soldiers have enhanced strength and speed. They are also bestowed with a unique ability to control various elements or animals.  When the Silver Soldiers are together, their strength is increased one hundred fold.  Satan’s demons had better watch out!

This forty-three page comic is broken into two parts with each ending at a cliff-hanger.  The last few pages go back in time and offer a new perspective on Jesus’ childhood.  There are some mature themes including drugs and teen pregnancy.   The spiritual warfare elements need to be taken into consideration as well. The Silver Soldiers must descend to Hell to rescue someone and they have to leave their bodies behind in a safe place.  Also, one of Lucifer’s human servants wears a pentagram belt buckle.  There are several Bible verses used throughout the story as well which is nice to see.  

While this series is both engaging and God honoring, I recommend parents give it a good read before their children do.  My oldest daughter read and enjoyed this first issue and we’re both looking forward to many, many more.  The suggested retail price is $4.99 unless you’d rather get the jumbo collector’s edition for $24.99.


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The Gruffalo

Thank you JG PR for sending us this DVD to review!

The children’s book The Gruffalo written by Julia Donaldson came out in 1999.  Since its release, it has received numerous awards including Smarties Prize and the Blue Peter Award for the Best Book to Read Aloud.   Given the awards and the 5-star rating on Amazon, it’s safe to say that it’s a good book and deserves the DVD treatment.

The 30-minute DVD has a suggested retail price of $9.99, but is available to stream for free for Prime members.   Digitally renting this movie is possible for $3.99, but you may as well buy a physical copy for an extra dollar.  

The story begins with a squirrel mother gathering nuts for her young children.  Instead of food, they’d rather hear a story about a mouse or a monster.  The mother squirrel compromises and tells them a story about both.

A hungry brown mouse is trying to make his way to a nut tree for dinner.  It’s quite a ways away and throughout his journey he gets stopped by a fox, an owl, and a snake.  They each invite the mouse over for a meal, with him being the main course!  The wily mouse outsmarts all of them by telling them that he’s on his way to a meal with a gruffalo and describes its fearsome traits to them.  When each of the animals hears about the gruffalo’s hideous features and discovers that they are its favorite meal, they promptly release the mouse.

The mouse’s tall tale gets more complex with each retelling of it.  Imagine his surprise when he comes face to face with an actual gruffalo who matches his description to a tee!  The mouse’s next feat is to convince the gruffalo to not eat him!  Will he succeed?  I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that my daughter and I both enjoyed this movie and its sequel, The Gruffalo’s Child.


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The Gruffalo’s Child

Thank you JGPR for sending us this DVD to review!

After the resounding success of The Gruffalo, the author, Julia Donaldson released The Gruffalo’s Child in 2004. The Gruffalo’s Child was one of the biggest best-sellers of 2004 and won WHS Children's Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. Like the prequel, this children’s storybook has a 5-star rating on Amazon and a DVD based on it.

As spontaneous as the gruffalo came into existence, his daughter followed suit. Still being convinced that all the animals in the forest fear the mouse, he instructs his daughter to not go into the “deep dark wood” to avoid running into “the big bad mouse”. Because children are known to be curious, the young gruffalo defies her father’s orders and sneaks out in the middle of the night to see the mouse with her own eyes.

Along the way, she runs into the same snake, fox, and owl who have been out-witted by the mouse before. They gladly tell her the way to the mouse’s home since they believe that it enjoys feasting on gruffalos. The young gruffalo does indeed meet the mouse and joins the other creatures in being out-witted by him.

I’ll leave out the specifics since this thirty minute movie is worth experiencing first hand. While deception and lying is encouraged in this tale, there is a lesson taught about trusting and obeying your parents since they know what’s best for you.

The Gruffalo’s Child can be rented on Amazon for $3.99 or owned for a dollar more. It’s well worth picking up if you enjoyed the prequel. The best bargain is a double feature DVD that includes both movies and typically sells for less than $6.50.

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Power Rangers Super Megaforce: The Complete Season DVD Set

Thank you Lionsgate for sending us this DVD set to review!

Following the cliffhanger ending from the Power Rangers Megaforce DVD Collection, the Super Megaforce season resumes with the Earth in peril from an enormous alien fleet invading it.  The Power Rangers have exhausted all of their options and need a way to drive back the invaders.  In this series they learn to harness the powers of the legendary Power Rangers from the past. 

Fans of previous seasons will recognize the costumes and abilities used in this season.  I feel old knowing that this series has been running for twenty years now.  Some of the abilities used are from the following shows:

  • Mighty Morphin
  • Zeo
  • Turbo
  • Lost Galaxy
  • Lightspeed
  • Time Force
  • Jungle Fury
  • Ninja Storm
  • Dino Thunder
  • Mystic Force

Some of the cast members of the older series reprise their roles in the movie, The Legendary Battle, which is on the fifth DVD in this set.  The interviews of the cast in the extras are worth watching too.  My son enjoyed all of the discs and is looking forward to the feature film coming out this spring.  Unlike the show, the upcoming movie looks to have some decent special effects!

The characters and actors remain the same from the previous season and their friendships continue to grow and get tested as they face challenge after challenge.  Even on their day off, the Power Rangers get summoned to save the world yet again.  There are some good lessons including valuing and trusting your friends even when they are not in agreement with you.  There are some losses that the Power Rangers have to endure and even though some of their team may disappear, they are not completely gone or forgotten.  

