Tuesday, December 31, 2013

You've Been Warned: There's a Hip-Hop Version of 'Achy Breaky Heart' On the Way

Larry King - remember him? - has a New Year's Eve scoop from the music world:

Oy. Reminds me of a time in my hometown when a local rock station made the decision to switch to a country music format. This was at the height of the Achy Breaky Heart craze. To herald the change in format, they played Achy Breaky Heart nonstop for 24 hours. And when the 24 hours was over ... they stuck with the rock format.

If you've never had the "pleasure" of hearing Billy Ray Cyrus perform Achy Breaky Heart, well, here you go:

Hip-hop. Billy Ray (perhaps with the help of daughter Miley Cyrus?) is doing a hip-hop version. Let's hope there's no twerking.

Review: Grilled Stuft Nacho from Taco Bell

Taco Bell recently introduced the Grilled Stuft Nacho, which promises "nacho flavors all wrapped up and grilled to perfection in the shape of a giant nacho chip, with seasoned beef, warm nacho cheese sauce, our new zesty nacho sauce, crunchy red strips, and cool reduced-fat sour cream."

We picked one up at the drive-through and took it home to sample. The price was $1.29. Does the Grilled Stuft Nacho live up to Taco Bell's promises?

First, here's what it looks like on the website:

And here's what it looks like in a television ad:

Now, here's what the Grilled Stuft Nacho we ordered looked like:

You'll notice it's thinner in reality than in the web/TV images. Also, it's rather ... floppy.

One of potential good things about the Grilled Stuft Nacho is that it looks, in the promotional images, like something you can hold in one hand and easily eat while driving. But I'm not sure that's a good idea, given that it's actually quite floppy and the interior is rather goopy. (We do take into account, however, that our Taco Bell might simply have undergrilled the one they gave to us.) Holding it in the paper sleeve is a good idea to catch any drippings.

The biggest difference between the promotional images and what we bought is thickness. It was much thinner than we were expecting - maybe 3/8 of an inch thick at its thickest point, and about 1/16 of an inch at its thinnest points (around the perimeter where there was no stuffing).

The Grilled Stuft Nacho is flavorful, although the beef is easy to miss. The flavors that really come through are those of the cheese, the sour cream, and the nacho sauce, which has a nice kick to it (zesty, indeed). There's a little crunch from the tortilla strips, although most of them had softened by the time we got home with ours.

Does it taste like nachos? It tastes more like nacho toppings, minus the chips.

It could definitely benefit from a thicker tortilla and more filling, but that would mean boosting the price. One of the selling points is how cheap it is at $1.29. Personally, I would pay more to get something that looks more like that advertising - a thicker, sturdier tortilla that provides more crunch and more bite; and more filling (particularly more beef).

We give the Taco Bell Grilled Stuft Nacho 3 out of 5 stars, which means "average" on the fast food scale; it's good on flavor, but lacking in other areas.

Have you tried it? Tell us how you liked it in comments.

Brilliant Engineering: Re-Inventing the Cardboard Box

Can you re-invent the wheel? Build a better mouse trap? There are some products out there whose form and function are so settled that you'd think the answer is no. The cardboard box, for example. How could you re-imagine that product in a way that makes it appreciably better?

Brilliantly, two engineering students at the Albert Nerken School of Engineering at Cooper Union, have done just that. Henry Wang and Chris Curro - juniors in electrical engineering - call it the Rapid Packing Container. And they've reimagined the cardboard box from start to finish: the Rapid Packing Container is easier to pack and seal, easier to open, and its design even takes into account after-market use by the consumer. Best, it uses 15- to 20-percent less cardboard than traditional cardboard boxes; also, it doesn't require any tape or stapling to seal.

Who would have thought a short video about a cardboard box could be so interesting? Watch:

(HT: Boing Boing)

Watch the Best Vines of 2013

YouTube producers Vine Compilations have, well, compiled a bunch of Vine videos into a "best of 2013" megamix. Twenty-three minutes showcasing hundreds of the best Vines of 2013. Enjoy.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lizard Sneaks Up on Kitten, Scares the Crap Out of It

This little kitten is intently investigating one lizard, when a second lizard comes up from behind and ... well, just watch:

See also:

Young Boys Testing Their Protective Cups

One rite of passage for boys - at least those who participate in some kind of organized sport - is getting their first "athletic supporter" - e.g., jock strap and cup. By the time a boy is of age of to get a cup, he's long been familiar with the pain associated with getting hit or kicked in that region. Boys will be boys, after all. So imagine the realization that you are wearing something the protects that very sensitive area from harm! Well, we just have to try this out, don't we?

New (and Completely Useless) World Record for 'Magnetic Man'

Hey, check it out, this guy just set a new world record for keeping the most spoons and other metal eating utensils stuck to his body!

The so called "Magnetic Man" is Etibar Elchyev from the country of Georgia, and he claims he sticks metal to his body through "body magnetism." In reality, he's just a sticky guy (ewwwww!). It's a shame that the news reporter in the ITN clip above falls for this "magnetic body" trick, because that's all it is - an old carnival trick.

