Monday, May 25, 2015

Facebook Is Not What You Think It Is.


The Basics: In our zeal to accept and embrace new technologies, most people stop looking at what they are creating and what they are a part of; objectively looking at Facebook should give one pause.


Technology continues to advance in remarkable and impressive ways and for those of us born in a time before the internet, watching its rise has been an extraordinary thing. Unfortunately, the speed of technology is not mirrored by a rise sociological or philosophical development. As such, in embracing new technologies, there are very few people who understand the magnitude of the changes being made to society and relationships by them.

Social media, specifically Facebook, has become something very few people anticipated, but its trajectory into the future is remarkably clear . . . and not one a lot of its users have actually considered.

A Philosophy Of Facebook

What is social media? Now, after the rise and fall of sites like Myspace and the enduring influence of Facebook, people are starting to ask that very question. What is undeniable is that social media is changing.

Conceptually, social media is a public connecting point for people and businesses. The idea behind Facebook is that it provides a virtual space in which users may connect with other users . . . publicly. The public aspect of Facebook cannot be understated. Privacy is expressly not guaranteed through social media. In fact, long before social media, internet users had a way to connect with other users around the world: e-mail. The fundamental difference is privacy. Social media is more directly analogous to the old newsrooms and message boards that the internet was built upon: there strangers with a common interest or two would encounter each other spouting off thoughts or trying to sell things online. The analogy for message boards, at the time, was classified advertisements in the newspaper.

If e-mail is like letters (private, secure, person to person) and message boards were like classified advertisements (public, specific, out in the open, but requiring users to actually hunt for what they are looking for), what is the best analogy for social media? Those who stop to think about it might want to liken Facebook to a giant nightclub. You are out where people can see you, your friends come to sit down for a chat and occasionally, someone you don't quite know pops in with their two cents or a solicitation. The nightclub analogy is one that makes social media users comfortable for the most part because it is a socially-appropriate way for adults to meet.

But Facebook is not a nightclub; it is more analogous to a journal. What people my age, almost forty now, fail to truly understand and accept is the same thing that the young people being raised upon social media are oblivious to: social media has a permanence that is more analogous to a private diary than a nightclub. But to carry the nightclub metaphor forward to ease into the journal metaphor, it is more appropriate to liken Facebook to a mob-run sex club.

The Evolution Of Facebook

The idea of Facebook as a sex club is one that is virtually guaranteed to make users uncomfortable, but it's a strong analogy that holds more water than Facebook would actually like to acknowledge (hence them not using it in their advertising). Facebook began as an elite social network that, as it became more popular, began to lose its exclusivity and became a cultural institution. The original concept of Facebook was a place for elite members of the Ivy League to mingle; it then spread to other colleges, to other adults, to anyone with an e-mail address. Facebook started as a private club for the elite with money and influence to meet before it became an open bar that children were wandering through.

How is Facebook like a mob-run sex club? The answer is in how information is used and stored by Facebook. Facebook as a corporate entity watches and records everything that happens on its site. There are no dark corners of Facebook where Facebook does not know what you are doing or what you are saying on Facebook; when you're in the club, they are everywhere. The "private messaging" system for Facebook might be private to other Facebook users, but it is not like your private e-mail; it is recorded and stored on Facebook servers. At any point, you can go back to any undeleted communication you had on Facebook and read exactly what you and the people you communicated with wrote. That is not on your private computer, that is your thoughts, your words, stored on Facebook's servers. Facebook is, and has been, recording it all.

Information is power in its revelation. The sex club analogy holds true for what the future holds for social media. Already, employers seek (with frightening success!) to control how their corporate image is portrayed on social media. An employer in a Right To Work state in the United States can use social media as an excuse to fire an employee. Have a bad night at work? Mention how crappy your boss is just once and boom! You're fired! It happens already. In Right To Work states, employers do not need cause to fire employees, but any negative post (or, in some major employers' Standard Operating Procedures, ANY post) about the workplace can be easy grounds for termination . . . even if the company or employer is not explicitly mentioned by name.

The net effect is like sex clubs on a politician's career. Virtually everyone has heard the story of an American politician who once upon a time went to a sex club. They had a nasty divorce this year, during which their predilections decades prior come to light and their political career is over. Any good they did while in office is washed away with the stain of having a past. What most Facebook users do not realize is that the nature of the device that they are using makes such future revelations and violations a virtual foregone conclusion.

Rejecting Paranoia

It is easy to read a critique of a place that one loves to frequent and think that the author of such critiques is being paranoid. Alas, such is not the case with social media. It is only a willful ignorance that allows users to believe that entities like Facebook are either neutral or established for their benefit.