Aside from the fighting, the only other moral concern is that the Power Rangers get “in tune” with their spirit animal to harness the power of the Jungle Fury rangers.  The good outweighs the negative in this series and I can see why this show has kept on going over the years.  For less than $10 you can own and enjoy this series which is mostly complete with the exception of a couple of holiday episodes.

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Civilization Revolution 2 Review

Since the dawn of time, humans have strived to build vast civilizations on earth. Rulers have sought to leave their mark on history by making advances in construction, culture and technology and by taking as much stuff from their neighbors as possible. The civilization series depicts this struggle from the Stone Age through to the modern era and beyond.

The PC versions of Civilization have given me more than a few bouts of ‘one more turn’ fever over the years. They are compelling classics that are epic in scope. But what of the trimmed down version for consoles and mobile devices? I played Civilization Revolution 2 on the iPad to see whether it could recreate the complex joy of the PC experience.

The game starts as all Civ games do. You control a group of wide-eyed settlers looking for the perfect spot to found their first city. Once the foundations of your soon-to-be great civilization are laid, it’s time to turn to the serious business of world domination. Explore your surroundings, choose technologies to develop, train units, and build municipal buildings for your city. The choices you make determine how quickly your civilization develops, scientifically, culturally, financially and militarily. Each of these four areas can lead to victory, so it is important to decide where to focus your efforts.

Civilization Revolution 2

You encounter rival civilizations along the way with which you can trade, swap technologies or fight. Most of the fighting occurs as a result of direct competition for land. Everyone is vying to found their cities in the juiciest spots, and this is where friction arises. There can be rewards in combat - If you manage to capture all three enemy capital cities, you win the game. But it also comes at a great cost - war is expensive, after all. Get bogged down in a long, protracted war and more peaceful civilizations will outstrip you in other areas of the game.

Though stripped down from the PC version, Civ Rev 2 manages to pack in a lot of features. Games can last for many hours and there is great pleasure in seeing your people rise from stone huts to build great wonders and powerful cities. There is a lot of replay value with many civilizations to choose from, each with their own bonuses and special troops. You earn achievements for winning in various different ways and unlock new civilizations to play with. There are also a variety of scenarios to play through that change the gameplay up, such as focussing solely on the space race, or defeating barbarian hordes.

Civ Rev 2’s graphics are crisp and clean with a style that supports understanding of gameplay. Units are slightly cartoonish without being too kiddy, and the UI is easily readable if not beautiful to behold. Given the platform, the scope of the terrain is pretty respectable and different land types and city bonuses are easy to make out.

Civilization Revolution 2

The menu music of Civ Rev 2 has the same orchestral world music vibe of the original games. It can sound a bit like a mixtape in a massage parlour, but is pretty unobtrusive, which is no bad thing. In game the ambient country noises and city sounds can get a little repetitive but they do add some character. There is very little music in-game, which is a good thing as any track would get stale over three to four hours of play.

Civilization Revolution 2 is obviously not as deep as the PC versions of the game. There are some great design decisions that have simplified it in a way that makes it easier to handle on the smaller screen but also a few more questionable ones. City management is mostly automated, which is great - I often found myself bored of moving workers around in the PC version. The stacking of units into three-strong armies is a little bit confusing though. At later stages of the game, individual units are pretty worthless so you have to wait till you have built three. When units become obsolete you cannot build them any more so any individual units not in armies are left in limbo. Curiously you are unable to disband these units so they just hang around, getting in the way.

Minor issues aside, Civ Rev 2 is a very strong iPad game. There are lots of features and oodles of replay value. This is a great introduction to the Civilization franchise for those who haven’t experienced it yet. Even if you have played the PC version, it’s still good for long train journeys or away days when you need to get a Civ fix.

Andy Trowers is a game design consultant, freelance ne’er do well and staff writer for www.canada.for-sale.com

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Lost and Found

Thank you Riverdale Ave. Books for sending us this e-book to review!

When Micky Neilson was eight months old he was kidnapped by his schizophrenic father and lived as a nomad in the desert.  He didn’t attend school until the seventh grade and his only socialization with other kids was in Boy Scouts. Although Micky thought his father’s stories and notions were strange, he loved him regardless.   

Sometimes Micky and his father would take refuge in Mormon churches, but religion didn’t last with Micky.  His life was pretty rough with being asked to steal or even point a gun at someone from a distance.  Before he was a teenager, he was in a foster home and would continue his relationship with his father via letters.

Micky goes into detail about his experience at different foster homes, jobs, serving in the Gulf War and even his love life.  As a gamer I found his experience at Blizzard Entertainment to be the most fascinating, though his pranks as a teenager are pretty hilarious as well.  I like the prank where he swapped out his boss’ telephone number with a customer's and had a new hire at the telemarketing company call him.

Some of the language in the book is a bit much for children to read and there is some mature content in terms of the war experiences and Micky’s first time with a prostitute.  There are also several references of drinking and partying.  Though Micky got baptized as a teenager his faith didn’t last long and he dabbled in using the Ouija board with his friends on several occasions.  

If you don’t mind those moral issues, this book is a very good read and has a happy ending despite the turbulent childhood Micky had.  The kindle edition sells for $9.99 and the paperback is twice the price.  I highly recommend it for fans of Blizzard games or great story telling in general.  

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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