It's nothing new, as seen in this other clip (and many, many more you can find on YouTube) of a young Croatian boy sticking spoons to himself, allegedly through body magnetism:

What always amuses me about these "magnetic man" type claims is that they always involve doing something so completely useless. Sticking spoons to your body? C'mon, man! Bending spoons with your mind? C'mon man! Do something useful, like taking dents out of cars. If these "talents" were real, you'd see people doing real, useful stuff with their talents - not useless, silly stuff.

Anyway: If it's not magnetism that is making these spoons stick to these people, what is? Benjamin Radford, editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, explained in an article that appeared on LiveScience.com a while back:

A lot of times when you see these videos, the people are leaning back slightly," Radford told Life's Little Mysteries. "If there really is some magnetic attraction, the person should be able to lean over. If a magnetic force is overcoming gravity, we should see that. That's one strong clue that what we're seeing is not any sort of magnetism."

Second, glass plates and a non-metallic remote control, as well as metal objects, are shown sticking ... "Glass is not magnetic. If a smooth piece of glass is sticking to him and a smooth piece of metal, what do those have in common? A very smooth surface. Not magnetism."

That shows that quite a different physical effect is at play. "These people aren't magnetic, it's just that things that have smooth surfaces stick to skin," said Radford, adding, "Often these magnetic people have smooth skin and hairless chests."

Regardless of the actual reasons the metal sticks to someone, we know that these folks are not generating some kind of strong magnetism for very simple reasons such as this one:

According to Radford, scientists and paranormal skeptics have often tested alleged attractors to see whether they are generating magnetic fields, and they aren't. For example, Radford said, when a compass is hung around their necks, it doesn't point toward them, as it would if they were magnetic enough to attract spoons. Instead, it points due north to the Earth's magnetic pole.

(HT: Dangerous Minds)

El Pollo Loco Intros 5 Meals Under 500 Calories

Mexican-style chicken casual dining restaurant El Pollo Loco is found in roughly 400 locations in California, Texas, Utah, Nevada and Arizona. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, diners in those areas will have five new options to choose from on the restaurant's menu, five meals that are each under 500 total calories.

El Pollo Loco's press release describes each of the five meals:

The Mango Grilled Tostada features hand-sliced avocado, seasoned black beans, freshly chopped lettuce blend, citrus marinated, fire-grilled chicken breast, and sweet mango salsa all wrapped in a warm artisan whole wheat tortilla and made to order.

The Black Bean Bowl includes slow-simmered, authentically seasoned black beans, fresh steamed broccoli florets, citrus marinated, fire-grilled chicken breast, fresh pico de gallo salsa and hand-sliced avocado all topped with cotija cheese.

The Avocado Salad features slow-simmered authentically seasoned black beans, citrus marinated, fire-grilled chicken breast, hand-sliced fresh avocado, steamed broccoli florets, handmade pico de gallo salsa, all topped with cotija cheese and a light creamy dressing.

The Avocado Burrito contains citrus marinated, fire-grilled chicken breast, crispy cabbage, slow-simmered seasoned black beans, hand-sliced avocado and two varieties of fresh salsa: poblano and pico de gallo all wrapped in a fresh, artisan whole wheat tortilla and grilled to order at the restaurant.

The Mango Taco Plate features citrus marinated, fire-grilled chicken breast, crispy green cabbage, handmade pico de gallo salsa and mango salsa, and topped with fresh cilantro all wrapped in a warm white corn tortilla and served with a side salad of freshly chopped lettuce, slow-simmered seasoned black beans, hand-sliced avocados, cotija cheese and dressed with a light creamy salad dressing.

These look, and sound, pretty interesting. I'm looking forward to giving them a try. If you have a chance to try one before we do, let us know what you think.

Photo credit: PRNewsFoto/El Pollo Loco

Burger King Introduces 'Rodeo Sandwiches'

Burger King introduces something new every week, it sometimes seems. What's the latest? BK calls them "Rodeo Sandwiches." Here's a screen grab from BK.com:

As you can see, one is a burger, one is a crispy chicken sandwich. But in place of Burger King's regular toppings and sauces, these "Rodeo Sandwiches" are topped with onion rings and barbecue sauce. They are served on toasted sesame seed buns.

The Rodeo Chicken Sandwich has 410 calories and 17 grams of fat (3g saturated); the Rodeo Burger has 310 calories and 13 grams of fat (4g saturated).

Do these sound like something you'd like to try?

Consumer Reports Picks the 10 Worst Cars of 2013

What were the worst cars of 2013? I'm not a car guy myself (although I enjoy a funny episode of Top Gear), but Consumer Reports is all over the auto scene. They test most new models that come to market, and their annual car ratings issue is widely anticipated every year. So when Consumer Reports says a car is bad, we tend to listen.

And here, according to Consumer Reports, are the 10 worst cars they tested in 2013 (listed alphabetically):

  • Chevrolet Spark CVT
  • Honda Crosstour
  • Lexus IS 250
  • Lincoln MKS
  • Mercedes-Benz CLA
  • Mitsubishi Mirage
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Nissan Versa sedan
  • Scion tC

Mitsubishi and Nissan each two cars on the 10 worst list. Here's what CR had to say about the Mirage:

While we haven’t yet finished testing the Mirage, our initial impressions are not very favorable. OK, that is being charitable. It is one of the least expensive new cars in the market, but in this case, you get what you pay for. You need to hammer the gas pedal almost to the floor to wake up the groggy little engine and even then, acceleration is meager. Handling is clumsy and the interior is reminiscent of early 1980's standards. Fuel economy is very good and parking is a cinch, but that's where the accolades end.