First, just as Facebook has continually altered its standards for admission, so has it revised its privacy policies. Most people do not read or understand all of the content of revised privacy policies, so let's simplify them. If Facebook started out as an elite club for Ivy League students to meet in and evolved into a club that opened its doors more and more to people who met an increasingly broad standard, the analogy for the privacy policy is frighteningly similar. You have been let into a club and when you were let in, you signed a pledge not to talk about the club or what you saw. Once you were there for a few minutes, you were told to stay in the club, you had to agree to/understand that video cameras were now being set up and your image would be captured and your likeness might be used. A few minutes later, you're told that to stay in the club, you need to accept that your conversations are being recorded. A few minutes after that, you're told that to stay in the club, you have to accept that those conversations and images will be sold to advertisers. So, in analogous terms, you set out to have a quiet meeting with four old friends at a nice club and five years later, your conversation/images are being used to tailor the advertising up on the walls of the bar.

That is a frightening prospect. Perhaps more frightening is the fact that Facebook now mines data from non-Facebook sources. What does that mean? It means that Facebook is collecting data from your computer even when you are not on Facebook. To wit, recently I made a purchase on-line. The account I used is registered with a different e-mail address than my Facebook account. When I placed the order, I wrote a message in the comments section of the site upon which I placed the order. I wrote "Please feel free to send along any Freebies! Thanks!" The next time I accessed Facebook on that browser, there was a brand new (to me) "recommended group" in my sidebar for me to join: Freebies and those who love them. There are only two ways for Facebook to have gotten the information that I had any interest in freebies to make such a recommendation: they accessed my browser history or they have access to my keystrokes (the third possibility, that the company I did business with sold Facebook the information is easily discounted by the fact that the other company does not have my Facebook-associated e-mail address - if they had sold the information to Facebook, it would not have reached me).

In short, to return to the point, Facebook data mining is already happening. The moment Facebook became a corporate entity that was committed to making money for stockholders, it became committed to maximizing its profitability. To do that, Facebook is using the currency it has that is unique to its platform: your private information. Most people when they first came on Facebook gleefully told the world about themselves, sharing their interests with friends and like-minded people. Now, Facebook uses the information users provided willingly to tailor the investment strategy of its advertisers.

Looking Ahead

The problem with knowing the nature of the beast is that, barring an EMP, for most people it is far too late. The odds are that you, as a Facebook user, have already put out the information that will lead to your own damnation; you've already been to the sex club, you're waiting for that information to be valuable to someone.

Unfortunately, what sounds like a paranoid rambling is supported by the remarkable forces of emerging industry. A few years ago, I wrote for small technology company and the emerging developments in search engine technology were all focused on the same thing: social media. The start-ups that are competing against Google and the other major search engines have found the key defect in companies like Google; they cannot read social media posts. Try it. Check out your Facebook, find a phrase you have written (something distinct), put it in quotes and do a Google search. Google won't find it; it cannot read Facebook's posting code. Four years ago, that was the technology that was hot in search engine encoding and where a lot of money and time was being devoted.

And why not? Law enforcement loves the idea! Right now, if a Facebook user threatens harm to themselves or others, local police or the FBI rely upon users "Friends" to come forward with screen shots of the threat before they can investigate (and/or act). It doesn't take a diabolical genius to come up with a situation whereby that could be exploited: Person #1 goes to the police with an altered screen shot of Person #2 claiming they are about to kill themselves. The police break into Person #2's apartment and when they find no one there, they haul Person #1 down to the station for questioning and/or to charge them with "filing a false complaint." Person #3 uses the battered down door (police tend not to travel with locksmiths/repair teams) to go in and rob Person #2's apartment. That was an idea that took two seconds to formulate and it's practical given today's standards of reporting the credible threat from social media. What law enforcement wants is a tool by which they can independently corroborate the "credible threat" - the ability to see the posts on their own, along with data that supports that the poster of the information is who it appears to be. The emerging technologies that are being developed to search social media sites like Facebook are all geared to making that happen.

It is entirely possible, then, that within the next five years, such technology will exist. What does that mean for you? What is your impending "sex club" revelation? The truth is, most people who have been using social media have not been nearly careful enough to anticipate the future of Facebook.

And that is where social development has failed to keep up with technology: perspective and empathy. The nightmare scenario that many people have to look forward to is likely going to be far more intimate than an employer denying a promotion or security clearance based on an old post. What many people have to look forward to is a deeply personal calamity based on assumed privacy that never existed (or existed and then was altered after the fact). Soap operas seldom get things right in terms of real human drama, but the spread of information is one that is unfortunately accurate. We share information with friends, friendships change, a moment of spite leads to a truth being shared, the sense of betrayal rocks someone's world.

What Facebook and the emerging ancillary technologies have set us up for are a series of conversations that range from the uncomfortable to the personally devastating. What if, once upon a time, you posted about a night out with a friend and how they brought a complete loser out as a date . . . only for years and experience to change you so that you end up in a relationship with them. Perhaps you mention to them that they "grew on you" or that you initially "thought they were a loser" . . . but then they uncover the early posts about what you thought of them. I was with a friend, years ago, when his mother accidentally let slip that he was an accident (memorable moment; I recall it two decades later!). How horrifying would it be for a child to discover that they were an accident through looking through their parents' old posts?! Or, worse yet, how terrible for such an individual to be told such truths by another who was looking into them.

