Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: Laser Maze Jr Logic Game

Laser Maze Jr is a puzzle game (like Rush Hour) that features a laser built into the board, 3 obstacles, 2 rocket ship targets, 5 satellite mirrors, and 1 splitter. Unlike Rush Hour, Laser Maze Jr is deliberately not compatible with the adult version of the same game. The reason behind this is that the adult version allows you to pick up and move the laser, which would be dangerous for a little kid to do since the kid might shine the laser into somebody else's or his own eyes.

The game is set up like Rush Hour: you get a bunch of cards that tell you how to set up each puzzle, and the goal is to make all the target rockets on the board light up using the pieces that you're allowed to use. There are several problems with the components. First of all, the laser is very low powered and subtle. In fact, in a room with windows and bright sunlight, you cannot tell whether the targets are lit up! You'll have to draw the curtains to make it obvious.

Secondly, and much more importantly, the components are small and easy to lose, and Thinkfun's policy is $5 per part. Fortunately, the lossage occured within Amazon's window (in fact, the game could have arrived with one of the mirrors missing). With such an unfriendly policy it was a no brainer to return the entire game to Amazon. One way to have mitigated the lossage problem would have been to have a decent carry bag bundled in the box, or some way to lock unused pieces to the board, but neither of those features were available.

With all the design defects with the product and the extremely , I would not recommend this puzzle to parents. Wait until the kids are old enough not to lose pieces.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: Batman and Psychology - A Dark and Stormy Knight

There was an audible 2-for-1 promotion that included Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight.If anyone's going to have psychological issues, it's gotta be Batman, so this sounded like a fun read (or in this case, listen).

In practice, it's pretty boring. No, Batman isn't insane (despite dressing up as a bat). Neither does he suffer from PTSD, multiple personality disorder, or any of the alphabet soup of problems he should have. Given what he is, what he does, and the world he lives in, he truly is the best possible person he could be. That's pretty boring.

The analysis of his rogue's gallery proves to be more interesting: what are the aspects of his personality that his villains reflect? What about his femme fatales? His relationship with the father figures in his life? And the relationships with the various Robins? How to reconcile all of the "what-if" stories that have been written over the years? How about the campy TV series, the Tim Burton movies and the Christopher Nolan movies?

The author, Travis Langley has an excellent command of the source material, and uses them to good effect (though I noticed that he quotes much more from the Chris Nolan movies than the other movie materials). He's conducted several interviews and/or been in comic book convention panels with various Batman writers. I certainly couldn't remember even half the Batman trivia the book provides, though I suspect Tom Galloway would probably be able to top it and correct any typos in the quotations.

Overall, the book does do a good job of dispensing with the various myths propagated by years of comic book stories. "No, the Joker would not get away with the insanity defense, nor would any of the other comic book villains." Multiple personality disorder cannot consistently recur with a blow to the head. The book even cursorily covers parenting styles!

But despite all that, the book never really captured me, despite what should be fascinating subject matter. Maybe because the psychology of a character that's been through multiple authors just can't be that consistent, or that I'm much more interested in Batman's role as a symbol and place in popular culture than in the psychology of what actually makes Bruce Wayne tick. I found myself switching between this and other audio books to give the grim subject matter a break.

Thus: not recommended even if you're a Batman fan.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: Rush Hour Jr

I saw a copy of Rush Hour Jr for sale during the holidays and grabbed it, having had fun memories of the original, adult version. The game is essentially a "slide puzzle", but with restricted direction of movements for the "cars and trucks" and a goal of getting the key piece out.

The game components are better than the adult version: the toy vehicles aren't any better made, but the game comes with a carry bag, and the vehicles are kid-themed: buses, fire trucks, police cars, and of course, the ice cream truck "key" piece.

I expected Bowen to have to struggle with the puzzle, but he actually got to puzzle #26 before getting stuck! The best thing about this puzzle game is that if/when he runs out of the puzzles in the base piece, the expansion card decks are fully compatible with the adult versions of the game, so more curated puzzles are available. Whenever Bowen got frustrated, he'd put away the game for a few days and then come back and start all over at Puzzle #1. I'm rediscovering that kids just don't get bored of repetition the way adults do.

There are Android app versions of the game, but I discovered that they were all geared for adults and the puzzles are a bit too hard for Bowen. Curation is really what you're paying for, and of course, there's something satisfying about pushing the plastic pieces on a board versus swiping away at a phone.

To the extent that your child likes puzzles, this is a cool, easily portable kit that can actually engage your child for a good afternoon at a time. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: Heat Moisture Exchanger

If you travel with a full-size CPAP machine (which I do when I travel with family), then you might consider bringing the humidifier as well. However, the humidifier adds a huge amount of weight, not just because the humidifier itself is bulky and includes a heating unit and water chamber, but also because the power supply need to drive it also needs to size up!

This winter, on our travels, I looked at the HME attached to my Z1 CPAP and realized that it could also serve as a replacement humidifier for the Resmed S9!

The HME is supposedly disposable and needs to be replaced every week or so. (In practice, every 10 days is sufficient) For the last 3 days of the trip I decided to do without just to see. It was horrible. I went from being able to use the CPAP all night to taking off the machine after 4-5 hours of therapy. (This might have contributed to my catching a nasty virus on the flight back!)

Suffice to say, next time I buy a batch of HMEs, I'll be buying far more than for use with just the Z1! This is essential equipment and it doesn't go bad and I can easily buy enough to qualify for a discount!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Disney Magic Kingdom and Universal Islands of Adventure

On paper, it looked like a good idea to return the rental car in the Orlando area, and visit the theme parks there before returning to California. My idea was to visit the Kennedy Space Center on the transition. A deluge of storms and a wrong turn on the highway made that plan worthless.

