Category Archives: reviews

Erik explains: Hulu vs HuluPlus on your TV

Q: Can I watch Hulu (free! not HuluPlus which is $8) on my TV in my living room?

A: Yes! I do this all the time with a Mac Mini. A less expensive option in 2013 is a $200 Chromebook.
So just get a:
$200 Chromebook w/ a HDMI plug
$350 Laptop w/ a HDMI plug
$550 Mac mini (which all have HDMI plugs) and a wireless keyboard and mouse

Normally you can only use HuluPlus via Roku (we love our Roku for Netflix!), AppleTV and other streaming services. But HuluPlus is a paid monthly subscription, whereas Hulu is free. As are most “recent episode” archives at the websites of the major networks — ABC/CBS/NBC/etc.

HuluPlus advantages:
– Of course, do the math… a $200 chromebook is 25 months of $8/month HuluPlus. And a Roku is very easy/handy vs it is a bit of a pain to use a laptop w/ one’s TV.
– more episodes
– HD (Hulu is not usually HD)

Hulu vs Chromebook. Chromebook allows:
– flash games
– web/facebook/email/twitter
– google docs / office-like apps
– use it in a different room than the TV occasionally

(Even better than a Chromebook… but more expensive/heavier/slower to start)
Hulu vs $350 laptop w/ HDMI. A laptop additionally a laptop allows:
– games/Steam
– real Microsoft Office apps

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Building a doll-house with magna-tiles

The photos of structures — dollhouses, parking garages, towers, etc, etc — that kids as young as 4 have built with magna-tiles over at amazon (LINK HERE) are pretty amazing and mirror the amazing (but also different) things that my kids have built. Who would have thought so many complicated mazes, castles, doll-houses, hot-wheels parking garages, stuffed-animal homes, airports, roads, etc, etc, etc. could be built with this one toy and keep kids of such different ages engaged! Interesting for the 4-year old and the 9-year old, and safe for the baby! And mom and dad don’t have to help. The kids do it totally on their own! What a blessing and the kids love it, of course! Independence! Imagination! Free and creative play!

As I’ve written about before…. this toy is really amazing! Better than legos! If you are balking at the ~$120 price for the 100-piece translucent set I recommend to everyone with kids I know, let me just tell you that after only a week I felt that this toy had already paid for itself in terms of the unbelievable hours of total engaging play and happiness it had given my 2 kids. And after probably a month, I bought a second set. So worth it!

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Marble Runs Review: Quadrilla vs… Hotwheels?

Parents (or dads?):

Yes, I know marble runs have a certain appeal. And yes, I know that Quadrilla claims to be for ages 4+ (!!!) but let’s face some facts:

1. Quadrilla is very cool.
2. Quadrilla is a bit tippy. Especially sets with curved tracks and sets with the older 4 loop funnels (notice, all the new sets including the set I recommend below have straight tracks and the new 3-loop funnels)
3. Even with the more accessible sets, one has to (at least for younger kids) think of this as something for mom or dad or baby-sitter to do WITH your kid/s.
4. The kids really do enjoy the sets when they are set up. But be ready for them to get knocked over too. And don’t stress!

OK, so here’s my recommended set:
VERTIGO (134 pieces). It has straight tracks, smaller funnels, that cool tippy thing. All good.

One of my favorite smaller sets is this one: Round About (91 pieces) (which is very similar to the BASIC from past years, but minus a few pieces)

(BTW, I can’t imagine the piece count is too too meaningful since some of the pieces are those little red “accelerator” pieces, etc. Vs the blocks and rails.)

HOTWHEELS

OK, but this review is also about comparing Quadrilla to Hot-wheels. My point is… kids love (even I did 35 years ago!) running marbles down hotwheels track or using hotwheels track in combination with a marble run setup (like Quadrilla) AND a good set of blocks. Here are some good blocks for example: Melissa & Doug 60-Piece Standard Unit Blocks

The basic idea is to skip the gimmicks and buy as much TRACK and BLOCKS as possible. And maybe a loop and a jump. For example, this one at amazon

Go for it!

