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Weekly headlines make a review sandwich!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 by Amber

Good afternoon everyone! Sandwiched between two great reviews from my boss, Dee Murray, here are some of the week's most interesting stories to get you through the day!

-For those of you looking to get a jump on your holiday purchasing, Microsoft has unveiled two bundle deals for the Xbox 360 Elite! Along with the newly reduced unit price for the console, the bundle includes either LEGO: Indiana Jones, which I loved for its snark (except for the stupid jumping challenges), and the surprise hit 'PURE,' which I have never heard of before this minute. For more video game news, check out Captivate's Gamer's Edge blog!

-As the housing market takes a brighter, smilier turn, green appliances are still all the rage. Check out CNet's report on which ranges to test out, and how to make-over your home!

-In today's weird-but-I-must-comment news, the Natl Parks Service is considering putting limits on the number of mule rides in the Grand Canyon. Have you ever seen these things? Here's a quick visual for all of you height-fearing folks: You climb on the back of big smelly animals, who walk in a straight line along the very edge of a sheer drop-off from which a tumble would kill you twice if it could. These rides are SO dangerous you even have to take a course and sign a release! OK, I've seen them, and I've hiked into the Grand Canyon on my own two feet. Stop being so lazy, tourists, and either do the canyon or don't!! It's not worth risking your life!
Of course, that's not the NPS's take on it: Apparently (along with being stupidly scary) the animals are eroding the canyon trails because they are so heavy and lumbering. Um, I don't need another reason to outlaw them completely!

**And, don't forget: On Friday, I'll post a review on a controversial new drink that has some people up in arms for it's resemblance to marijuana! And, it's legal and you can order it online! Be sure to check back for Dee's special report!

Review: SodaStream Drink Maker

Friday, September 25, 2009 by Amber

Product: SodaStream Drink Maker
Retail: Models range from $100-$200
Product Rating: Excellent

By Deanna M. Murray
Director of Content (and diet soda aficionado)

Before you continue, I must let you know one of my deep, dark secrets. … I can’t write review this product in good conscience until you, the reader, know something about me and understand why this product has changed my life … seriously.

I am a Diet Coke addict.

It’s sad, but true. I am one of those who gets up every single morning, runs down to the local 7-11 and buys the 700 oz fountain drink, carries it religiously everywhere and always takes a few swigs before spouting off something extremely profound … yes that’s me.

So, a few months back when I saw a home product to make your own carbonated beverages, I was skeptical at best – but intrigued. ‘Yes,’ I thought to myself … ‘I think I need to try that.’

Not quite knowing how harsh a critic I would be, SodaStream sent me one of their starter sets: The Penguin. The Penguin consists of the actual carbonating appliance, two cylinders of Co2 and several different types of soda syrup. It also comes with two very attractive carafes for making the soda and serving it.

With bated breath, my family and I tore open the box and placed the appliance on the counter. It does not need to plug in at all, and really doesn’t take up a ton of counter space. It also has a very sleek, contemporary design. It’s fun to look at!

So … which soda to make first?

Every child in my house (there are 6 total) thought they had a voice in this decision, but (hahaha) they didn’t … the SodaStream product was put to my ultimate taste test first – the diet cola.

Making the soda is extremely easy. You fill the sturdy glass carafe to the filling line with cold water; slip the carafe into the penguin appliance, then pump the ‘beak’ until you hear whistles. The more carbonation you want, the more you pump. The directions recommend about 6 pumps – I like it highly carbonated, so I opted for 10.

After pressing the ‘depressurizing button’ on the penguin, and removing the carafe, the syrup is then added to the carbonated water. I learned quickly to pour the syrup in slowly or it will cause the soda to bubble up and out of the carafe, all over the counter. So pouring slowly is important.

Upon first taste of the diet cola mix, it threw me back to my childhood where RC Cola and Shasta were prevalent on the shelves of the supermarket and in my kitchen pantry. It’s a little sweet, a little more syrupy but still very tasty. And while it might not take the place of my daily run to the 7-11, it definitely is yummy.

