Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Frugal, Healthy Microwave Popcorn

Do you enjoy microwave popcorn, but are looking for a less expensive and probably far healthier way to enjoy this treat? America's Radio Sweetheart Jesse Thorn recently noted on the Maximum Fun weblog that you can make an easy snack by putting popcorn and a spritz of canola oil into a paper lunch bag and tossing it into your "radar range" for a couple of minutes.

For a little more initial investment, you can pop with little or no oil using a bowl specially designed for microwaving popcorn. I bought a Presto PowerPop a few years ago, and it continues to provide amazing popping performance. You should be able to find one for under 15 bucks. I use it without oil, then add some fat-free butter spray and salt after popping. Not only do I think this tastes better than what you buy in the bags, but you know for sure it isn't flavored with a cocktail of weird chemicals (that you didn't add yourself).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Review: Tamagotchi Connection V5

A couple of months ago, this product was sent to me for review. Since the PR firm involved in promoting this toy was nice enough to provide me with one, I decided to go ahead and review it despite the fact that my own kid is not nearly old enough to be in its target demographic.

Remember those Tamagotchis from years and years ago? They were little, egg-like electronic devices with a pixellated representation of a cute little baby creature on a black-and-grey LCD screen. You pushed buttons to feed them, play with them, send them to the toilet, etc. I never had one when I was a kid, but I knew enough about them to understand this Achewood comic strip about a fictional toy called "Click Robot". This V5 is pretty much the same deal, only now it's an entire family of little creatures in your care, and they've added some features as well as an online component.

The basic functions of the toy are cute enough. The little things dance around and play as long as you keep them happy. The games that you play with them are fun, but quickly grow tiresome as there isn't much to them. Sometimes they get bored and demand that you "train" them. This involves picking from three provided activities and then watching your creatures do it. I "trained" them to make a paper airplane, and their pixellated expressions conveyed just how much this blew their tiny tamagotchi minds.

I think this would be an okay toy for a kid who wants a pet but whom you think needs a bit more experience with responsibility before they can take care of something for which there are actual consequences for neglect. They toy is kind of fun at first, but after a few days of responding to occasional beeps keeping the things fed and happy it grows tiresome.

The manufacterer also provides a website where your Tamagotchi family can interact with other such creatures in a worldwide, online community. I didn't even attempt to mess around with this. If this were actually my kid's toy, I would be quite annoyed that it was asking him to spend additonal time serving his Tamagotchi overlords via online games, etc. I think the company would be better off putting more effort into making the toy a more robust, self-contained experience rather than luring youngsters into an online "community" as so many toys, TV shows, and breakfast cereals are doing these days.

It's good that kids are comfortable using computers - I think it's a legitimate way to spend time learning, socializing and being entertained - but I don't like when I get the feeling that a marketing ploy is trying to stake a claim to as much of a child's time as possible in order to build brand loyalty. Some kids in my neighborhood have been working on building a fort of some kind in the trees beyond my backyard. At first, I was just annoyed to see kids out running wild and making a mess. On further reflection, though, I thought about how they were outdoors, enjoying the spring, working with their hands, cooperating on something, and using their imaginations. I remember such play from my own childhood, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to run around like that.

Good, bad, or okay: Okay!

Get a Free One: Since I got this thing for free and my kid is many years to young to play with it, I'd like to give it away to a Clever Dad reader. Please comment below and include your first name if you're interested. I'll choose one of the commenters at random and announce the winner on this site. Then you can email me your address and I'll ship you this lovely, pre-played-with toy that has been chewed on by my toddler.