Having Some Mandatory Fun, Weird Al Style

Mandatory_Fun I’ve been a fan of Weird Al Yankovic for years.  From Eat It, to Amish Paradise, to White & Nerdy, I love all of his songs and always eagerly await his next works.  This week, Al has released a new album: Mandatory Fun.  In addition, he’s releasing eight videos

The day before the album’s release, Al released Tacky, a parody of Pharrell’s "Happy."  Instead of singing about how happy he was, Al sang about rude behavior ("are you pregnant girl, or just really fat?") and extremely questionable fashion choices (the image of Jack Black twerking while wearing a sequined fanny pack has been burned in my brain).  It’s a hilarious look at the behavior that some people think is completely appropriate.

The next day, Word Crimes came out.  If Tacky addressed violations of good taste, Word Crimes (which parodies "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke) tackled those to whom proper grammar is a foreign language.  Not only does the song complain about the use of numb3rs in words, but it also warns against u using single letters to represent words.  Its also quite insistent on the use of it’s versus its.  (For the record, I made those "grammar mistakes" on purpose.  It was hard for me to do that even for the sake of a pun.)  Anyone who has ever edited someone’s writing or who has had the misfortune to read something from this kind of writer will find Word Crimes cathartic.  Plus, you’ve just got to love a song that works the word "nomenclature" in.

Yesterday, the third video, Foil was released.  This song (a parody of "Royals" by Lorde) proclaims the uses of aluminum foil to preserve food.  However, it quickly descends into paranoid ravings about the Illuminati and the uses of tin foil to construct mind reading blocking helmets.

Though I don’t (as of this writing) know what other videos will be released, I’ve already purchased and listened to the album in full.  Here are some quick impressions of the rest of the songs:

  • Handy – Parodying "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea – This is a delightful song about the many things that your local handyman can repair.
  • Lame Claim to Fame – Did you know that my aunt once dated a guy who was in charge of the rolling bolder scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark?  While that is actually a true story, this the kind statement that people will recite to make themselves seem more important.  This song is all about these "claims to fame."
  • Sports Song – Go team!  Which one?  It doesn’t really matter.  This "generic football fight song" is purposefully vague as to which team or even which sport we’re cheering on.  All we know is that our team will beat the other team because we’re so good and they aren’t.
  • My Own Eyes – There are many things that you see through the years that you wish you hadn’t.  This song, in the style of the Foo Fighters, names a few things that Al has allegedly seen over the years.  If only half of these are true, it might offer an insight into how his mind can be so brilliant and twisted at the same time.
  • NOW That’s What I Call Polka! – Sometimes Weird Al will alter a song completely in parody.  Other times, he simply sings the songs as they are, albeit in polka form.  This medley combines songs such as Wrecking Ball, Gangnam Style, and Call Me Maybe.  If you are thinking that you can’t possibly sing some of those as polka songs, then you obviously don’t know Weird Al Yankovic.
  • Mission Statement – Sung like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, this song will be the anthem of any cubicle resident who has had to contend with managerial speak.  This song achieves synergy through vertical integration of its operational assets in a holistic fashion.
  • Inactive – A parody of "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons.  This song tells the tale of a couch potato who doesn’t like to move.
  • First World Problems – In the style of Pixies, Al tells the woeful tale of someone who has varied problems in his life.  One wonders how this person copes with a house too large for Wi-Fi to work in his kitchen, a fridge that can’t fit all the food he bought, a gardener whose name he can’t remember, and a shower that loses hot water after only an hour.  Truly this person suffers more than anyone else on this planet!
  • Jackson Park Express – Sung in the style of Cat Stevens, Jackson Park Express in the inner monologue of someone who spies a woman he fancies while riding a train.  With any other singer, this might result in a touching love story.  With Weird Al, though, we get a different kind of "touching."  As in he’s touched in the head in an extremely creepy way.  Of course, it’s Weird Al so he somehow makes creepy and disturbing entertaining.

The entire album is packed with wonderful songs.  I can’t wait to see which of them are featured in the next five music videos.

You can see all of the music videos (even the ones uploaded after I posted this) and get links to purchase the album on WeirdAl.com.

NOTE: The album image above comes from a screen capture I took of my phone as it played the album on Amazon Music.

Dragons: Rise of Berk

Dragons: Rise of Berk With the release of Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon 2, we’ve seen many Dragon-related merchandise.  Toys, video games, and even stuffed animals.  Now, there’s a game for Android and iOS as well:  Dragons: Rise of Berk.