My memories of Magic Kingdom were colored by the 2014 visit. At that time, the crowds were minor, and we could do every ride Bowen could do in 2 days.

This time, the clouds were extensive,and our fast passes of limited use as all the good rides were already taken. The waits were long and the food expensive. The fireworks was something to see, but it disrupted the kids bedtime enough that they were cranky. I feel no desire to ever repeat the Magic Kingdom visits except under some very ideal conditions.

With that, our expectations for Islands of Adventure was muted. The customer service was horrible, with long lines just to wait for the tickets an app that refused to issue tickets! But once into the park it was actually a better experience than the Magic Kingdom. The lines were short except for one ride (the King Kong experience), and more importantly, Bowen loved the Spiderman ride.

The Spiderman ride is a 4D ride, with water, heat, and 3D glasses. The roller coaster experience along with the other sensory inputs were so much fun that Bowen went on the ride 5 times! We tried some of the other rides, like the Jurassic jungle experience, and I tried the Hulk roller coaster, but none of them were as complete as the Spiderman one. We didn't stay too late, but one nice thing about the park was that if you did stay late, the park's lines become even more diminished and it's a much more pleasant experience.

If I had this trip to do over I'd visit the Islands of Adventure first and stay late to that one, and not do Magic Kingdom again. One interesting feature is that while Disney now owns Marvel, Orlando Universl has an exclusive license to use those characters in a theme park, which is why Disney's theme parks don't actually have Marvel characters! Just buy your tickets ahead of time at your hotel or online and you won't have the massive wait we had to get into the park.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Florida Keys 2016

This winter break, we took the family over to the Florida's Keys area for a warm weather visit. There are a few reasons the Keys is attractive: first, it's in the continental US, so the flights are fairly easy, and the areas are familiar. Even stores like Costco and Target are available, which makes shopping for supplies much easier than some of the more exotic trips. Secondarily, it's almost at the Caribbean, which makes the water warm enough for swimming and snorkeling, as well as providing ideal location for a refresh dive. Added to the attractiveness is the idea that much of the Keys will be gone in a few decades as sea levels rise, so we should see it while we can! Houses in the area, for instance, are already built on stilts, with the idea that when floods and storms happen you would escape by car and abandon your garage/parking area to nature.

Neither Google nor Facebook no longer allow embedded slide shows of albums to blogger, so you now have to put up with a crummy web-link if you want to see the photo album.

Because it was our first time in the area, we screwed up a lot. First of all, we booked our rental house in Marathon, instead of Key West or Key Largo. When I looked at the map, I naively thought that Marathon being between Largo and West would make an ideal base from which to commute to both sides. What I didn't know was that traffic in the Keys is terrible, and Florida drivers are much worse than California drivers by several orders of magnitude. Commuting from Marathon to Key Largo was an ordeal during traffic hours, and there was one day when we abandoned a trip to Key West because there was a 4 hour traffic jam!

We did a dive trip from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. All those months spent teaching Bowen how to snorkel finally paid off as he enjoyed the water and loved looking at fishes. His limit was basically his ability to keep warm in the water. His favorite movie quickly became Finding Dory!

On New Year's Day, we went to Key West for the Yankee Freedom to ferry us to Dry Tortugas National Park. This place was touted as having the best snorkeling in the Keys and lived up to its reputation. While most tourists stayed near the beach, if you make it over to the coal pilings, it's like swimming in an aquarium!

We paid a visit to Bahia Honda State Park. Unfortunately, the wind and waves made it impossible to do any snorkeling, and the swimming was mediocre. Both kids enjoyed the sand and sun though.

One interesting feature of Marathon was that we could easily visit the Turtle Hospital. You need to make reservations for this, but it was all Bowen could talk about for a few days. The facilities were indeed impressive and it's interesting to see what sort of ailments are solutions the hospital developed. It's well worth visiting, and yes, some of the turtles were named after the mutant ninjas.

On our second visit to Key West, we visited the Hemingway House. At most museums you would avoid the dry, boring tour. Not here! The tours are led by funny guides who did a good job of making the writer's life interesting (not that any life which involved 4 marriages, several wars, and affairs needed a lot of help!).

We got to watch the sunset, but boy, the crowds were something as well. The house we were in had a dock, so we rented a tandem kayak to explore the area, and did some final snorkeling before leaving for the Orlando area.

If I had to do this trip all over again, I would either stay at Key Largo or Key West, preferably with a base in each area rather than trying to split the difference. The rest of it you're dependent very much on the weather anyway as to how good the snorkeling is. One thing worth trying is to rent a boat in Miami and sail/motor down to the Keys. It's not as pleasant as the BVIs, but there are enough anchorages that it would be prettier than trying to see the place by land.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: Panasonic Ergo Fit Earbuds

The Playstation Vita supports bluetooth, but in a funky way that disconnects every time it goes to sleep, and occasionally finds it difficult to pair. I wasn't willing to spend a lot of money on dedicated headphones for it, so got the Panosonic Ergo Fit  Earbuds, which had great reviews on Amazon.

The ear buds are surprisingly comfortable and do a reasonable job of sealing out outside noise. What's really nice about traditional headphones using the traditional headphone port is that the power requirements are minimal and the devices last forever, whether they're smartphones or PS Vitas.

For $8 + tax, these are a great deal. In fact, I wish I'd sprung for the version with the inline mic so it can serve as a backup for my regular bluetooth headsets.