The Fine Review Line

ReviewerCardAn entrepreneur has made the news for an invention of his.  No, it’s not a new smartphone or a revolutionary gizmo.  It’s a card.  A card designed to drastically improve the quality of service one gets at establishments.

How does it work?  Simple.  This card lets businesses know that you plan on writing an online review about them.  If they value their online reputation, they can lavish you with extra attention, let you bypass lines, or even slash the price you pay.  If they don’t give you VIP treatment… well, you never know.  You might be forced to write a negative review online that could impact their business.  That’d be a shame, wouldn’t it?

If you think this sounds fishy, you aren’t alone.  Many in the online community have reacted negatively to these cards.  The creator of these insists that nobody is hurt.  After all, the business gets a good review and the card wielder gets exceptional service.  He even points out that he’s never specifically SAID that the business would get a bad review by not "honoring" his card.  Who loses?  The answer is: Everyone except the card holder.

The business loses because they need to live in fear of the card holder not being satisfied with how good the VIP treatment is.  Even if they lavish attention on the individual, the reviewer may decide it isn’t enough and post a bad review anyway.  Plus, all the extra attention they pay to the card holder may result in a lack of attention paid to their other customers (who might post reviews themselves).  Other people reading the reviews are hurt as well because the reviewers aren’t disclosing that they got great service thanks to their cards.  Those reading the reviews might think this treatment is the norm and then be disappointed when they get treated like regular guests.  A treatment which, under normal circumstances, might seem fine, but under the artificially high expectations may seem lacking.  These disappointed customers might then publish negative reviews.

In short, it is highly dishonest.

I understand the lure of getting free stuff in exchange for a good review.  Whenever I get something to review, there’s a temptation to write a glowing review only to foster a good relationship with the company and get more free stuff sent to me.  This isn’t honest, however.  If companies are sending me products to review, they are going to get an honest review.  This might be positive (if I like their product), mixed, or even negative if the product deserves it.  (Thankfully, I haven’t yet encountered anything that needed a full-on negative review.)  I also disclose everything that I get from the company so that readers can take that into account.  Even if a free product doesn’t sway my judgment, a reader might put less stock in it than in a review from someone who bought the product themselves.

"Free stuff" might be nice, but being an honest reviewer is even better.  I’ve even found that companies tend to respect honest reviewers and will seek them out for more reviews.  They really don’t like feeling like they are being shaken down for a good review.

So how should a business react if someone flashes this card?  I’d recommend one of these two counter-cards.  The first was my reaction to the article and the second comes from SelfishMom.


If a customer is tying their positive review to you giving them extra-special VIP treatment for said review, then their review isn’t worth much.  Don’t treat them badly, mind you.  Just treat them like any other normal guest.  If enough businesses refuse to "honor" these cards, then the cards’ power will decline to the point that they will become useless chunks of plastic.

Spaghetti is NOT A Finger Food – A Great #Aspergers eBook

Spaghetti Is NOT A Finger Food CoverEver since NHL was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I’ve been on the lookout for books, TV shows, and other places where Asperger’s was covered.  So when I heard about Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food by Jodi Carmichael, I knew I had to read it.

In Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food, we are introduced to Connor, a third grade student with Asperger’s.  As we follow Connor through the day, we see the various challenges and triumphs that he encounters.  Since the story is told from Connor’s point of view, the reader gets a glimpse into how an Aspie sees the often-confusing neurotypical world.  In addition, you get to see just how an Aspie’s good intentions can go horribly awry.

A few sections of the book stood out to me.  Early on, Connor (having been sent to the hall to calm down) re-enters the classroom.  During his hall time, he has thought of a lot of gecko-related facts.  His brain was positively bursting with facts that he just had to relate to his teacher immediately.  So important was this, that he thought it was completely acceptable to squash another kid’s volcano science project, cut in front of some other kids, and interrupt everyone to tell them all the facts he remembered.