In the game, you help to re-build Berk.  Hiccup, Stoick, Astrid, and other citizens of Berk appear to give you missions.  In the process, the story of a mysterious dragon rider and missing dragons unfolds.  (Warning: Some spoilers might be revealed by the game, but those come pretty far in.)  During the game, you send Hiccup and Toothless out to search for dragons.  As they come back with dragon eggs, you hatch, feed, and train the baby dragons.  Once the dragons are big enough, they can help you get fish and wood to build more of Berk or to support more dragons.  There are also side quests that characters from the Dragons TV show (including Mildew, Mulch and Bucket) and other dragon riders (Astrid, Snotlout, Fishlegs, Ruffnut, and Tuffnut) provide.

dragonsRunes – which act as the games’ currency – provide a means of speeding up most processes (searches, training, builds).  They can also be used to buy dragons, including some unique and familiar ones like Stormfly or Meatlug.  While it is a premium currency that can be purchased with money, some missions – or dragon searches – will also give you runes.  Also, while they can speed things up, they aren’t really needed for game play.  (A very nice feature.)

The game moves along at a nice pace and is very entertaining.  There is a certain level of "grinding" – or repetitive tasks to gather supplies.  In this case, it is the dragons gathering fish and wood.  Each dragon will only gather supplies for a certain period of time.  Once they are done, they go back to their home and sleep until you give them another task.  If you check in on the game regularly, you can keep your dragons gathering supplies, but only checking in once or twice a day will mean that it might take a long time to get supplies.  This can be bypassed if you are willing to spend runes to get the supplies, but you would quickly run out of runes and would need to buy more.

toothlessThis is a very fun game to play.  It’s always interesting watching the new dragons you get or seeing the fun side quests that you need to embark upon.  In addition, there are hints of something more coming soon.  Some rumors I’ve read hint at a "battle mode."  Perhaps you’ll be able to send your dragons into battle later on to get more resources or dragons.  No matter what comes in the future of this game, I’d highly recommend it for any fan of the Dragons movies or TV show.

Dragons: Rise of Berk is available for Android or iOS.

An Epic Battle of Bird vs. Pig

angry-birds-epic  Since we got smart phones and our kids got tablets, there have been the sounds of certain upset avians being hurled at the not-so-nice pigs who stole their eggs.  Of course, I’m referring to that mobile game: Angry Birds.  Over the years, we’ve played all of the sequels, especially – given that we are Star Wars geeks – Angry Birds Star Wars I and II.  When I first learned about Rovio’s latest Angry Birds game, via a video showing the opening battles during play tests in Australia and a couple other countries, my first reaction was pretty calm.  Ok, ok, it was more like: "WHEN CAN I HAVE THIS? TODAY? HOW ABOUT NOW? NOW? NOW??!!!!! DON’T MAKE WAIT!!!!!!"  Of course, I’m talking about Angry Birds Epic.

Angry Birds Epic starts like most Angry Birds games.  The pigs have stolen the birds’ eggs and the birds want them back.  The twist this time is that you don’t simply fling the birds at the pigs.  In fact, there is no flinging at all.  Instead, the game is more of a turn based RPG-style game.  You use your birds’ offensive and defensive skills to win battles over countless pig foes.  Along the way, you gain more bird allies, treasure, coins, and experience stars.

rage-chili-attackEach bird has a slightly different attack and might be better suited to some battles over others.  For example, pirate pigs tend to be immune to harmful effects, so Chuck the Wizard-bird’s acid rain attacks won’t cause the usual lasting damage after each turn.  However, against the undead pigs, his skills can help hurt the pigs evenly so you don’t wind up knocking out one pig just to have it revive a few turns later as you tackle a second (or third or fourth) pig.

The birds also have defensive capabilities.  They can form shields to protect against damage, heal injuries, or even cause other birds to attack (in essence, trading their turn to a stronger bird and giving that bird two turns during that round).  Each bird also has a "Rage Chili" ability.  As you battle, damage you inflict – or that is inflicted on you – fills an initially empty chili pepper on the screen.  Once the pepper is full, the rage chili is ready to be used.  Drag it onto a bird and that bird will launch a powerful which ranges from healing all of your birds to a focused mega-attack to multiple strikes on many enemies.  Using the rage chili wisely can be the difference between winning a battle and losing it.  Do you use it to knock out a powerful enemy in one blow or heal your birds so that they last longer?

battle-wonAs the battles progress, the birds will gain powerful weapons and new abilities.  A bird has three basic items: It’s headgear, weapon, and shield.  The headgear determines the bird’s class and thus what attacks/defensive moves it has.  For example, Chuck’s mage hat lets him zap all pigs with lightning or protect birds with a "shock shield" that hurts any attacking pig.  Meanwhile, his rainbird hat gives him acid rain and healing rain abilities.  The weapons increase your attack power and gives possibilities for special bonus attacks (like dispelling a pig’s beneficial spell or chaining an attack across multiple pigs).  Shields can increase a birds’ hit points and attack power.