That might seem far-fetched, but we now return to the original analogy. You might want to think of Facebook as a bar where you're meeting your friends, but it is actually a journal, a diary which you are putting out publicly for all to see. Your intent with a post or a photo matters less in time than what it actually says or shows (there are a number of people with shots of their tattoos that are going to wake up someday to uncomfortable realizations!). The daily frustration you state to vent or the personal epiphany you have that captures your imagination . . . social media has robbed most of its users of the sense of consequence to that. Few, if any, users who post a comment today are likely to actually have the metaconscious reaction enough to say, "What effect would it have on my child if they read this ten years from now?" or "If my friend marries this guy and we have to hang out together, is this truly something I would want him to see?" Most users are not metaconscious enough in their posting to realize that they might not have the time or space to explain their posts today to a loved one in ten years. Are your feelings now justified and real? Absolutely! Is it nice to have friends to commiserate about that event? Sure! Would you want to have to explain that perspective to a loved one years from now? More importantly . . . would the post you make today profoundly affect someone important to you if they read it and you were unable to explain it to them or put it into context?

Where soap operas get it right is that when truths are revealed, most people seek understanding, comprehension, or explanation from those who have hurt them. Social media like Facebook has created a scenario where personal self-expression now may foreseeably lead to hurt and devastation of loved ones at a future time, including when we are no longer around to comfort, explain, or diminish such trauma.

For other sociological or political articles, please check out:
An Open Letter To Senator Elizabeth Warren
Social Covenant Broken: The Rise Of Bad Business In America
How The Affordable Care Act Is Actually Unconstitutional (And Why Republicans Aren't Pursuing It!)

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, May 22, 2015

Interesting, But Not Audacious, Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled Cookies Are A Mixed Bag!


The Good: Generally good ingredients, Do not taste bad
The Bad: Chocolate chips are not at all chocolatey, A little expensive for what they are
The Basics: Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled cookies are a neat idea, but the underwhelming nature of the chocolate in them makes them a much tougher sell than they ought to be!


With how much my wife and I cook for one another, it is a rare thing these days for either of us to buy store-bought cookies. In fact, it has been a good six months since I purchased the Chips Ahoy! Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies (reviewed here!) and so, I was a bit surprised when my wife purchased a package of Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled cookies. The Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled flavored cookies are a soft chocolate chocolate chip cookie, that comes in a plastic tray in a resealable foil package. At $4.99 for eighteen cookies, these felt less remarkable than worth the price.

Basics

Nabisco has been around for decades making cookies. The Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled cookies are a new expansion to their classic Chips Ahoy! cookie line.

Each 16 gram Chips Ahoy! Cookie is a single round, soft cookie approximately 2 1/4” in diameter and 3/8” thick. Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled Cookies come in a 9.6 oz. package with eighteen cookies. The plastic tray does a decent job of preventing breakage. A serving of Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled cookies is a pair of cookies.

Ease Of Preparation

Eating Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled cookies is not a real challenge: simply open the package, pull out a cookie, and consume. When you have a cookie out, all you have to do is stick it in your mouth and chew; there is nothing complicated or mysterious about eating these cookies.

Taste

The Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled cookies smell like cookies, nothing more. The cookie aroma is familiar, not audacious. Instead, these are inviting to anyone who loves the smell of fresh-baked cookies.

In the mouth, each Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled Cookie is soft and doughy, followed by strongly sweet. The chocolate chips in the Birthday Frosting Filled Cookies are more a hard, waxy texture than a true chocolate flavor. After the floury cookie flavor is almost immediately replaced by the over-the-top sugary flavor of the frosting that makes up the center of the cookie. This is like a golden Oreo in its flavor.

These cookies leave one with a sweet aftertaste in the mouth, which endures for a few minutes after it is consumed.

Nutrition

Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled cookies are intended as a sweet snack, not a full meal. A pair of these cookies makes for a full 32 gram serving and they are not at overly nutritious. Made primarily of sugar, unbleached enriched flour, and palm oil, this is not an all-natural food product. These cookies were produced on equipment that forces them to add a disclaimer about milk, soy, and wheat.

Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled cookies have a substantive 150 calories for a single serving, 60 of which are from fat. A serving represents 20% of one's RDA of saturated fat, though they are cholesterol free. As well, they are fairly low in sodium for a cookie, having only 115 mg (5% RDA) per serving. They have less than a gram of protein and four percent of the RDA of Iron, with no other real nutrients. As one who is working on getting heart-healthy, I wish there had been some dietary fiber.

Storage/Cleanup

Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled cookies are easy to care for and clean up. Unopened, they have a pretty short shelf life; we purchased ours two weeks ago and they have an expiration date of September 23, 2015. Given how the package reseals, it is easy to keep these cookies fresh. These soft cookies do not generate significant crumbs when one consumes them!