My favorite soda in the SodaStream line of drinks is actually the diet grapefruit, which tastes kind of like Fresca. It is already a family favorite.

Each kid in the house has their favorite as well. The root beer and lemon-lime are well liked, and I’ve made the energy drink and even mixed it with some Vodka (testing its taste against a Red Bull and Vodka drink) and it was really great.

Now if there are drawbacks to the machine, it’s knowing how to find the Co2 carbonator tubes, but SodaStream offers an exchange program, kind of like you’d do for your propane grill. You return your used cartridges for new ones via mail.

Soda mixes can also be purchased thru the company in their Soda Club, but I also found the mixes on sale at Kohl’s for about $3.99 a container. (One container makes 50 servings of soda.)

So while this particular appliance isn’t necessarily a necessity by any means, it is awfully fun to have and does save some money in the long run if your family is like mine and runs through quite a bit of soda. I love the fact it doesn’t take up a lot of counter space (it’s a thin unit) and doesn’t need an outlet to use. I also really can appreciate the fact the carafes hold just enough for say, serving the family for dinner. There’s not a whole lot of waste.

Thanks SodaStream for the fun – and hey, if you ever really crack the code on the secret Diet Coke formula … I could easily see the 7-11 sales in my area falling drastically.


Zune HD makes a splash!

Sunday, September 20, 2009 by Amber

Happy Monday mornign! Let's get a check of the Bits-n-Bytes stories to tickle your fancy this morning!

Microsoft is suing over ads embedded with malware. But will the the web do with all those sites with crazy dancing bunnies and distracting, flashing lights? Good call, Redmond --thanks :)

Who doesn't want a Zune HD? I want one! Here is a fab list of all of the great features, and what happens when you pit one against an iPod.

'The force is strong with this one ... ' And, the force is strong with you little one, too, if these toys have anything to do with it! Check out these sweet Star Wars toys that let your kid control things with their minds!

Here's an interesting story on whether Amazon.com is becoming the Wal-Mart of the Web. Very interesting ...

Just a short update on this Monday! Have a great start to your week!

Boldly going into outer space ...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 by Amber

We've got a science-heavy post for you today! Check out what's going on in the world ...

Scientists have found another planet that looks like Earth! So, when can we move in? Never, unfortunately. This planet's -- in a very far away galaxy -- circles its star waaaaay too close to ever support life. How is it like Earth? Well, this is the first planet astronomers found that's made of rock; all the others are gas-based planets. What's the big deal, then? Now that we know there are other rocky planets, the probability of finding one at the right distance from its star has just gotten a huge boost. Move in day might not be today, but perhaps in a few hundred generations, there might be a colony of humans somewhere out there!

In other news: We may not be shooting off to unknown galaxies, but it looks like our sights are set a little closer to home. A bid to put another man on the moon has gotten a much-needed push in Congress after an expert testified it was possible -- for a price tag of about $3B. Wow. That's expensive ...

And, finally, in the best headline of the day, take a look at this:
"Hermaphrodite fish may signal environmental problems"

Hahaha ... Interesting story, too, if you have a moment. Otherwise, hope you have a great day, and we'll see you Friday!

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Ford Moves Forward on Text Ban

Monday, September 14, 2009 by Amber

Happy Monday afternoon! Does it feel like it's officially fall to anyone else? Up here near Boston, the air is crisp and delicious ... perfect day to talk about driving!

Ford has stepped forward as the first automaker to favor legislation banning texting while driving. Yay. This is not going to help your profit, Ford.

I hate situations where common sense needs to be legislated. It's a waste of political time and taxpayer money. Just don't do it, you morons. Texting while driving is the dumbest thing ever. Spoken from someone who has actually gotten into an accident because of my cell phone. (Though, in my case, the phone slipped off the seat and was ringing. When I bent to get it, the car ahead of me slammed on their brakes. Could've happened to anyone :) )

It's not like I'm against the ban -- I'm just against the waste of resources.

