Category: "Product Reviews"

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You Might Have Hard Water - June 18, 2014

If you lived through the 90s you might remember the brand of soap Zest. Like any soap, they claimed to be the best, or at least that they had some advantage over other brands. The biggest claim they made was that Zest didn’t leave behind soap scum. You might recall the slogan, You’re not fully clean unless you’re Zestfully clean!

In one of their ad campaigns they claimed that if you weren’t feeling clean after a shower it might be because soap scum was still on your body, and that happens when you have hard water. So their commercials were like, If your soap won’t lather well and your skin feels dry after you’ve showered, you might have hard water. And so on. In fact, they offered a free test for hard water. You just had to call 1-800-HARD-WATER and they’d mail you the test. They showed you how to use it in the commercial. Basically it was a cardboard strip and you put it in the water, and if it turned brown, you had hard water.

My family never called the number, but Zest ended up sending the tests out all over the place in junk mail bundles. I’m not going to lie, my family was pretty excited about taking the test. We all gathered together in the bathroom for the occasion. The problem with our particular test was that it was already brown. We hadn’t even taken the test and we had hard water! Well, my mom figured maybe it would turn back to the original color, white, if we didn’t have hard water. I wasn’t so sure about that myself, but we put the test in the water anyway.

Sure enough, the strip didn’t change back to white. It stayed brown. My mom was convinced we had hard water, and she was all upset that our water softener wasn’t working. She was like, Why are we wasting all this energy and salt on a water softener that doesn’t work? And I was like, No, mom I think it works fine, I think it’s the test that isn’t working. She was all upset for days.

Quite frankly I knew that the water softener was working, because it only softened the water in the bathroom and not in the kitchen, and I could tell the difference. And quite frankly, I liked the hard water better. It seemed to me that hard water was more manly. I didn’t want no gentle, sissy, soft water. I wanted it strong, solid, firm, and hard. In the end, we decided to get Zest. It was fine. A pretty good soap actually.

The VW Jetta - September 17, 2010

I don’t watch much television, but when I do (and I think most people will agree with me) the most annoying thing is the commercials. Most commercials are loud and flashy. They irritate the senses. They are played at a louder volume than regular TV shows. There is almost nothing redeeming about them. I have specifically avoided buying certain products because they had annoying commercials.

I remember one commercial that I really hated. It was a back-to-school commercial for one of the local department stores. It was played during pretty much every commercial break during the afternoon cartoons. The commercial featured flashing images of products sold in the store, in one scene this kid was wearing an alien mask and holding a ray gun, and an announcer saying, Are you ready to go back to school? While the commercial was annoying in and of itself, that’s not what really bothered me about it. What really bothered me about it was that it reminded me that I had to go back to school. Which was the last thing I wanted to be thinking about. This was in between Elementary School and Middle School, and that reminder was all the more stressful for me. It seemed to me like I saw that commercial a million times, each time reminding me of how close school was.

In the past I’ve blogged about specific commercials that I hate, and that’s not what I want to do today. No, I want to declare, that in the vast conglomeration of television advertisements, there exist a few that emerge from the darkness as some of the best commercials of all time. And some of these are on the verge of cinematic quality. Usually I forget a commercial as soon as I see it, but there have been a few that I have always remembered.

None of the truly great commercials that I have seen have been on air recently. Indeed, I think the quality of commercials has gotten worse every year. One that I’ve always remembered was a Coca-cola commercial. This was played around 2001 to 2002, the visuals featured some teenagers riding in a subway car, a girl is asleep in one guy’s arms, and a narrator is describing the night. At one point he narrator used the phrase, that was the best night of my life. This was a truly great commercial. Every time I saw it, I thought to myself, how cool it would be to be riding on the train with my friends, not doing anything, but still having the best night of my life. Yeah, I would have liked that. Unfortunately for Coca-cola it didn’t really make we want to buy their product, but I loved their advertisement none-the-less. I was lucky to find the commercial on YouTube, check it out, you’ll probably want to watch it more than once. Even today, I’m still looking for that moment when I can think to myself, this is the best night of my life.