Overall

Nabisco Chewy Chips Ahoy! Birthday Frosting Filled cookies taste good, but are not exceptional, which makes them a harder cookie to get truly excited about. The lack of a real strong chocolate flavor to the chocolate chips makes them feel much more average with their embedded frosting than truly special.

For other reviews of cookies, please check out:
Nestle Toll House Mint Swirled Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
WhoNu? Soft & Chewy Nutrition Rich Cookies
Keebler Peanut Butter Jumbo Fudge Sticks wafer cookies

5/10

For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

So Much Talking Before The Flash Goes "Fast Enough!"


The Good: Pacing, Performances, Plot development, Moments of character
The Bad: A few glaring character/technical moments.
The Basics: In its first season finale, The Flash must decide whether or not to time travel by running "Fast Enough!"


There are few television shows that can handle a season finale that leads, logically, to an entire retooling of the show. The Flash skirts with that with its first season finale, "Fast Enough," but it contains so many elements that seem to ensure that the promise of the first season will not be mortgaged in its second. That said, the strongest aspect of the first season of The Flash has been its serialized plot, which has focused on the initiating incident in Barry Allen's past: a night when his mother was murdered by a mysterious speedster, the Man In Yellow. "Fast Enough" effectively resolves that and while there is always the potential for utter disappointment (the executive producers could pick pretty much any point in the season to go back to and say "from this point on, it was all a Gorilla Grodd hallucination!"), the second season seems to be set-up without a serialized plotline, but with plenty of "metahuman of the week" storylines available to it.

Picking up right after "Rogue Air" (reviewed here!), "Fast Enough" is an episode that has so many potentials that even fans of the comic books are likely to be thrilled. Will Barry end up in the distant future? Will he go back in time and create the Flashpoint universe? And even moments I believed might be spoiled by casting for the next DC Television Universe spin-off - Victor Garber has been cast, but Robbie Amell has not - manage to be surprisingly rendered (Ronnie Raymond surprises the episode).

Barry Allen interrogates Harrison Wells (Eobard Thawne) at S.T.A.R. Labs, where they have managed to imprison him. Getting answers from Thawne, Barry learns that Thawne will return to his time if Barry goes back in time to save his own mother. This puts Barry in an immediate quandary; Dr. Stein proposes that the entire world will change dramatically if the prior fifteen years are altered by saving Nora Allen's life, but Joe counsels him to go back in time and rescue his mom so he grows up with two parents. Even Henry (Barry's father) advises Barry not to go through with the temporal reset, though Iris recommends that he think of himself and his own desires, which leads him back to S.T.A.R. Labs and Dr. Wells.

Dr. Wells tasks the S.T.A.R. Labs team with rebuilding the time sphere he had and Cisco reveals to Thawne that he remembers an alternate timeline. Thawne informs Cisco that Cisco is a metahuman, while Dr. Stein talks to Eddie Thawne about his place in the oncoming attempt to create a wormhole to the future and past. When Dr. Stein realizes that the plan to make the stable wormhole could result in the creation of a singularity (black hole), the team turns to Thawne for answers. Barry will have only a minute and fifty-two seconds in the past to try to save Nora Allen and return to the future before a singularity forms and with that ticking clock, the plans progress to use the S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator to send Barry to the past and Thawne to the future.

"Fast Enough" is very cool, though it does not try to finish the first season on a big special effects battle sequence. Instead, the episode is surprisingly cerebral and focuses mostly on Barry Allen and the decision he must make. The episode plays lip service to Dr. Snow (there is a rushed wedding in "Fast Enough" for no particular reason) and Cisco is given one key scene outside the technobabble scenes. But "Fast Enough" is odd for the technical and character elements that do not quite fit and go unchallenged in the episode.

"Fast Enough" has Eobard Thawne playing his endgame to return home using the particle accelerator and The Flash and that whole premise goes unquestioned. Thawne informs Barry how he can go back in time to save Nora Allen, but that works entirely independent of any idea of how to return Eobard to his own time. In other words, once Eobard postulates how Barry can be returned to his past and the critical night, there is no actual incentive to release Eobard from his prison cell. In fact, now that Cisco knows how Thawne is recharging himself and the S.T.A.R. Labs team possesses his tech, there is no incentive to return someone who appears to be a criminal to his own time. Instead, Cisco and Ronnie actually work to make sure Thawne will survive his return trip to his time!

The only possible answer within the episode comes from what is much more likely the result of a deleted scene. Thawne is seen eating a Big Belly Burger in his prison, with no clear way he actually got the meal. That insinuates that the Reverse Flash can simply leave the prison whenever he wants (which makes perfect sense for a Speedster). The bigger question raised by Thawne in "Fast Enough" goes unasked by Barry Allen and that is far more troubling. Thawne tells Barry that in his time (a few hundred years in the future) he and Barry are enemies. Barry never bothers to ask how that is at all possible; Barry doesn't ask "What?! I live hundreds of years?!" [to which Eobard, logically, answers, "No, at some point, you break the time barrier and arrive in the future, where you spend some time influencing things, not the least of which is my life."]