You want to know what a more pressing issue is to me than texting while driving? Elderly folks who need a walker to walk and glasses as thick as coke bottles to see clearly. These people cause more accidents and pose more of a threat to drivers of all ages than the few moronic losers who can't wait to pull over to a gas station to chat with someone.

If you'll allow me my rant ... I was in a DMV a few weeks ago, and some old woman needed help standing and someone to lead her over to the place where they take your license pictures. After all the help, the stood her against the wall, clicked a pic and gave her a new license. I was fuming. Then, a day of two later, an elderly woman was shuffling along out of Trader Joe's pushing her cart. I had enough time to go inside, dawdle over picking out my dessert, pay and walk back to my car before she had walked the 50 feet to hers. She started it up and almost hit another car.

This is as serious an issue facing commuters and normal drivers as texting while driving. I don't want a uniform ban once you reach a certain age, but mandatory driver's test (while being held to the same standards as a 16-year-old) every year or so would be more prudent than, say, a silly law saying you can't use your phone's keypad while in the car.

Do you have thoughts on this most recent development in the fight to take away our phones? Or, do you want to sound off on bad drivers? Email me at ByteSized@captivate.com and let me know!

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Drew Takes on Roller Derby with 'Whip It!'

Friday, September 11, 2009 by Amber

Where did it go???
This post was moved to the Captivate 'Out and About' blog -- click here to read the review in its entirety, and to follow Captivate's other ventures out of the elevator!

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Special Assignment: Meet Drew Barrymore!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 by Amber

In exciting news, I'm headed into Boston this afternoon to cover an event hosted by Drew Barrymore in honor of her new flick (and directorial debut) called 'Whip It!' – a story about a small town girl who breaks out of her shell when she joins a roller derby league.

Starring Ellen Page and Drew herself, it's sure to be one of the best films to hit theatres this fall!

I'll be at the event, tweeting and transmitting pics on all the details to the Captivate audience, and I may even get a few seconds to say HI to one of my favorite stars.

Mel Brooks says, 'It's good to be the king.' I say, 'It's good to be the press.' :)

Follow Captivate on Twitter, and check our Facebook page later tonight and tomorrow morning for full coverage and a photo album of the event!

I'll post up some pics here tomorrow and Friday! I'm totally getting into this whole roller derby thing -- though there is a part of me that totally thinks it's fake (like wrestling).

And I made up my own Roller Derby name -- because everyone needs one! From now on, you can call me Coco Shrapnel! Woo hoo!

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Byte-Sized's 201st Posting!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 by Amber

Happy 201st post everyone! This is a HUGE moment for Byte-Sized, and I want to take a second to thank you all for coming back here three times a week for some of the coolest news on the web and some (I hope) fun color commentary.

We couldn't have made it this far without you all! Yay!

Now, time for some headlines ...

-If the idea of unplugging from all technology for a weekend makes you shudder in cold fright, don't fret: You're not alone. New research suggests that we are a nation obsessed with gadgets, including cell phones, digital TV, PCs ... Quelle surprise.

-The cell phone safety debate rages on ... and I'm not talking about whether it's safe to talk and drive (never *ever* text and drive -- are you crazy?!), I mean the bodily issues associated with pressing a small electronic object transmitting waves and waves of information against your head to talk. Yeah, that. I don't put my cell phone under my pillow anymore, and rarely by my bed. Not sure why ...

-Gmail suffered a huge outage yesterday afternoon that left millions without access to their email. Find out what happened.

-In honor of Disney's Marvel-ous play into the world of comics -- and the toddler running around my house doing 'Spider-man hands' for the last six months -- check out PopCandy.com. This USAToday blog is full of all things pop culture, but Whitney et all loves her comics/graphic novels. She's always got the latest news and indepth coverage of the cons and the people!

-Want to see something amazing? Check out this real house built entirely out of Legos. The walls are shiny, and I love the design colors! It's part of a UK reality TV show.

-Hm. Apparently shooting up gangsters and running over pedestrians actually helps with ad recall in video games. Is it that the billboards are splattered with blood? Violence equals ad dollars. Write that one down, future CEOs.