SEE ALSO: All of my reviews

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Ooma Review

Thinking about dropping your traditional phone service for an IP-based phone? Look no further. Buy an OOMA TELO immediately and decision made!

OOMA TELO on Amazon.com. Are those enough 5-star reviews for you?

All you pay after the initial purchase is some ~$4 telecommunications fees you already pay on your “normal” telephone bill.

INSTALLATION:
People seem to be confused about this. But it couldn’t be easier. Just make sure your old phone system is unplugged from the street or Cable or FIOS or whatever it was connected to. And then plug the OOMA “to phone” line into a jack in your house and voila, every jack in your house now has phone.

Our Ooma (actually, we have 2… I also use a separate one for my home office phone number) have worked almost perfectly for 4 years. There are VERY occasional moments where the phone will weird-out, but that is (to me) totally worth the $200+ I save each year.

If you aren’t interested in saving money, then there is probably no reason to not just keep using your normal phone.

E-911 works PERFECTLY for us. Just make sure you keep your address updated.

The voicemail app at the website is great. There is also an interesting feature where you will get an email or SMS if someone calls 911 from the phone.

So, to summarize:
– You will like it
– Only drawback is VERY occasional flakiness
– Oh, and your phone won’t work when there is a power outage unless you are able to power your internet and the ooma device. This doesn’t bother me at all because 1) we hardly ever lose power and 2) if we do we can use a cell phone.

Some random advantages:
– 7-digit dialing local dialing. But you can enter 10 or 11. No confusion.
– no “1” needed for long distance calls. But you can!
– VERY cheap international calling via prepaid minutes at their website.
– You can bring your phone number with you. Just take the ooma on vacation and plug it in to the ethernet/wifi.
– I’ve personally had very good luck with their technical support when things have been glitchty.

OOMA TELO on Amazon.com.

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Review: Magnetic Stick N Stack STABLIZER Building Plate 12×12 inches

I have a few things to stay about the gigantic 12×12 inch “Magnetic Stick N Stack STABLIZER Building Plate 12×12 inches with 128 magnets enclosed LINK. It’s a nice addition to a magna-tiles collection, but…

Basically, it’s currently too expensive. I bought one, and the kids definitely use it, but unless you really have a lot of money to spend, I think it’s a much better use of funds to buy 2 packs (6 pieces) of the Manga Tiles 6″ squares LINK. 2 packs even cost less than 1 of the huge 12″x12″ tiles.

Sure, especially if you have 3 or 4 of the huge tiles you can
– use it to help beginners stabilize (I haven’t really noticed this much, but I bet it’s true)
– build big car parking garage structures and such, but those are of limited use and the 6×6″ are good at that too.
– they are too big/heavy to use as walls or vertically or diagonally

the 6″x6″ tiles have much more interesting uses:
– parking garages (albeit smaller)
– roads
– building walls
– anything really.

The huge 12″x12″ size definitely has a purpose, and I’m glad I bought one, but I will be buying more of the 6″x6″ ones next time.

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My Bueno y Sano Acton Review

Bueno y Sano in Acton is getting rough treatment by some yelp users in 2012/2013.
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bueno-y-sano-acton?sort_by=date_desc

Here is my assessment of the situation as an experienced Bueno goer from Amherst and Northampton (in the former Cha-Cha-Cha/Cha^3/bank location). I shook Bob Lowry’s hand as one of the very first customers in Amherst one day when he was demonstrating how to assemble to an employee. Before they even had tables! Back hey still had competition from another burrito place just down the alley… El Acuna.

Acton Bueno Complaints/My responses:

1. “Soft taco!?!”: Yeah, the soft tacos are not tacos. They should probably take those off the menu. It annoys people too much. And they are not a great deal.

2. “Bland”: My guess is that people are not realizing that there is some really tasty sauce (on the side from a pump). Yes, perhaps if one doesn’t realize that, it’s too mild. The hot sauce is hot enough for me. And I haven’t tried the green (very hot).

3. “Too expensive/too small”: I agree that Acton is making them a little too small. Though maybe it’s gotten a little better in recent months. Back in the day at least, the “normal” sized ones at Bueno Amherst would just about not close, and a “grande” would usually literally rip open it was so big. BIG.