But "Fast Enough" is all hinged on creating an artificial wormhole that seems to benefit Thawne more than it does anything for Barry and on the technical side, the disappointing aspect is that none of the characters question that. Barry and Cisco are both intelligent and imaginative and believe that Barry has experienced time travel before. The last time The Flash time traveled, he did not need any fancy apparatus or calculations; he just ran fast enough around a lake. The Flash is faster now and it stands to reason that someone at S.T.A.R. Labs could do the calculations to figure out the speed Barry Allen would need to go at in order to run back years in time, as opposed to just days. Regardless, none of the smart, imaginative people within the show question that Barry needs any of the elements for time travel Thawne insists, when Barry has already made a temporal leap without any of them.

All this comes out because the technical issues and the nitpick (though some are not really nitpicky at all!) ones are all that is really wrong with "Fast Enough." The episode is otherwise smart, character-focused and well-performed. Grant Gustin, Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes, Rick Cosnett and Tom Cavanagh are each given the chance for big moments of emotional performance for their characters (Candice Patton does fine for her Iris scenes, but they hardly seem as big for her as some of the ones for the guys). Even John Wesley Shipp makes the most of his limited time on screen for a key scene.

What it comes down to in "Fast Enough" is a key decision for a character who is struggling to define himself and that plays out perfectly in the episode. Sure, some fans might be miffed when the episode's two big decisions are made, but they lead to a huge character moment and a huge DC Cinematic Universe moment (even if the latter is predictably resolved). "Fast Enough" is exciting and it continues the trend that The Flash has established; make a killer episode now that pretty much forces the follow-up to be underwhelming. Will season two's premiere surprise us? It's doubtful. The resolution to "Fast Enough" cannot possibly be what it appears (the sheer number of crossovers with Arrow that would leave fans kvetching about continuity issues that resulted make it impossible for The Flash to do a real temporal reset), but it has clear character-motivated actions that make for satisfying television. It's hard to worry about what will come next and not simply enjoy that!

For other big season finales, check out my reviews of:
"Graduation Day" - Buffy The Vampire Slayer
"A Call To Arms" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"The Beginning Of The End" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

8.5/10

For other television episode and season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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So Delightful! Dolfin Chocolate Earl Grey Bars Are Expensive, But Wonderful!


The Good: Great taste, Wonderful quality, Does not melt easily
The Bad: Exceptionally expensive.
The Basics: Dolfin Chocolate Earl Grey Bars are impressive, but Dolfin really makes consumers pay for it!


Lately, my wife has been getting a bunch of pretty amazing treats for me. She saves up and splurges on the things I won't usually spend my own money on and today, it's Dolfin Earl Grey Chocolate bars. I had a little flashback when my wife gave me the bar; a decade ago, during my first marriage, I had one of these bars. Despite the expense, it is hard for me to imagine waiting another ten years for another Dolfin Earl Grey chocolate bar! They might be pricy, but they are delicious!

Basics

The Dolfin Chocolate Earl Grey Bar is a dark chocolate bar from Dolfin Chocolate with tiny bits of tea leaves embedded in the chocolate bar. Each 2.47 oz. chocolate bar is wrapped in a plastic wrapper which is then inside a thicker plastic envelope! The actual chocolate bar is 3” wide by 5 1/2” long by 1/4” thick and has six segments, with a smooth bottom and minor veining on the top.

The chocolate is very dark and quite solid. Individually, the bars are in the $10.00 range, which is super expensive, even though these chocolates are delicious.

Ease Of Preparation

Dolfin Chocolate Earl Grey bars are chocolate, not steeping tea; preparing them is as easy as unwrapping the candy bar. Because the chocolate is so pricy, I recommend eating this a little at a time, not just biting right into the bar.

Taste

The Earl Grey chocolate bar is delightfully aromatic; the bar smells powerfully of Bergamot, the oil in Earl Grey tea that gives it its distinct flavor. The aroma is strong and there is no hint of chocolate in the bouquet.

On the tongue, the dark chocolate pops completely. It is sweet and dark and it blends with the tea in the Earl Grey bars to embody the flavor of Earl Grey tea delightfully. This is like a solid chocolate/tea blend that is sweet and chocolatey, while being dry and distinctly flavorful. This is the best possible blend of these two flavors.

The Earl Grey bar has a slightly dry aftertaste that lingers on the tongue for about five minutes after one is done consuming the bar.