Of course, we can realize the many places where Connor went wrong and what he should have done.  In Connor’s mind, however, the gecko-facts were the most important thing in the world.  His mind was obsessing about them so much that he could not, in the moment, stop himself, think about how his actions might be perceived by others, or even consider the possibility that other people might not be interested in his facts.  The only thing that mattered was telling those facts.

I can easily see parallels in this with NHL.  When NHL gets something in his head, he has to tell everyone.  He doesn’t realize when the people he’s telling aren’t interested because, to him, whatever is highly interesting to him MUST be highly interesting to everyone else.

Another example of single-minded obsession comes into play when Connor – who loves everything to do with dogs – spies a new dogs book in the library.  Since it is above his reach, he seeks out a stool.  Unfortunately, a girl in his class is already sitting in that stool.  Since Connor thinks that stools are for getting books from high up and chairs are for sitting, he doesn’t understand why the girl doesn’t move.  In his mind, his reasoning is perfectly logical and his actions (pulling the stool out from under her) are completely justified.  He is honestly clueless about why she would be upset and about why the teacher wouldn’t talk to the girl about chair-stool differences.

Here, Connor shows how Aspies can sometimes "lock in" on one solution to a problem to the exclusion of other, more reasonable or socially acceptable solutions.  Connor could have found another stool, stood on a chair, or asked his teacher for help, but when he saw a solution (stand on the stool the girl was using), he locked in on that and couldn’t let go of the idea.  NHL does this too from time to time.  His brain will lock into an idea and can’t consider other options.  Honestly, though I’ve worked on this for many years, I still do this also all too often.

Connor also has trouble telling what constitutes friendship.  During lunch, he slurps his spaghetti messily which causes a girl at his table to laugh.  Thinking that this made her happy, he slurps more spaghetti, then escalates it until he is dumping the spaghetti on his head.  The entire lunch room laughs but Connor is oblivious to the possibility that they are laughing AT him.  Instead, he thinks this means that they are all his friends.

NHL can be like this too.  It breaks B’s and my hearts when he describes a friend he has in school only to say hi to them and have them roll their eyes at him and ignore him.  Recently, he’s gotten more aware of this which, in some ways, only makes the situation worse.  He feels isolated and alone.  Having gone through much of school feeling this, I can completely relate to NHL and Connor.  Being an Aspie doesn’t mean you are anti-social.  In fact, Aspies often want to socialize but don’t know how to.  I’ve often described it as craving the spotlight but feeling intensely uncomfortable once it is shined your way.  When it is on you, you don’t know what to do and just want to escape it.  When it isn’t on you, you just want to get into it but don’t know how.

My final example has to do with honesty.  Aspies tend to be honest.  Not just honest, but too honest.  Honest to a fault.  Connor repeatedly demonstrates this when, mistaking social cues, he tries to be helpful by relating what he thinks is pertinent information (for example, how a wrinkle cream he saw advertised on TV could erase his teacher’s wrinkles).

NHL, too, is very honest.  In fact, it is very difficult for NHL to lie.  He tries, don’t get me wrong, but his lies are very easy to spot.  A few probing questions and his attempted lie crumbles to dust as he tells the truth.  Like NHL, I have problems lying as well.  Lying about anything major (say, more than a birthday present) is a very stressful endeavor.  I can try but the truth will blurt right out of my lips before long.

I really enjoyed the glimpse of life through Connor’s eyes and would recommend this eBook to anyone (adult or child) who knows someone with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Hopefully, Jodi will turn this into a series and allow us to see more of Connor’s world.  I, for one, can’t wait.

Spaghetti Is NOT a Finger Food is available from for the Kindle Fire, Kindle Cloud Reader, Kindle for iPad, and Kindle for Android.

B has also posted her take on Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food.

Disclaimer; I purchased this book from Amazon and decided to review it.  The opinions above are my own.  I wasn’t compensated by anyone for this review, however the above link to the book is an affiliate link.

Review: Zing Z-X Crossbow and Pop Rocketz

Last year, I reviewed two products from ZING Toys.  When I heard that they had some new items, I was excited to get the chance to review these as well.