There are a few more commercials that I’ve remembered that didn’t make me want to buy their product, and, in fact, their product wasn’t even meant for me. For example I remember a Playtex Bra commercial where the bra was actually painted onto the woman during the course of the commercial. Admittedly bra commercials, and specifically Victoria’s Secret commercials, might get my attention at the moment, but the painting one was the only one that I actually remember, probably because of the original idea, and the comic value of it.

Now while commercials don’t often compel me to buy anything, there is an exception. My very favorite commercial, and I mean my favorite of all time, has influenced me in a major way. This commercial had the highest cinematic quality of any other commercial that I’ve ever seen. By that, I mean it had action, it had narrative, and it had meaning. This commercial actually made me want to own the product advertised. To this day I still want to own that product, and by the title of this post you might guess that the commercial was for the Volkswagen Jetta. Yes, I want to own a Jetta because of a commercial that I saw back in 2001.

The commercial is entitled (and the fact that it has a known title should at least hint at it’s cinematic value), Big Day. It features an intense driver speeding, in a Jetta, down the highway. It’s raining, it’s dramatic. Meanwhile a bride is getting ready for a wedding. The bride sequences are shown in parallel. The rush is apparent. The man down-shifts in a no-passing zone in order to accelerate past a car that is towing more than it can handle. The frustration is clear as this guy screams while he is stuck in traffic. The Jetta finally stops in front of a church. To add to the drama, a song entitled, One Million Miles Away, is playing in the background. As I said, the guy finally arrives in front of the church, then rushes in as this minister is saying, speak now, or forever hold your peace. The bride looks at him, the groom looks at him. Some words fall silently out of the guys’s mouth. The woman takes a breath, and the commercial ends.

I found this to be a truly fantastic commercial, and I have wanted to own a Jetta since. I don’t own a Jetta now, but that’s only because it is more practical for me to own a pickup truck at the moment. Believe me, though, some day I will buy a brand new Jetta, right off the lot. That is my dream car. Given the choice between a Jetta, a luxury car such as a Mercedes, or a powerful sports car like a Ferrari, I would choose the Jetta, no question. This commercial has affected me that much.

A friend of mine told me he thinks that Jettas are chick cars, and that guys shouldn’t be driving them. All I can say to him is, that the guy in that commercial wasn’t a chick. I don’t care what anyone thinks about Jettas, I’m getting one some day, and that commercial is the reason why. If Volkswagen stops producing the Jetta before I have a chance to get one, I’ll be devastated. I mean, I’d get a used one, of course, but what I really want, is a brand new one. Every car I’ve gotten to date has been used, I don’t want that for my Jetta. I want a new one. I might even lease, so I can get a new one every few years.

Some might consider it an unusual dream car, but I don’t care. Going back to the commercial, I want a silver one like the guy had, and, of course, it has to be a manual transmission. How else would I go about down-shifting to pass by a trailer-towing car in a no-passing zone?

Categories: Product Reviews

KFC's Double Down - May 23, 2010

First off, let me say that the Double Down Sandwich from KFC has got to be one of the biggest jokes to have ever existed. You might have seen the commercial for it. In the commercial there are some guys talking about a standard chicken sandwich, complaining that it takes two to fill [you] up. Okay, sure, sometimes this is true. You do need two sandwiches, but KFC’s answer to this was not to add more chicken, it was to replace the bread with chicken. The Double Down is a cheese and bacon sandwich, with the bread replaced with chicken breasts.

I had heard about this sandwich on talk radio before I saw the commercial, and to be honest, just hearing about it, made me want to try one. It sounded good to me. It didn’t necessarily sound like a good idea, but it did sound good. I had to have one. So I looked up the sandwich on the internet, and watched the aforementioned commercial. I was still interested in the sandwich. I talked to some friends of mine who wanted to try the sandwich as well.

The three of us went to KFC. Two of us ordered our Double Downs. My other friend didn’t want to try it, it sounded too unhealthy to him. I on the other hand, was very excited to get it. So excited, in fact, that when I got up to get my order I bumped into a waitress and accidentally felt her up. Well, like all famed sandwiches of legend, it isn’t simply wrapped up in paper, it comes in a box, and it was a big box. I was excited. So after the embarrassment with the waitress I took the sandwich to my table. My friends joked about the waitress, and with a good chuckle I opened the box.