See the list on CR's website for comments about each vehicle, as well as links to full reviews.

The Amazing Physics of the Slinky

Imagine holding a slinky (yes, that springy toy from your youth) at arm's length, the bottom end dangling freely from your hand above the ground. What happens when you drop the top of the slinky? Here's the setup:

Got the picture? What do you think will happen? Watch this video to see the amazing result, and find out why the slinky does what it does:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Watch Every Appearance James Brown Made on 'Soul Train'

Soul brother No. 1 James Brown on Soul Train? You bet! Someone calling himself FunkensteinJr compiled all of the Godfather of Soul's appearances on the legendary dance show, and put the roughly 45-minute clip on YouTube. Now that's a good use of YouTube. Watch it here:

The playlist, as compiled by FunkensteinJr. and including the time at which the song starts in the video above, is this:

Hot Pants
Get Up (I Feel Like A) Sex Machine 2:36
Get On The Good Foot 4:06
Soul Power 6:51
Make It Funky 9:53
Cold Sweat 11:07
Try Me 14:22
Please Please, Please 17:21
Say It Loud I'm Black and I'm Proud 17:57
Super Bad 23:53
Papa Don't Take No Mess 26:18
My Thang 29:57
Hell 33:33
The Payback 35:57
Damn Right, I Am Somebody 40:25

(via Open Culture)

Ridiculously Cute Husky Puppy

Here's a husky puppy who is so ridiculously cute you'll want to watch this video again as soon as it is over. His name if Wolfie and he howls, plays, chows down, runs around and generally acts adorable and irresistable.

Photos: Statue of Liberty In Pieces

Here's a view of the Statue of Liberty mostly forgotten, a view rarely or never seen by most people: Lady Liberty under construction. The statue was created in France, then disassembled and shipped to New York, where it was reassembled. So much of her early life, the Statue of Liberty was literally in pieces. These historic photos depict her in that state:

It's the close-ups of Lady Liberty's face that people find most surprising. Not much of a looker, is she?

Cat Fail: Jumping for the Roof ... and Missing

Waffles the Terrible - that's the name of the cat in this video - is having one of those days. When nothing goes right. Here, Waffles tries to jump from the snowy, icy roof of a car onto the roof of a garage. Cue epic fail:

Review: Eggstractor

No, It Doesn't Work Well, but It Can Still Be Fun

Is the Eggstractor and eggsellent product? Will your peeling be over easy, or will the Eggstractor leave your nerves fried and patience hard-boiled?

More likely the latter than the former. The Eggstractor doesn't live up to its promise ... but it might still be a fun gadget for some people.

The Eggstractor is featured in one of our favorite infomercials. It's a simple product - a plastic base into which a hard-cooked egg is situated; a plastic bellows (a cylinder open at one end with accordian-like sides allowing it to be pressed down) that goes over the top of the egg and rests on the base.

According to the infomercial and the instructions, the power of air pressure forces the egg out of its shell. It's supposed to pop out of its shell, which remains on the base, onto a plate placed below, all in one piece and free of shell.

The first thing a new user needs to know is this: follow the instructions exactly. If the instructions aren't followed exactly, there's no chance the Eggstractor will work properly. The egg might explode, or only the yolk may pop out, or, perhaps, nothing at all will happen. And if that's the case, it's the product with egg on its face, but the yolk's on you.

The instructions are precise: place eggs in a pan, cover with water and add a heaping teaspoon of salt; bring to boil and cook another 6-8 minutes. Pour off the hot water and run cold water over the eggs. Then place the eggs in ice water for at least 10 minutes.

To peel the egg, remove from water and tap the small end on the piercer, a small, pointed nub that is on the base of the Eggstractor. You must pierce not only the eggshell, but also the inner lining of the egg. Crack the large end of the egg on a table or counter, then place the egg, small side up, onto the base.

Place the bellows over the egg and onto the base, criss cross both hands on top of the bellows and press.

The instructional booklet says that it might take you a couple tries to get the hang of it, but that "if you follow the Eggstructions Eggsactly, you will be an Eggspert Eggstractor." Not eggsactly. But it is fun trying.

First, when they say follow the instructions exactly, they mean it. We left out salt the first few times we boiled our eggs, and the result was the same each time: Upon "eggstraction," the large end of the egg separated from the rest of the egg, leaving most of the egg peeled but without a top.

We finally realized we were leaving out a step and started using salt. The results improved. But we were never able to get an egg to pop out completely free of shell. All eggs we tried - and we tried many - had at least a little shell remaining on the large end of the egg.

There are other drawbacks to the Eggstractor. Foremost is that there are some people who, because of physical limitations, won't be able to get it to work at all.

We were surprised at just how much force is required to depress the bellows, popping out the egg. We asked our missus to give it a shot, and it took her three tries before she could make it work. We feel that many women and many elderly folks would have a lot of trouble making the Eggstractor work at any level of efficiency, much less peak efficiency.