Nutrition

Dolfin Chocolate makes their fine chocolates with fine ingredients, which is arguably why they are so expensive. With the primary ingredients being cocoa mass, sugar and cocoa butter, the Dolfin Chocolate Earl Grey bars are not a wonderful food to try to survive on. However, they do use natural ingredients and Dolfin is a CO2-neutral company, according to its packaging. In a 70 gram (1 bar) serving, there are 364 calories. This represents 41% of one’s RDA of fat and 22% of one's RDA of carbohydrates. Each bar has 210 mg of Sodium and 4.8 grams of protein. In other words, this is not a snack to try to survive on.

Storage/Clean-Up

Because the chocolate is so hard, the Dolfin Chocolate Earl Grey bars are not especially susceptible to heat. Still, these should be kept cool in order to not melt. With that in mind, as long as they are kept cool and dry, these will last over a year (the one my wife presented me with yesterday would have lasted until February 29, 2016).

Clean-up is easy, so long as the chocolate does not melt. The Dolfin Chocolate Earl Grey bars have wrappers that ought to be properly disposed of, but otherwise, the chocolate washes off skin and non-porous surfaces. It the chocolate melts onto fabric, consult a fabric guide.

Overall

The Dolfin Chocolate Earl Grey Bar is a delightful chocolate bar that prefectly blends the dark chocolate flavor with Earl Grey tea. The chocolate is not so dry as to be oppressive on the tongue and that makes it an actual treat, even if Dolfin makes one pay a lot for the priviledge of enjoying it!

For other fancy candies, please check out my reviews of:
Lindt Pistachio Nut Bars
Ferrara Milk Chocolate Peppermint Chocolate Orange
Godiva White Chocolate Vanilla Bean bar

8.5/10

For more food reviews, please check out my Food Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, May 15, 2015

“Catspaw” For Doctor Who: “The Shakespeare Code”


The Good: Moments of concept, Performances
The Bad: Light on character development, Terrible villains, Awful mix of fantasy and science fiction
The Basics: “The Shakespeare Code” is a random bottle episode that creates one of the least compelling aliens of the week that blends fantasy into the usually strong science fiction series.


In the classic Star Trek, there is a Halloween episode that might have been fun when it first aired, but has aged incredibly poorly. That episode is “Catspaw” (reviewed here!) and while the Doctor Who episode “The Shakespeare Code” was not released as a Halloween episode, it suffers from many of the same problems. Doctor Who is solidly science fiction, as a time travel adventure through both time and space. Whenever one imports fantasy elements into something that strives for more realism than the fantastic, they are left wanting. “The Shakespeare Code” suffers for that reason.

Interestingly, “The Shakespeare Code” is enjoyable to watch, but pretty horrible to consider. The episode takes the usual time and space adventures of The Doctor and his new Companion from the prior episode, “Smith And Jones” (reviewed here!) and essentially tells a witchcraft story. The unfortunate aspect of this is that to buy the premise, the fantasy elements have to be blended with the science fiction and it gels poorly. In short: witchcraft is just alien powers. Bleh.

In London, 1599, a man is killed by what appears to be three witches. Living up to his promise to take Martha on one trip in time, The Doctor and Martha Jones arrive in London right after the murder. There, The Doctor takes Martha to the Globe Theater where they see Love’s Labour’s Lost. There, they see Shakespeare and are surprised when he promises the audience that the next day he will premiere Love’s Labour’s Won. Visiting Shakespeare in his chambers, Shakespeare gets smitten with Martha. Shakespeare’s maid is one of the “witches” and she dispatches of the local censor.

Shakespeare is being influenced by the “witches” to finish Love’s Labour’s Won, with lines that are essentially a spell which will open their portal to release another of their kind. While rehearsing the play while The Doctor, Martha and Shakespeare go to Bedlam to find the architect of the Globe Theater, the actors almost open the portal. The Doctor talks to Peter Streete, the architect, and does his mind meld with him to clear the architect’s mind. A “witch” materializes, kills Peter, and threatens the Doctor. The Doctor figures out that the witches are Carrionites, who are aliens who use words for power and who disappeared near the dawn of the universe. Together, The Doctor, Martha and Shakespeare work to stop the Carrionites.

Martha Jones almost instantly establishes herself as a smarter-than-usual Companion by asking all the right questions when she and The Doctor arrive on the streets of London. She quickly adapts to asking “when” they are, as opposed to simply “where.” She is concerned that she might be carted off as a slave and that her actions in the past might have serious ramifications. She is emotionally aware enough to be irked when The Doctor alludes to Rose again.

“The Shakespeare Code” falls back repeatedly on the joke of Shakespeare wanting to steal the lines of those who speak around him. The episode is notable in that it relies upon humor much more than most episodes of Doctor Who. While the appearance of Queen Elizabeth leads to perhaps the longest-running joke of the series, most of the jokes are repetitive and simplistic. Martha Jones is originally awestruck by Shakespeare and the whole interplay seems to be leading up to Shakespeare starting his famous sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” for her.