It may look like a lot of meat, but get ready for disappointment. (This photo was taken by a professional.)
I was disappointed right away. The thing was so small. It was maybe two and a half inches long and the whole thing was smaller that my fist. It was going to take maybe two bites to down it. (Hence the name Double Down, I guess.) It would have easily taken two of these to fill me up, maybe three. I don’t know if they are this small in every restaurant. I even know that commercials make everything look bigger, but I didn’t expect it to be that small. The price-tag on it warranted much more sandwich than what I got.

Feeling disappointed, I ate. The experience was already ruined for me because of how small it was. I had no more excitement. I felt empty inside. Sure it tasted okay. Not particularly great, just your standard KFC taste, with a cheese that wasn’t particularly appetizing, and bacon. Frankly, bacon doesn’t even go with chicken. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that good either. I still felt empty when I was done eating.

Admittedly, I got it for the novelty. I had to be able to say I tried it. I knew I’d have only one. I don’t frequent KFC, maybe once a year at most, and KFC got me. This experience was my once a year. Last time I went to KFC was for the free chicken that Oprah sponsored. So I acknowledge that this gimmick of a sandwich worked to get me in there, but I ordered only the sandwich, no sides or anything, so they didn’t get me that bad. I had to eat more food when I got home to really get filled up, though.

Would I recommend the sandwich? Sure, it wasn’t that bad, it was even kind of fun to know I was eating a sandwich where the bread was chicken, but honestly, as I’ve said, it’s a gimmick. This is not a sandwich you are going to go out of your way to eat. A sandwich needs bread, and other fast food chicken sandwiches are cheaper, and will fill you up more.

Categories: Product Reviews

Lasik Surgery - March 30, 2010

I had Lasik surgery to correct my eyesight on August 6, 2003, and I want to give an honest opinion about it. I also want to talk about the procedure as I remember it. I’d first gotten glasses when I was fourteen years old. I hated them right away, and got contact lenses soon after. I had one serious problem with contacts, though, and that is that I would never take them out. I’d usually wear a pair of lenses for about two weeks straight. I told my eye doctor about this. He then switched me to a brand that was approved for long term wear, but he still recommended that I stopped wearing them overnight. After years and years of these lenses, I finally gave up on them altogether, and started wearing glasses. That was only a reminder of how much I hated glasses. Finally, I went to my eye doctor and said, I want to get Lasik surgery. That would be the best decision concerning my eyesight that I ever made.

My doctor told me that since I hadn’t been wearing contacts for over six months I could get the surgery right away. He performed an eye exam, both to make sure that my eyes were okay, and also to make sure my vision wasn’t getting worse. I suppose if your vision is getting worse, you are not a candidate for Lasik. Well, he was satisfied, and so he set up an appointment with the local laser center. This is the first piece of advice I want to share if you decide to get Lasik. Go through your eye doctor. Do not go directly to a clinic, and do not look for cheap sales. It’s your eyesight, it is very important. You want the best for it. I’m not saying that cheap Lasik is necessarily bad, but it is my understanding that low rates usually mean that there will be more costs later down the line. You’ll be charged for follow-up examinations, and usually most people aren’t qualified for the low rates. When I went through my doctor, the cost of the treatment, included one years worth of follow up visits. I paid only one time, up front, for the whole treatment.

My appointment was about two weeks later. Since I wasn’t going to be able to see after the surgery, I had my mom drive me to the clinic. When I first got to the clinic, they checked my eyes again, and when they were satisfied that I was good to go, I wrote them a check right there, and I was off to the surgery.