Zing Z-X CrossbowThe first to get played with was the Z-X Crossbow.  In many ways, this was similar to the Z-Curve Bow I reviewed last year.  Both use stretching bands that arrows hook into to launch far away.


Zing Z-X Crossbow Locked and LoadedThe primary difference, however, is that this is a crossbow.  When the arrow is loaded, it locks into place.  The arrow will then remain in place until a trigger is pulled.  Afterwards, the arrow will go flying off into the distance.

My boys loved playing with the crossbow.  Sometimes they would take turns with one firing the arrows and the other running off to retrieve them.  Other times, they would each fire an arrow and see who could get theirs the furthest.

NHL Fires the Zing Z-X Crossbow

Pop Rocketz

Next up were the Pop Rocketz.  This was very different from our previous Zing products.  Instead of a slingshot or arrow, this was a air powered rocket launcher.  You simply slide the rocket onto the launcher.  Then, you squeeze the bulb and the rocket shoots high into the air.

This was a favorite of my boys, especially JSL.  Many of these toys require strength and coordination that a 5 year old doesn’t have.  Yes, the Z-X Crossbow is labeled as being for ages 8 and up, but if NHL is using it, JSL will want to too.  And if JSL tries using the crossbow, he will doubtlessly get frustrated.

The Pop Rocketz, however, were designed for ages 5 and up.  They are extremely simple.  JSL just needed to squeeze the bulb very quickly and he could shoot the rockets pretty high.

JSL launches Pop Rocketz

Both of these products have earned their place as fun outdoor toys we will doubtlessly use over and over again.

Disclaimer: I received the Z-X Crossbow and the Pop Rocketz from ZING Toys to review.  However, the opinions expressed above are my own.

Year Zero – An Addictive Tale of Galactic Intrigue and Copyright Infringement

covershotI recently read a review that Phil Plait, aka Bad Astronomer, posted about Year Zero by Rob Reid.  (If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he founded which created the Rhapsody music service.  If it doesn’t sound familiar, then never mind.)  In it, there are countless alien civilizations in the Universe.  Most tend to self-destruct, but a few don’t.  These precious few (well, "few" percentage-wise is still many, many civilizations numbers-wise) get to join the Refined League.  By doing so, they gain access to the technological and, more importantly, the art that all of the other civilizations have.

For the longest time, Earth seemed to be a nothing world.  We were primitive nobodies, barely even worthy to be paid attention to.  Until, that is, Welcome Back Kotter aired.  Even this, however, was laughable to the aliens until the closing credits theme song played.

There’s this funny thing about aliens.  They are leaps and bounds ahead of us in every area known to man… er, sentient species, except for one: Music.  Here, we soar beyond any of their wildest aspirations.  In fact, our music is more than just "good" to them.  It has a certain drug-like effect on them.  Human music is like LSD on crack to aliens.  They shuffle wildly, approximating dancing – aliens stink at rhythm, and can even go into a trance-like state where they are aware of nothing but the wondrous sensation of the heavenly tones coming from those otherwise hopelessly backwards Homo Sapiens.

Now, like many music fans, they decided they needed to have copies of the songs.  Since landing in flying saucers en masse was out of the question (for one, they don’t interfere in non-Refined civilizations and secondly they don’t travel in flying saucers), they took the route that many human music fans take: they "downloaded" the music.  Every alien has a copy of every song released since about 1978.

Unfortunately, the aliens are also sticklers for the rules.  They have a law that they need to follow the laws of whatever planet the art form comes from.  And Earth (specifically, the United States) has this pesky copyright law.  When you add up the fines that would result from every alien pirating every song released since 1978, you get more money than the entire Universe.  Yes, thanks to copyright law, the entire Earth (except for North Korea) is now fabulously wealthy and the Universe is bankrupt.  And that’s a problem.  Especially since some aliens would like to see the debt wiped out by any means necessary.  Even if it means humanity is wiped out.  (Hard to collect on your debt when you’re kaput.)