The humor notwithstanding, ”The Shakespeare Code” is problematic in that it is another episode where a “mythic” race is presented . .. but then has no real consequences. The adventure in Doctor Who do not, usually, involve The Doctor having long conversations with aliens he encounters. So, the idea that there is an alien race that has been lost since the dawn of time that The Doctor has heard rumors about seems almost as far-fetched as the idea that the Globe Theater was specially constructed as an amplifier for energy released by the resonance of specific words.

That is the start of the conceptual problem with “The Shakespeare Code.” Like all science fiction, “The Shakespeare Code” stretches to explain magic in a scientific universe. That’s fine and The Doctor noting things like DNA control mechanisms do a good job of justifying some of the magic in the otherwise realistic universe. But then the viewer has to accept that in Shakespeare’s grief, he released three Carrionites who then want to release the rest of their kind. How did the Carrionites possibly know the right words to feed to Shakespeare to get him (or the actors) to open the portal? Seriously, if the Carrionites ever figured out what the right words were, why would they have ever needed actors to open the portal?! The episode never truly addresses that.

The performances in “The Shakespeare Code” are pretty much all that make the episode watchable. Dean Lennox Kelly is great as Shakespeare. He infuses the character with energy and swagger that makes his credible as the popular author. That the name “J.K. Rowling” pops up so frequently in the Shakespeare episode is troubling, but Kelly manages to land the character. Kelly and Freema Agyeman have good on-screen chemistry. Agyeman and David Tennant continue to develop good chemistry for delivering their lines, despite how many jokes are in the episode.

The special effects in “The Shakespeare Code” are mediocre at best, but they do not drive the episode down too far. In fact, this is an episode that is plagued with concept problems and writing issues long before it was produced.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the second season of the Tenth Doctor here!
Thanks!]

For other works with Matt King, please visit my reviews of:
Paddington
The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret - Season 1
Inkheart

4/10

For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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You'll Need A Black Light To Get The Most Out Of The Justice Lex Luthor Figure!


The Good: Pretty awesome sculpt, Neat features, Great poseability, Awesome balance
The Bad: Low collectible value, Obvious seam on head!
The Basics: The Justice toy line gets a surprising winner with the drastically under-valued Lex Luthor action figure!


Every now and then, I pick up a toy as a peripheral part of my intended collection - usually because I find it on deep clearance at whatever local comic book shop I am scouring at the time. Last year, I briefly returned to my home town and my favorite comic book shop of all (which had moved and grown, I was excited to see!). There, I found the Justice Lex Luthor figure on clearance and picked it up for no particular reason other than that it was cheap.

I am SO glad I did! Lex Luthor is an essential character in Justice (reviewed here!), which remains my favorite graphic novel of all time. Luthor's part in the book it to team with Brainiac to try to take over the world by saving it, with the argument that super heroes have had the chance to save the world and make lasting change for the better, but have refused to. When Luthor realizes that Brainiac has a different agenda, he protects himself using an anti-nanite suit, which is the subject of the DC Direct Justice Lex Luthor figure!

Basics

The Lex Luthor figure is very well-detailed, in both the sculpt and the coloring, though the fact that almost no skin for the character is exposed makes it easy to do right by the character on the coloring front! The Lex Luthor figure is 7" tall and made, primarily, of translucent purple plastic with glitter in it to give him an energized, sparkling effect.

This toy is a decent sculpt, especially for a character that has only had two-dimensional references; the Lex Luthor looks good in all three dimensions. DC Direct included details like the many belts and power nodes for his action-oriented suit. This Lex Luthor has molded-on knee pads and elbow pads and tiny connectors that make it look like the belt is powering all of the nodes. Lex Luthor's face is molded in a neutral, but determined, expression with his eyebrows slightly arched. While the vein on the side of his temple makes sense as a molded detail, the seam that goes over his bald head is an unfortunate distraction that lowers the overall quality of an otherwise awesome figure.

The Lex Luthor's costume is molded entirely in a translucent purple plastic, so you can see through him and see all the joints. The character's boots and gloves are black, as are the tiny cords or tubes that connect the various cylinders on the figure to one another. The only piece of this figure with any coloring depth or realism is the head. The eyes are tiny blue and black orbs that have an impressive level of realism for a figure in this scale. The detailing for Lex Luthor’s lips and eyebrows is very well-rendered. This is one of the best-colored human heads in the DC Direct line!

Perhaps the neatest aspect of the Justice Lex Luthor figure is that the light green power nodes arranged all over his body glow in the dark! Charged by sunlight, this figure lights up in the dark for a little while and looks pretty awesome under a blacklight as well!

Accessories

Lex Luthor, tech-based tycoon that he is, comes only with his stand. The stand is a black and silver square that looks like a piece of flooring. It is 6" by 4.5” and 1/2” tall and it has a pair of peg holes spaced 2” apart. The pegs come with the figure and plug into the base and then into the hole in Lex Luthor's right heel. He is perfectly stable on his base.

Playability

The DC Direct figures were designed more for display than play, but the Lex Luthor is pretty amazing for both. Even in outlandish poses, he has the balance needed to stand up.