So why did we say we'd still recommend it in some cases? Well, because it's fun. It makes loud whooshing and popping noises that kids (and overgrown kids) are likely to think are fun. And who wants to peel an egg? Our missus said she could have completely peeled an egg the old-fashioned way in the time it took her to get the Eggstractor to work. But she's a girl. Girls know what they're doing.

Boys, and men who still behave like boys, will get a kick out of the Eggstractor, whether it works well for them or not.

So if you find it at a cheap price, perhaps in a bargain bin or on clearance, it's worth a few bucks to get a few kicks.

The Eggstractor's instructional booklet contains dozens of egg-based recipes, some of which looked quite tasty. It also comes with an egg slicer as a bonus. And as egg slicers go, it was pretty nice.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Persian Cat Gets Toy Stuck to Tail, Hilarity Ensues

What happens when this Persian cat's favorite toy gets stuck to its tail? Hilarity, that's what! Watch as the cat goes crazy chasing its tail and toy:

Friday, December 27, 2013

Watch a 1-Year-Old Learning to Beatbox

YouTube user "iLLyNoiiZe" has posted only one video, but he made it a good one. He's a human beatboxer, and he's teaching his niece to beatbox, too. His niece, however, isn't even a toddler yet. She's only one year old. How's the training going? Take a look:

Mr. Spock's Cheat Sheet: Chart of Logical Fallacies

"Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies" are the first words you'll see on the website yourlogicalfallacyis.com. Do you know what your logical fallacy is? You will after checking out the cool poster created by Jesse Richardson, Andy Smith and Som Meaden. Here's a snapshot of it:

"A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning," YourLogicalFallacyIs.com explains. "Logical fallacies are like tricks or illusions of thought, and they're often very sneakily used by politicians and the media to fool people. Don't be fooled! This website has been designed to help you identify and call out dodgy logic wherever it may raise its ugly, incoherent head."

The False Cause fallacy, for example, "presume(s) that a real or perceived relationship between things means that one is the cause of the other." In the Tu Quoque fallacy, "you avoided having to engage with criticism by turning it back on the accuser - you answered criticism with criticism." And for a third example, with the Appeal to Nature fallacy one "argue(s) that because something is 'natural' it is therefore valid, justified, inevitable, good or ideal."

Each logical fallacy named is accompanied by a definition plus an example. Why does this matter? Because logic and reasoning are in very short supply these days. The more we know about the ways in which poor logic leads to deception, the better armed we are to avoid being deceived.

Visit this page to download the poster in one of three sizes, or to have one printed and delivered to you.

Funny GIF: Treadmill Dancing

Now here's a man who knows how to liven up his time on the treadmill at the gym:


Irresistable: Pug Puppy Going Nuts

Go ahead, watch this without smiling and laughing, I dare you!

It's a pug-eye view of a tiny, rambunctious pug puppy. The video was shot by photographer and videographer Matthew Vandeputte, who we see throughout the video being "attacked" by his adorable pug puppy.

Local News Bloopers: Best of 2013

A YouTube user named NewsBeFunny put together this 15-minute compilation of the best (and worst) bloopers of 2013 from local news broadcasts:

Do You See Jesus in that Tortilla?

The Skeptical InquirerFacebook page includes an album of photos demonstrating the psychological phenomenon called "pareidolia." That's a fancy word that basically means seeing some random pattern and turning it into something significant. Rorsach tests are examples of pareidolia. But the most famous cases involve people seeing Jesus in a tortilla or the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich or their Uncle Morty in a potato chip.

A couple examples from the Skeptical Inquirer gallery, starting with Grumpy Cat in an apple:

And here's an old man in an iceberg:

We recognize examples such as the two above as randonmess: light, shape, shadow, and point of view aligning in just the right way to appeal to our human desires to find patterns. We don't imbue such examples as these with religious significance, we don't pretend that there's anything supernatural going on. These are merely accidents. Fascinating ones, but accidents nonetheless.

That changes, however, when the pareidolia involves a person of faith seeing a religious icon in his or her morning bowl of cereal. Then, the viewer might interpret this common psychological phenomenon as a religious experience, an affirmation of faith, a brush with the holy.

For example, Jesus in a cut log:

Or the Virgin Mary on the bottom of a turtle shell:

Wikipedia explains Carl Sagan's belief about the origina of pareidolia:

Carl Sagan hypothesized that as a survival technique, human beings are "hard-wired" from birth to identify the human face. This allows people to use only minimal details to recognize faces from a distance and in poor visibility but can also lead them to interpret random images or patterns of light and shade as being faces. The evolutionary advantages of being able to discern friend from foe with split-second accuracy are numerous; prehistoric (and even modern) men and women who accidentally identify an enemy as a friend could face deadly consequences for this mistake. This is only one among many evolutionary pressures responsible for the development of the facial recognition capability of modern humans.
However, the author of The Skeptic's Dictionaryoffers an alternative explanation for pareidolia:
It seems more likely that the mind is making associations with shapes, lines, shadows, and so on, and that these associations are rooted in desires, interests, hopes, and obsessions.
That makes sense, I think, and also explains why one person can seem something "obvious" in a random pattern while another person sees nothing at all; or why a person who initially sees nothing will suddenly "see" what he is told is "really" there; or why two people can look at the same random pattern - a cloud for example - and see two totally different things.