Sometimes the game can be frustrating.  I hit into one zombie who could kill each of my birds with a single strike.   The secrets in these cases are to either go back and re-fight older battles to level up – increasing your attack power and hit points, to try a different combination of birds, or to try different bird classes.  Maybe you should use the the blue birds should be used in trickster class instead of in rogue class.  No battle is impossible.  It might just take awhile to find the right combination of birds, class, experience level, and luck.

This is quite a fun game and – having peaked at a full map of Piggy Island – I can see that there are a ton of battles ahead.  The battles between bird and pig will definitely be raging on for quite some time in this house.

Saying Goodbye To Wired Earbuds

BTH240_2 For the longest time, I clung to my wired accessories.  While people began sporting Bluetooth ear pieces for making phone calls while driving, I scoffed at them.  Why, I thought, do I need another device that I need to remember to recharge when I can just plug in my wired headset and microphone?  Then, I got a Bluetooth ear piece and discovered just how freeing going wireless could be.

More recently, I decided that I needed new headphones.  My existing ear buds just weren’t cutting it.  I like listening to music at work, but can’t just blast the music for obvious reasons.  Unfortunately, my ear buds didn’t have a volume control.  This meant I needed to rely on my phone’s volume control which seemed to go from "too loud" to "mute" in one step – resulting in many a headache from listening to music that was too loud.  In addition, the cord from my phone to my ears would get caught on my chair and either pull out of my ears or (worse) pull my phone off my desk.

Enter the Kinivo BTH240 Bluetooth headphones.

BTH240 When I was first sent the headphones to review, I was impressed with how they fold up.  The sides move in to collapse the headphones down so small that they can fit in your pocket.  My second thought, after I put them on, was that they felt uncomfortable.  I didn’t like how the band felt on the back of my neck.  However, I wondered if this was due to not being used to having headphones on like this.  Sure enough, the more I used them, the more I got used to the feeling of having them on.  Now, I don’t notice the headphones at all.

Of course, the most important part of the headphones is sound quality.  Here, the Kinivo headphones excel.  No longer am I getting cell phone music induced headaches.  Instead, I can make the audio as loud or quiet as I like.  In addition, while they don’t call themselves noise-cancelling, I’ve found that they work very well to block out many external sounds.  Perhaps a little too well.  I’ve had quite a few moments when someone was trying to talk to me while I had my headphones on – and was oblivious to them.

There are buttons on the side of the headphones to control audio (increase/decrease volume) and music playing (next song/previous song).  There is also another button that is a combination power switch and answer calls button.  Yes, as I was pleasantly surprised to discover, you can have the headset on and talk on the phone.  While I might not recommend them for driving due to the previously mentioned noise blocking (not hearing a car honking could be very bad indeed), I have put my phone in my pocket, put the headphones on, and talked on the phone while making dinner.

Finally, is price.  When I was looking for Bluetooth headphones, many were priced at $100 or more.  While I’m sure they were very good, I just couldn’t justify denting my bank account that much.  The Kinivo, on the other hand, are just $24.99 on Amazon.

Now for a mini side review.

zx100 When I was getting the Kinivo BTH240 headphones to review, I was accidentally sent another product instead.  As Kinivo sent the correct product for me to review, I decided to try out what they had sent as well – the Kinivo ZX100 mini-speaker.  This is a very small speaker that plugs into your phone’s headphone port.  The speaker pops up and provides some very impressive audio.  I could definitely see using this to play a series of MP3s for a group or connecting it to a laptop to boost the audio output during a presentation.  Given that it costs only $19.19, it won’t break the bank either.  Unfortunately, being wired means needing your device right next to your speaker.  Kinivo does make a wireless Bluetooth speaker, though, so that product might suit your needs more if you need a wireless speaker.

DISCLAIMER: I was sent a Kinivo BTH240 Bluetooth Headphone and ZX100 mini-speaker to review.  The opinions expressed above are my own.  No compensation (other than the products) was provided.

A Holiday Shopping Trip To Radio Shack

Disclosure: I participated in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting (#MC) for RadioShack. I received a gift card to facilitate a shopping trip and promotional item as a thank you for participating.

The holiday season means that, for millions of people, the rush to purchase holiday presents is on.  Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, many people have yet to buy their loved ones gifts.  Shoppers going to RadioShack might be in for a surprise, though.  RadioShack has made improvements to nearly all of its 4,300 stores throughout the nation, including a merchandise update, to ensure a better shopping experience and to stock new products.