For the surgery itself, you are laying on your back. The first thing they do is numb your eyes, then they cut off the front part of the cornea, and sort of fold it aside. You are awake for the whole procedure. You see them coming at you with a scalpel. They tighten a lot of braces around your eyes and head to prevent it from moving. When the cornea is out of the way, they start up the laser. The instructions are simple. They tell you to look at the colored dot, and don’t move your eyes. You are worried that you are going to move your eyes. They tell you to keep focusing on the colored dot. I believe it was red or green, but I can’t remember for sure. The laser fires up. It is very loud, it sounds like Rice Krispies on overdrive, it is very nerve wracking. It feels warm. It fires for a few seconds each time. They tell you to keep focusing on the colored dot. Everything is black, except for the colored dot, and it looks pretty blurry, so you’re not sure exactly where to focus your eyes. The laser is all computer controlled, so you aren’t really too worried. The laser fires for the last time.

They move the laser away. Then they replace your corneas. After a minute or two they take all the braces off from around your head, and off your eyeballs. They tell you that you can get up. You walk out into the hall. You can tell right away that you can see a hell of a lot better. Then after a few minutes the sensitivity sets in.

By the time you are being driven home, you can’t open your eyes at all. Your eyes cannot stand any light whatsoever. Sunglasses will not help that first day. The best thing you can do is put your head under a thick blanket. That way if you open your eyes by accident, the light won’t burn your eyes. You can listen to the radio, you can listen to the TV, but whatever you do, just don’t look at any light. Not that it’s bad to, it just doesn’t feel very good. That’s how it was for me, anyway.

After the second day, I was okay. They said I should wear sunglasses for a week, and they gave me a pair covered my entire range of vision, they weren’t very flattering. To be honest though, I stopped wearing sunglasses after three days. I was fine. I went for my follow up visits. A week later, my vision was 20/15. It had been something close to 20/200. I was very happy to be able to wake up in the morning and see. Later follow up visits revealed no problems. Now, I was told that some people may need a second treatment. They do charge you more for this, but it is much less than the original treatment. I did not need a second treatment, and it is my understanding that most people do not.

I would like to talk about cost. Like I said I got the treatment in 2003, and the cost was right around $2000.00 for both eyes. That is probably more than you would ever spend on glasses or contact lenses for your whole life, but it is worth it. The surgery may be cheaper now, I don’t really know, but I had no problems paying that much money, and I would gladly pay three times as much as I did, if that’s what it cost. It is so worth it. They did say say if I needed a follow up treatment it would be about another $600.00, but I did not need this, and I wouldn’t have had a problem paying it.

So what of the horror stories? I honestly don’t know. The surgery went fine for me, and as best as I can tell, it goes fine for most people. I really went into it not knowing much about it. I didn’t want to hear any horror stories. I did not experience a horror story. I can’t say that you won’t have problems, but I think the probability of having a problem is pretty low.

Lasik is the best unessential surgery you can get if you don’t have 20/20 vision. The shear joy of being able to see without the need of corrective lenses is worth any price. If you are contemplating getting the surgery, don’t hesitate, do it. If you don’t have the money for it, save up. If your spouse wants the surgery, get it for them. Your quality of life goes up when you have 20/20 vision. Do, however, go through the correct channels. Talk with an eye doctor, do not look for discounts or sales. No matter what you end up paying, it’s worth it. The bottom line, is that I have been a lot happier since I had Lasik corrective surgery. I highly recommend it.

Categories: Product Reviews

Software Review: Trend Micro Internet Security - March 16, 2010

One question I have been frequently asked is what anti-virus software I recommend. I usually don’t bother answering this question, because most people expect to hear something like McAfee or Norton, or something else that they’ve heard of, or they want something free. I will, however, give my recommendation here, take it for what you will. I use Trend Micro Internet Security, and I recommend it.

Previously called PC-Cillin (get it, like penicillin for the PC) Trend Micro has vastly improved over the years. Today is is a fully equipped internet security package with firewall, anti-virus, antispyware, anti-malware, and anti-pretty-much-all-internet-threats.

It actually comes in three varieties. There is Trend Micro Anti-Virus which features only the anti-virus software, I suppose you would just be using Windows Firewall and Windows Defender for other internet threats. Then there is Trend Micro Internet Security, which is what I recommend. And finally Trend Micro Internet Security Pro, which has all the features of the standard edition, plus some anti-fishing protection, but to be honest most of the features in PRO are really necessary, they don’t work well, and are meant for people who are easily scammed, it does feature a few gigabytes of online storage for backing up your files, but not really worth the higher price.