Whatever the explanation, pareidolia is a very real phenomenon, much more real than any "face" that might show up in your next tortilla. Check out the Skeptical Inquirer album for more great examples.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

JFK's First Dallas Motorcade: Rare Video from 1960 Campaign

The video above is part of a fantastic package from the Dallas Morning News newspaper, available on its website, dallasnews.com, detailing Sen. John F. Kennedy's campaign swing through Dallas, with running mate Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, as a presidential candidate in the 1960 election.

Everyone remembers JFK's ill-fated motorcade through Dallas in November 1963, but this earlier appearance in Dallas was largely forgotten (or at least just a footnote). And the film footage of Kennedy's speeches and appearances during the 1960 Dallas trip really was forgotten. DallasNews.com explains about the clip posted above:

John F. Kennedy never made it to his Dallas speech on November 22, 1963. But eight weeks before the 1960 election, he made two Dallas speeches. A newly discovered color film of his Sept. 13, 1960, appearance with Lyndon Johnson at Dallas' Chance Vought Aircraft factory is perhaps the only complete film of a JFK speech in Dallas. We present it for its first showing in 53 years.

The Morning News package includes many photos from the trip as well as a lengthy and very interesting article about the campaign stop in Dallas. And more footage from the 1960 tape:

Check out the full package on DallasNews.com

Two Great, Unsentimental Christmas Songs for Boxing Day

Boxing Day is another one of those holidays whose original intent has been subsumed by commercialism and commerce. No shame in that - it's happened to all the best holidays!

So for Boxing Day, let's listen to two Christmas "carols" that fight back against commercialization, but not in smarmy, schlocky ways - it biting, rocking, fighting-for-the-little guy ways.

I'm talking about Father Christmas by The Kinks and Elf's Lament by Barenaked Ladies.

The Kinks' song Father Christmas was released in 1977, during bad economic times in Great Britain. It's about a department store Santa who gets attacked by a gang of poor kids. The poor kids don't want toys, they tell Santa, they need money for food; and their dads need jobs.

Barenaked Ladies' song Elf's Lament explores the conditions in Santa's workshop, and the need for betting working conditions for the elves through unionization.

But don't get the idea that these songs are downers. These are rollicking, up-tempo rockers that just happen to have bitingly clever lyrics and points-of-view - don't forget the little guy, the less fortunate people - too rarely heard in Christmas music.

Here is Father Christmas (try to ignore the poor video quality):

And here is Elf's Lament:

Beautiful Photo of the Northern Lights

It's pretty hard to take a photo of the Northern Lights that is not beautiful, but this one - green hues over an ice-covered landscape, with both sun and stars - is of particular note. It was shared on Twitter by NASA's Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy). Click the photo to enlarge it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Listen to The Beatles' Christmas Records

Each year from 1963 until 1969, The Beatles recorded a Christmas record, usually several minutes long up to nearly eight minutes long, for members of the official Beatles fan club. Only fan club members received The Beatles Christmas' messages - the records were never released commercially, although a compilation was made in 1970 and bootleg versions have always existed.

The records contain the four members of The Beatles - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr - wishing their fans a merry Christmas, acting silly, talking, singing, goofing off, inventing new Christmas carol lyrics, and, in one case, recording their own Christmas composition. These recordings harken to the vibe of The Beatles' earliest days, when they were making silly video clips and A Hard Days' Night.

Below, we've compiled all seven of The Beatles' Christmas messages to fans:

1963

1964

1965

1966

1967

1968

1969

Review: The Ove Glove

The Ove Glove is, as its name states, a "hot surface handler." To most people, that means "oven mitt." But the Ove Glove is a true glove, not a mitt or mitten: it has four fingers plus a thumb.

The Ove Glove is touted as being able to "dramatically extend the time you can handle a hot object in your hands." When I purchased my Ove Glove (they come one per box) at a price of $19.95 (prices have since come down), I was under the impression that the Ove Glove infomercial claimed this product was more effective than a typical oven mitt. However, that may have been a mistaken impression on my part, given that the packaging blurbs make no comparisons between the Ove Glove and similar products - only between the wearer's ability to withstand heat with the Ove Glove on, and with bare hands.

The Ove Glove vs. bare hands. Duh! Of course the Ove Glove will "dramatically extend the time you can handle a hot object in your hands." But you can just as well wad up some toilet paper or newspaper or a towel and get the same effect, compared to bare hands.

What's important in deciding whether to spend money on an item is whether it performs better than similar items at similar tasks.

How does the Ove Glove stack up against a plain ol' oven mitt? OK, but not great. The oven mitts in my house are very old and their surface is even worn through in several spots, exposing the lining underneath. Still, those old oven mitts protected my hands from heat just as well - or even better - than the Ove Glove. There was some disagreement in my household about whether the old oven mitts were actually better than the Ove Glove. I thought they were. Another tester felt the Ove Glove held its own, but was just the equal of, not the better of, the oven mitts.

So what the Ove Glove gets right is its 5-finger approach, its flexibility, its comfortable fit and feel. What it gets wrong is its price when products that do that same job in the kitchen, perhaps even better, can be purchased for less.

However, the Ove Glove, because it is a true glove, certainly offers more variety of uses than a typical oven mitt. For that reason, it may be worth considering for folks who typically handle hot materials outside the kitchen as well as inside. Just don't expect wonders.