Rob Reid takes this setup and runs with it in a way that alternates between hilarious and insightful.  (Often being both at once.)  His characters struggle against impossible odds to find a way out of this situation.  Their travels take them from New York City to the other side of the Universe and back again.

I found this book as addictive as the aliens in it found humanity’s music.  I couldn’t put it down for more than a few minutes.  When I did, I found myself finding excuses to sneak off with the book just to read a few more pages.  A few times, I thought I had figured out how they would solve the problem.  I was even close once, but not close enough.  The actual resolution makes perfect sense and is one of those "why didn’t *I* think of that" situations.

The entire book is told from the main character’s point of view and, just to add to the fun of the book, there are footnotes scattered here where he adds background to sections, terms, or statements that characters make.  I was drawn into this world and it would not let go until I finished the very last page.  (Yes, I read all 357 pages in 2 days!)  The story was just too engrossing not to keep reading.  And even when you think everything is tied up in a nice little package, the author tosses a new wrinkle (albeit one he mentions earlier in the book but then gets conveniently "forgotten" about until the end) that not only adds an interesting twist, but also possibly sets up a sequel.

However, whether there is a sequel or not, Year Zero is a very interesting read and I would recommend it to any music or science fiction fan.  I would doubly recommend it to people who are fans of both music *and* science fiction.

App Analysis: Doodle Bowling

Doodle Bowling - Roll Across the PaperWhen I first got my smartphone, I couldn’t wait to download apps.  I’ll admit that the first app I downloaded was a game: Angry Birds Space.  Since that first download, I’ve installed many, many more apps.  A few I use often, some sit on my phone mostly unused, and some were uninstalled rather quickly.  I’ve come to enjoy finding clever, useful, or just plain interesting apps, especially if they are ones that aren’t that famous.

I’m going to begin a series of app reviews.  Some might be ones everyone has heard of and some might be more obscure.  Some might increase your productivity, some might increase your creativity, and some might distract you with fun gameplay.

Though I’ve downloaded many games, I recently realized that I hadn’t gotten any bowling games.  Now, I love bowling.  Some of my fondest memories of my grandfather are of him attending my bowling league games and giving me advice… and then giving the other team advice when I refused to listen to him.  It’s the sort of thing that was annoying then, but makes me sentimental now.

Doodle Bowling - Pins Fall Down and Go Boom!So off I went to the Google Play store to look for a bowling game.  There were many to choose from, but one leapt off the page, so to speak: Doodle Bowling.  When you load up Doodle Bowling, you are presented with some graph paper and a crudely drawn ball.  At the far end of a pair of lines are ten pins.  You "pick up" the ball by pressing on it and then flick your finger upwards to launch it at the pins.  In addition, by rapidly swiping your finger left or right, you can put some spin on the ball and direct when it finally ends up.  As the ball hits the end of the lane, it "rips" through the paper, sending pins scattering.

The goal of the game is the same as normal bowling.  Knock down as many pins as possible.  Your score is tallied just under the lane and is displayed at the end of the game.

By itself, this would be fun, but might get old quickly.  To increase the replayability, there are many different themes to unlock.  One turns your "graph paper lane" into a chalk board (pins disappear with a puff of smoke).  One brings your bowling experience into outer space.  One even lets you bowl in a normal, ordinary bowling alley.  Each play earns you one credit.  Each theme costs a certain number of credits.  Therefore, there is an incentive to play the game over and over to unlock all of the themes.

Doodle Bowling - Strike!What I most like about this game is that it is fun, quick, and simple.  A single game of bowling takes about two or three minutes.  There is a definite joy when all of the pins fall down and that "Strike" or "Spare" banner appears.  Finally, the controls are so simple that my five year old mastered them almost immediately.

Since this is a free app, there are the requisite ads above the bowling action.  However, I found these to be unobtrusive and not easily clicked by accident.  (All of your interaction tends to take place at the bottom of the screen while the ads are up top.)  A few ads is a fair trade for the bowling fun.

This is definitely a keeper and will surely provide the kids and I with many wonderful, pin smashing hours of fun – in 10 frame, 3 minute chunks.

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