The Shopping Trip

Recently, I was given the chance to shop at RadioShack and write about my experiences.  I actually went to local RadioShack stores on four separate occasions.  Each time I went, the staff were very friendly, offering to help but not pressing their help on me if I declined.  When they saw that I was juggling a mix of big and small boxes, they politely offered to hold them behind the counter for me while I continued to shop.  This made the shopping experience very pleasant.

In the end, I purchased some products that highly intrigued me.


How did these products pan out?

Recovering From Failure

key-finderLet’s start with two products that I had high hopes for, but which just didn’t work out.  The first of these was a Bluetooth Key Finder.  I was really anticipating this one.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been ready to head out only to realize that our keys had gone missing.  A frantic hunt ensues and precious time is lost (not to mention nerves being rattled).  The Key Finder promised to alert us to the key’s presence via a smartphone app.  It would attach to your key ring and would emit a noise when the app was launched.

What’s more, according to a Radio Shack clerk, the process worked in reverse as well.  You could press a button on the Key Finder and have your smartphone alert you to its position.

Sadly, when I got this home, I noticed that the Key Finder is limited to selected Apple and Android products.  Our phones were not compatible.  I plan to keep an eye on this product, though.  If new versions are released with wider compatibility, I’ll be first in line to buy it.


The second product was the Silverlit i-Fido.  I got this robot dog toy for JSL to play with as it boasted of having a voice-changer, the ability to interact via an app, and the ability to dance to music.  Unfortunately, when I set it up, I realized that you needed to go into the settings area every time you turned the dog on.  As I’ve locked the boys out of the settings areas of their tablet computers (to keep them from messing something up or installing apps they shouldn’t), this wouldn’t work.

Thankfully, the folks at Radio Shack made the return process easy.  I simply brought the items back and I was offered the credit on a Radio Shack gift card.  (A gift card was offered because I had used one to purchase them in the first place.  Had I used a credit card, a refund would have been put on my card.)  Any store will sell you items, but all too often stores will give you a hard time returning items that just don’t work out.

Big Wins

With those near misses out of the way, what about the rest of my purchases?  How did we fare with them?


The first one we opened was a 100 piece Snap Circuits set.  This set consists of snap-together circuitry that kids can use to build their own simple devices.  There is an instruction book with circuit maps that the children then replicate to build a night light, alarm, flying saucer, and more.  This was more than a win.  Soon after NHL began playing with it, JSL got jealous and wanted to play with it as well.  However, NHL was having too much fun and wouldn’t relinquish it.  When I returned the i-Fido and the Key Finders, I used some of the store credit to buy another set.  So now we have two identical Snap Circuit sets and my boys are having a blast figuring out how to assemble various types of electronics.


After this came the RC Moonwalker.  This is a remote controlled vehicle that you assemble yourself.  I’ll admit to a bit of trepidation as we opened it up.  Would this be a low-quality kit that would break as we put it together?  Would the RC controls be so weak that you needed to be within 2 feet of it to work?  Would the boys never want to play with it?

The answer to all of these is a resounding no!  The kit is made (mostly) of plastic, but it seems pretty sturdy and snapped together firmly and easily (with one minor exception which was easily addressed with minimal gluing).  Once the batteries were in and the vehicle was turned on, we tried it out.  We quickly found out that it responded quite well to the remote control.  At one point I even tried to see how far it would work away from the remote.  I came up with a distance of over 20 feet.  Not bad for a $15 build-it-yourself RC kit!

Just like with the Snap Circuits, the boys began to fight over this.  Therefore, we’ve added an RC Dinosaur to the mix.  Now they can take turns being a Moon rover or robot dinosaur rolling across the landscape of our house.

rc-dinosaur rc-pals

Finally, there was the smartphone mini-tripod.  How many times have you wished you could be in the shot you were taking with your camera phone?  Assuming there is a flat surface, this is just the answer.  Simply position your camera in the grip of the mount, extend the legs to stabilize, and line up the shot.  Then, making sure your camera is on a timer delay, press the shutter button and get into the shot.  Your camera will be held in place by the tripod and mount and the photo will be exactly as you framed it.

tripod-1 tripod-2

This setup can also be used to take stop motion videos.  Simply use the tripod and mount to keep your camera steady while you take photos or short videos.  Then, string them together into a movie.

There were plenty of other items at Radio Shack that I passed up – for now – but that got me thinking about maker possibilities.  I’ve wanted to get into making things for awhile, but always held back.  Items like a 30 second audio recorder module (powered by a 9 volt battery) and enclosure boxes, have led me to think about the possibilities for putting things together.  I definitely envision more trips to Radio Shack in my future.

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