Watch People Getting Puppies for Christmas

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate the holiday. Now let's watch happy people getting puppies for presents:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Taco Bell's Grilled Stuft Nacho: Have You Tried It?

A new item on the Taco Bell menu is the Grilled Stuft Nacho. Here's the TV commercial for it:

Here's the photo on the Taco Bell website:

And Taco Bell's product description:

The Grilled Stuft Nacho is nacho flavors all wrapped up and grilled to perfection in the shape of a giant nacho chip, with seasoned beef, warm nacho cheese sauce, our new zesty nacho sauce, crunchy red strips, and cool reduced-fat sour cream.

It strikes me that the Grilled Stuft Nacho represents another new product from a non-burger chain that is designed to be easy to hold with one hand; or, to put it another way, easy to eat while driving. I think fast food places spend a lot of time thinking about that when creating new menu options: Can our customers hold this and eat it while driving away from our drive-thru window?

As for the nutritional values, the Grilled Stuft Nacho has 570 calores, 32 grams of fat (7 grams of saturated fat and 0.5 grams of trans fat), 960mg of sodium, 5 grams of sugar, 14 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber.

Have you tried one? Leave a comment and let us know your opinion.

Read our Grilled Stuft Nacho review

Map of United States Religions By County

What is the geographic dispersion of religions in the United States? One way of visualizing that is by creating a map of the most common religions in every county of each state within the USA. And that's exactly what the Association of Statisticians of American Religous Bodies has done. This map was shared on Twitter by Nicholas Thompason (@nxthompson), editor of The New Yorker. You'll need to click on the map to enlarge it in order to get a better view, and to be able to read the key at the lower right:

The geographically dominant religion in the USA is easy to spot, it's represented by the dark blue color on the map and is Catholocism. The dark red color dominating the Southern U.S. represents the Southern Baptist Convention. The golden color in the Upper Midwest is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the dark green banding across the central Midwest is the United Methodist Church. The gray in the Moutain West is Mormonism.

The Real Experiment Behind Brain Games' Santa Test

Brain Games is a television show on NatGeo channel that explores the way our brains interpret our environment - which is often does in suprising, fascinating and unexpected ways. Optical illusions, for example, are illusions because our brains are attempting to make sense of something that, on the surface, doesn't make any.

A promo spot for Brain Games has been in heavy rotation on NatGeo in the run-up to the series' Christmas night special, with the focus on a test of perception and attentiveness. In a video, we see multiple people passing two basketballs back and forth; our task is to count how many times the people wearing white pass the ball. While we focus on doing that, a person wearing a Santa Claus outfit walks behind the scene. "Did you see the Santa?" viewers are asked when the clip ends.

That might not sound like much as I've described it, but it's a scenario based on a famous psychology test conducted by Daniel Simons and colleagues that has come to be known as "the gorilla experiment." Here, watch the original video, and play along:

Did you see the gorilla? What's being explored here is something called "inattentional blindness." In a post on Smithsonian.com, Simons says that half the viewers in his original gorilla experiment failed to see the gorilla! But how can that be? The gorilla walks right through the middle of the circle, the basketballs going right by it!

The original gorilla experiment became so famous (at least in psychology circles and on YouTube) that Simons made a second video. This one accounts for the fact that many people are now familiar with the test, and know to keep an eye out for the gorilla. But there's another test embedded within the larger test. Watch:

What, exactly, is the point? Why does this experiment matter? Well, for one, it shows just how shaky eyewitness testimony can be. If we care about a fair and just legal system, it's important to understand the limitations of our observational skills.

Simons writes on Smithsonian.com:

How could they miss something right before their eyes? This form of invisibility depends not on the limits of the eye, but on the limits of the mind. We consciously see only a small subset of our visual world, and when our attention is focused on one thing, we fail to notice other, unexpected things around us—including those we might want to see.

... most of us are unaware of the limits of our attention—and therein lies the real danger. For instance, we may talk on the phone and drive because we are mistakenly convinced that we would notice a sudden event, such as a car stopping short in front of us.

In-between the two paragraphs I've quoted, Simons gives an example of a real court case that turned on whether or not it was believable when a police officer claimed not to have seen something that most of us would have a hard time believing could not have been seen by someone with his training. Yet a Simons experiment proved just how easy it was to miss this supposedly obvious thing.

If you find this as interesting as I do, you can delve much deeper into on Simons' website, theinvisiblegorilla.com, or buy the book co-written by Simons with Christopher Chabris and called The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us.

Stone Wave Cooker: Microwave Gourmet, or Just Hot Air?

The Stone Wave Microwave Cooker is a type of small pot designed to cook food in your microwave. It is made from a ceramic material; the inside has a non-stick surface. The lid of the cooker features a "steam release chimney" to allow steam to escape during the cooking time. Here's how the manufacturer describes the Stone Wave cooker:

"Stone Wave will help you prepare delicious, gourmet foods in your microwave that your whole family will love, in just five minutes! Its secret is in the specially designed chimney that allows steam to escape, while the custom dome circulates heat evenly, infusing flavor into every bite! And with Stone Wave's non-stick surface, you can make everything from eggs to baked desserts without butter, fats, or oils, for healthy, mess-free meals!"