That’s about all I have to say. Tastes like classic Bueno to me. Yum!

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REVIEW: LEGO CREATOR 3-in-1 brings back the LEGO magic!

OK you lego-loving moms and dads…

In case you were wondering where all the cool lego sets of your youth went and find yourself explaining “when I was a kid” look no further than the LEGO CREATOR 3-in-1 sets. After being unimpressed with the overly branded sets and the overly complicate technic sets, I have found lego nirvana for me and my kids!

My 5 and 8 year olds can typically build these LEGOs together without Ma or Pa. The 5 year old can pretty much to it himself, but likes when the 8 year old helps. But totally depends on the kids. Sometimes I help because I like LEGOS too!

BTW, if you have kids younger than 5 and 8, you should run not walk over to Amazon.com and grab a LEGO DUPLO TRAIN — the one with the electric engine. And buy a load of switches! The advantage being that with a 2 and 5 year old, you and/or the kids can play with this together without the 2-year old choking on anything or biting/tearing all the little yellow-arms off minifigs, etc, etc.

BTW, another aside… our 5 and 8 (and I!) still often have a lot of fun with the duplo train too. DUPLO fun does definitely not stop at age 5 if you buy tons of cool long pieces at bricklink.com or the like.

OK, so back to the 3-in-1 creator sets…

What I find works best is to keep each set in a gallon-sized ziploc/ziplock along with the instructions. One can of course mix sets altogether, and that is of course great for totally free-wheelin’ builidng but makes building from sets a hassle — takes a long time to find individual special pieces.

And speaking of “special pieces”, I think that (along with the 3-in-1 instructions!) makes these sets great. There are very few of what I call “special pieces” — pieces that are made pretty much just for that one set. Most are typical pieces found in many different sets.

OK, here are a few of our favorites (and some wish list items) around here. Most of these should be in the sub-$20 category. There are a lot of them. Here goes!

1. LEGO Creator Construction Hauler 31005 — 18 wheeler with digger/backhoe, cherry picker, offroad transporter with dune buggy

2. LEGO Creator Highway Speedster 31006 — sports car, roadster/hot-rod, tow-truck

3. LEGO Creator Super Racer 31002 — Formula 1/F1 race car, go-kart, quad bike/ATV

4. LEGO Creator Red Rotors 31003 — twin rotor helicopter, propeller plane, twin-rotor hovercraft

5. LEGO Creator Blue Roadster 6913 – -sports car, roadster/hot-rod, jeep/off-roader

6. LEGO Creator Thunder Wings 31008 — robot, car, jet plane

7. LEGO Creator Street Rebel 7291 — motorcycle, moped, chopper

8. LEGO Creator Propeller Adventures 7292 — propeller airplane, jet, hovercraft

9. LEGO Creator Super Soarer 6912 — jet plane, helicopter, dual-hull speed boat

10. LEGO Creator Dune Hopper 5763 — dune bugger, quad bike/ATV, trike/motorcycle

11. LEGO Creator Helicopter 5866 — mountain rescue helicopter, air show bi-plane, speed boat (online instructions for 4th model: high-speed swamp boat)

12. LEGO Creator Fierce Flyer 31004 — animals! eagle, scorpion, beaver

13. LEGO Creator Power Mech 31007 — robot, helicopter, pickup truck

Any I am missing? There are some more expensive ones too, but I prefer these cheaper ones. The more expensive ones get to be a bit much for my kids. And older kids I think would prefer Technic or Mindstorms. Most of these are pretty recent (circa 2012 or 2013) and should be available at Amazon. Just watch for price-gouging. If stock is low, stay away from the sellers looking for prices above MSRP.

You might be asking… how many different sets can LEGO make with a car, helipcopter, plane, ATV, hovercraft. One of every color perhaps? The tricky thing is that they don’t label the sets all that clearly. A helicopter can also just have “Rotor” or “Copter” in the name, or might not mention any of this at all if it is one of the alternate 2 designs.

See also:
REVIEW: Magna-tiles vs magformers

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