So what makes Trend Micro so great? Well, the first big deal when it comes to internet security software is whether or not it is seriously going to slow down your system. Trend Micro has always gotten this right. It is the least invasive to memory, processor power, and bandwidth of all the software I’ve used. In my experience Norton is the worst for hogging system resources, which throws it out of the water right away. McAfee isn’t as bad as Norton, but it doesn’t compare to Trend Micro. The simple fact that Trend Micro runs smoothly in the background, updating itself, and performing periodic scans without feeling your computer slow down when these things are occurring is the reason I recommend Trend Micro.

The software interface itself is a good selling point as well. It’s simple, on the main screen it tells you if you have any serious threats, it lets you know when your subscription is going to expire. It is easy to figure out how to force the software to scan immediately or to update itself, which you never have to do anyway as this all happens automatically. It even lets you take a look at your home network, so that you can see what computers or other devices are connected to the network, so you can easily see if someone is stealing your internet.

Now the firewall controls are fairly strait forward, there are four basic settings: maximum, medium, low, and minimum. Medium is the recommended setting, and I have had now problems working with this setting. Maximum isn’t recommended, because it blocks everything except what you approve, but when necessary that option is available. Now, the advanced settings are a little more complicated, and really unless you know how the internet works you shouldn’t even mess with them, but it does feature full port and application control. For the most part however, if you run a program, and it tries to do something suspicious the software will come up with a warning and you can select allow if you think the software is save. With newer versions of Trend Micro these warnings are very infrequent as the software, in general, knows what kind of internet communication is safe. For the most part installing Trend Micro with the default settings work well for the average user.

Now, about the protection itself, I’m not really an expert, and I doubt that my computer is a big target for internet attacks, and I’m not really doing anything suspicious on the internet that I might get a virus, but I have never had any viruses or other problems, so by my best guess, and by other reviews I’ve read the protection itself is very satisfactory. Now, no internet security software is going to be perfect, it is computationally impossible for internet security to be perfect, but as far as internet security goes Trend Micro is generally ranked in the top ten by experts.

I do want to talk about pricing as well. When you buy the software you get a one year subscription to the service. Now I know there will be complaints right there, a lot of people will simply want free software. Well in my experience the free software is the worst software. Windows includes a basic firewall and basic malware and spyware protection, but this software is very crude, other software that you can find for free is very crude as well. A crude firewall isn’t necessarily bad, but it usually doesn’t have the options of something that you would pay for, and basic malware and spyware protection doesn’t really matter either because these types of software are usually pretty much the same, and so it isn’t hard to identify them. Virus protection, however, is where you really need to pay for the software. Viruses are constantly be developed and deployed, and when you pay a company to provide you with the latest protection they are going to do a better job than a company that puts something out for free. This is why Microsoft doesn’t include anti-virus free with Windows, they know it is a lot of work to protect against the latest viruses, and that is work that people need to get paid to do. So I’ll tell you right away, forget about any kind of free software. Now, sometimes a company or university will offer virus protection to their employees, customers, or students for free. This doesn’t mean the software is free, the company or university is paying for it, and so if you get offers through your school, company, or internet service provider you’ll probably be getting the kind of protection you need.

Concerning the pricing of Trend Micro as I said the software includes one year of service, then you have to renew. Now, the renewal is $40.00 to $50.00 depending on what kind of offers they have at the time. This is why I never renew. I just buy a new copy every year. This gets you the newest version of the software, and it is usually cheaper to buy it at a retail outlet. For example, right now Amazon has Trend Micro for only $27.14. Quite a bit of savings over a subscription renewal. You can usually find a digital only copy on eBay for less, though some of those sellers might be shady. The subscription to Trend Micro also includes usage on up to three computers, so if you get it for under $30.00 you’re paying less than $10.00 per computer for internet security, which really isn’t a bad deal at all.

The bottom line about Trend Micro is that it is one of the best performing internet security suites. It won’t bog down your computer, and in general you don’t even have to worry about what it’s doing, and that’s what we all really want on the internet, a worry free experiences.

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