Two local television news programs have recently tested the Stone Wave, and both found that the microwave cooker "works," if by works you mean "food put inside the cooker is cooked by the microwave." But does the Stone Wave provide any advantages over other cooking vessels that can be used inside a microwave? Does food microwaved inside the Stone Wave Cooker have better taste, better texture than microwaved food cooked another way?

Seattle TV station KOMO tested the Stone Wave cooker by preparing several recipes from the cooker's accompanying recipe booklet. That included an omelet, a chocolate souffle and an apple crisp. Here is their video report:

The results were not impressive. The food inside the Stone Wave did cook, but words like "dry" and "rubbery" were applied to the resulting foods. The Stone Wave, in other words, offered no improvement over ordinary microwave cooking.

Charleston, W.Va., station WCHS also recently tested the Stone Wave Microwave Cooker and got similar results. (You can watch their video report here.) WCHS also tested the Stone Wave by cooking an omelet and the apple crisp dessert. Its conclusions included these:

"We first made a simple omelet by whisking eggs inside the cooker, adding chopped onions, green peppers and tomatoes. After 90 seconds in the microwave, we were left with fluffy but dry eggs. "Our second dish was baked apple crisp. We cut up an apple, added water, sugar, cinnamon, butter, topped it with Japanese panko breadcrumbs and put it in the microwave for three minutes per the directions. While the dessert smelled like oven-baked apple pie, it tasted and looked nothing like the popular American treat. The apples were soggy and the dessert was runny; nothing was crisp."

The impression we're left with is that food will indeed cook inside the Stone Wave microwave cooker, but it won't cook any better than other microwaving methods. If you've tried the Stone Wave, let us know what you thought of it in comments.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Most Obscene Chocolate Santa Ever

If you've never heard of Jesper Parnevik, know this: He's a professional golfer, he's Swedish, he's funny and has a reputation for being quite goofy and silly, and his Twitter feed is often quite amusing. Recently, he posted this on Twitter:

Hmmm, wonder what that photo might show? Let's click and find out:

Goodness gracious! That's quite an obscene chocolate Santa! This certainly puts the recent controversy over Fox New host Megyn Kelly's assertion that Santa is white - "he just is" - in a new light!

Take the Dialect Quiz

How you talk - the specific words you use to describe specific items or situations - says a lot about where you are from. Even within the United States - even within a given state - there are many different dialects.

The New York Times has published a nifty interactive tool in the form of a 25-question quiz based on the Harvard Dialect Survey. At the end of the quiz, a "heat map" shows you the parts of the country where the people speak most similarly to you.

For example, here is a sample question from the quiz:

I would use "sub" for such a sandwich, although "poor boy" and "hoagie" are also common where I grew up. The only word for sandwich among the options listed above that I'm not familiar with is "sarney." I think most people will recognize nearly all the options for sandwich.

This question, on the other hand, has some downright bizarre options (remember: the options listed are terms that are actually in use somewhere in the USA):

What the ... I've heard this called a "sunshower," but my answer was "I have no word for this." We just say it's raining, whether the sun's out or not.

It's a fun quiz for exactly these reasons: You'll learn words and expressions that are (apparently) common in some parts of the country, but that you might not have heard before. And some of them are funny!

The quiz did not get my location right. It got the region right, but was a couple states too far to the east. I've seen some folks on Twitter saying the quiz pegged their location to the very city. So give it a try.

Ming Tsai Endorses Aero Knife

Ming Tsai is a celebrity chef, status he first achieved by becoming known as one of the best chefs in America. He has a longrunning PBS television show, and has made numerous guest star appearances on other cooking shows such as Top Chef and Iron Chef.

So I was a little surprised the first time I saw Chef Tsai doing an infomercial for the Aero Knife:

But should I have been? I haven't been able to try Aero Knife yet, so let's hear your feedback: If you've tried Aero Knife, tell us what you think about it in comments.

Here is a review of the Aero Knife posted on YouTube:

Review: Makin Bacon

Makin Bacon Doesn't Stack Up
Makin Bacon allows you to cook bacon in the microwave, with the bacon cooking above the fat which has dropped away from it, into a collection dish below.

"Cook bacon better," the packaging exclaims, "above the fat, not in it."

The Makin Bacon, according to the packaging, was invented by Abbey, the smiling little girl whose picture graced the original packaging.

"When I was 8," Abbey tells us in the packaging materials, "I invented the best way in the world to cook bacon. Then my Dad and I went to work and made the Makin Bacon dish. My Mom loves it because it's so much easier. My Dad knows the bacon is healthier. My little sister Kelly doesn't care, she just loves the bacon.

"Please buy it, try it, and tell others!"

Hey, buying it, trying it and telling others is what we do here. So here you go: I sincerely hope Abbey has grown up (the copyright on the packaging is 1996) and gone on to bigger and better things.

Because "better things" is not a phrase we'd associate with Makin Bacon.

It's a simple enough construction: A plastic dish to which are attached three stems (they kind of look like the old T-shaped telephone poles). Bacon is draped over the arms of the stems, and the whole thing goes in the microwave. As the bacon cooks, grease falls away from the bacon and into the dish below.

You can definitely cook more bacon with the Makin Bacon than you can with a standard stovetop pan or griddle. And you can certainly cook the bacon much quicker with the Makin Bacon, although just how quick is something you'll have to experiment with: there were no instructions or suggestions on cooking time in the Makin Bacon package that we purchased.

The Makin Bacon parts are all dishwasher safe, according to the packaging.

Does the Makin Bacon work? Well, yes and no. It certainly does cook bacon. The question is, how well, and does it cook it to a texture and flavor most people will enjoy?

We can't speak for most people. So speaking for ourselves, the answer is no. The microwaved bacon was rubbery and bland. And those who like crispier bacon are out of luck.

We had a problem in the actual performance of the product, too. The bacon is draped over the arms of the stems. As the bacon begins to cook, it starts dripping grease. This makes the bacon and the stems a little slippery.

Each time we tried the Makin Bacon, we opened the microwave to discover that half the bacon had fallen off the stems and was sitting in the grease that has collected in the dish. Which kind of defeats the purpose.

Some people might find the Makin Bacon useful. It's not something we'd recommend to our friends, though.

Sorry, Abbey.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ikea Product or Death Metal Band?

That's the question posed by a website that asks readers to examine a term and decide whether that term is the name of a product sold by Ikea, or the name of a death metal band.

Each page presents a term, and asks you to choose Ikea or Death Metal. Like this:

Silly! We like it! Check it out and see how many you get right.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Guess Which Dog Is the Guilty One

One of the three dogs in this video made a mess. But which one? The answer is clear - the two innocent ones first give the guilty one away, then the guilty one gives itself away.

Review: Pocket Hose

The Pocket Hose is a flexible, lightweight, expanding garden hose whose length grows when the hose is under water pressure. These types of hoses are booming right now in he as-seen-on-TV product niche, but if you're not familiar with the idea we'll let you watch the Richard Karn-hosted infomercial (1 minute, 48 seconds):

We picked up our Pocket Hose at Walgreen's, and paid $19.95 for the 50-feet long model. What that means is that the hose, as it comes out of the packaging, is about 25 feet long but that it expands to 50 feet under water pressure. There is another, shorter Pocket Hose that expands to 25 feet under pressure, and it typically sells for around $10.

What are the main selling points that the manufacturer uses to pitch the Pocket Hose? That because it expands, it is much lighter and easier to maneuver than a standard garden hose; and that it never kinks.

Are those claims true? We've been using our Pocket Hose for about a month, and here are some positives and negatives:

Positives of the Pocket Hose

  • Yes, it really does expand to around twice its original length once you turn the tap on - so long as you have a spray nozzle attached or have the adaptor screwed on to the end of the hose and in the "closed" position. Basically, you have to "prime the hose" - or trap water inside it, creating pressure - in order for the hose to expand. If you have the adaptor in the "open" position, or if you don't have the adaptor attached and are not using a spray nozzle, the Pocket Hose won't expand. (It will work just fine as a basic hose, only without growing in length.)

  • And yes, the Pocket Hose really does contract when you turn the water off, although you have to let any water inside the hose out in order to start the contraction.

  • The Pocket Hose is very lightweight, much lighter than a standard garden hose. Anyone can carry it around.

  • The Pocket Hose does not kink. We've tried to kink it and can't.

Negatives of the Pocket Hose

  • You'll probably get wet using it because of the plastic nozzles on either end of the hose. Most standard garden uses have metal nozzles to attach to the faucet (or to which you can attach a spray nozzle). The Pocket Hose has plastic, whose construction does not inspire confidence. We've had leaks at the point of attachment to the faucet - minor, but leaks nonetheless. And we've had leaks at the spray end of the hose, both when using a spray nozzle or when using the adaptor.

    The adaptor, in particular, leaks around the lever the user moves into the "open" and "closed" positions to stop water (and create pressure to force the expansion) or to let water out. The faucet and spray nozzle leaks were minor and not bothersome, but the adaptor leak was a little spray of water that got us wet before we were able to turn it away from us. The Pocket Hose works much better without the adaptor than with it.

  • It doesn't carry as much water as some garden hoses. The flow was plenty for our purposes and, we imagine, for anyone who wants to use it to water the front and back yard. But just as an fyi, the Pocket Hose does carry less volume than some standard garden hoses.

Conclusions

We've heard other people say they experienced leaks in the hose itself, but we haven't. The integrity of the hose is great for us after one month's use.

We like the Pocket Hose. It really is lightweight, it really doesn't kink, and it really does expand. But it also really does have cheaply made nozzles on both ends, which really do leak. Your leaks might be bigger than ours, so buyer beware.

But overall, we've enjoyed using the Pocket Hose.

One thing to note is that you don't have to take advantage of the expansion property of the Pocket Hose to find it useful. We have the shorter version in our front flower bed; unexpanded it is only about 12 feet in length, but that just happens to be the perfect length for our flower bed. We like how lightweight the hose is, and that it doesn't kink so we never have to worry about water flow, and it is great for hand-watering this small area. And the price is right, too.

We've heard and read other commentaries about the Pocket Hose in which users' experiences were more negative - in some cases, very negative - than our own. But we've also seen reviews similar to our own.

We can only report on our own experience with the Pocket Hose, which, to sum up is (mostly) positive.