The Lex Luthor comes with a decent thirteen points of articulation, which is good enough, even if it doesn't provide fully realistic poseability! The Lex Luthor figure has articulated ankles, knees, groin socket, shoulders, elbows, wrists and head! The shoulders are proper ball and socket joints. The head is on a simple swivel joint, so the villain can only look left to right, not up and down! Most of the joints on this figure are only swivel joints, though they are adequate for this figure and posing him in cool ways.

Collectibility

The Lex Luthor figure is part of the DC Direct Justice Series 5 line which was fairly common and few people seemed enthusiastic about. Comprised of villains and third string characters, almost all of the figures in the Series 5 set can be found well below the original release price of $16.99! Despite having a pretty neat feature and cool glitter appearance, this figure has not appreciated in value and can still be found ridiculously cheap!

Overview

The Justice Lex Luthor figure might not be overly popular or valuable, but is remains one of the enduringly coolest figures from one of DC Direct's best toy lines!

For other Justice action figures, please check out my reviews of:
Wave 5 Brainiac
Wave 4 Zatanna
Wave 3 Wonder Woman
Wave 3 The Joker
Wave 3 Poison Ivy figure
Wave 3 Plastic Man
Wave 3 Hal Jordan Green Lantern
Wave 1 Cheetah figure

9/10

For other toy reviews, please check out my Toy Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics Warm Oatmeal Cookie Delights With Its Realism!


The Good: Wonderful flavor, Easy to prepare
The Bad: Comparatively expensive, Environmental impact of packaging, Not a real thirst quencher
The Basics: With its inviting aroma and dry flavor, Land O' Lakes' Warm Oatmeal Cookie Hot Cocoa hits its flavor mark!


Every now and then, I encounter a truly delightful product that is almost exactly like what it claims to be, even if it is not the most satisfying product in the world. That's somehow where I landed on Land O'Lakes Warm Oatmeal Cookie Hot Cocoa Mix. Oatmeal cookie is an intriguing concept for a cocoa flavor and while it is esoteric and perfectly rendered, it is not exactly a thirst-quencher. That said, it is an intensely flavorful and wonderful hot cocoa!

Basics

The Warm Oatmeal Cookie hot cocoa mix is part of the Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics premium hot cocoa line. The mix comes in a 1 1/4 oz. sealed foil package and is a pretty delicious mix. Each 1 1/4 oz. packet is a single serving and these bear a relatively high price tag virtually everywhere I have found them of approximately three for two dollars. For a single mug of cocoa, this is expensive when compared to other make-at-home products, but about on par with getting a cocoa at a place like Dunkin' Donuts.

Ease Of Preparation

The Cocoa Classics Warm Oatmeal Cookie hot cocoa mix is ridiculously simple to make. Because it is sealed and has some artificial preservatives in is, this is likely to last virtually forever unopened. A single serving is the packet and six oz. of water. There is no measuring of the product involved!

As a result, preparation is ridiculously simple. The top of the envelope has a perforated edge and one need simply tear open the top, which is quite easy, and pour the contents of the packet into a mug that is at least eight ounces large. Then, simply pour hot water - near boiling, but not actually boiling as boiling water cooks the ingredients as opposed to simply dissolving them - over the powder and stir. Stir the powder until there are no blobs of chocolate powder visible in the water or giving resistance from the bottom. The beverage will have a light brown color to it and will be uniformly smooth and creamy.

Taste

The aroma from the Warm Oatmeal Cookie hot cocoa is strong and inviting. One does not have to love oatmeal cookies to enjoy the scent of oatmeal with a hint of raisins.

On the flavor front, Land O' Lakes Warm Oatmeal Cookie hot cocoa tastes exactly like it promises. The beverage is surprisingly dry and tastes exactly like an oatmeal cookie (no raisins). It is not overly sweet and tastes like a cookie with a hint of brown sugar to the aftertaste.

Nutrition

Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics are hot cocoa mix and therefore not the most nutritious things in the known world, though the Warm Oatmeal Cookie flavor could be far less nutritious than it is. While I am used to reviewing things like all natural teas where the ingredients are all easily pronounceable and recognizable, the Warm Oatmeal Cookie hot cocoa has a few ingredients that cannot be easily identified. The primary ingredients are sugar, nonfat dry milk and whey. It is not vegan compliant as a result. Ironically, there is nothing even resembling oatmeal flavoring in the ingredient list.

What is not a mystery is how high this product is in sugars. In each cup of Warm Oatmeal Cookie Cocoa Classics, there are 140 calories, twenty-five of which are from fat. There are 3 grams of saturated fat, so while one might be tempted to curl up and enjoy this while resting, they are likely to pay for it later on! While there is no cholesterol, a consumer gets 11% of their recommended daily allowance of sodium out of a single packet of this beverage! There is a little protein (3 grams), but not enough to live off this. In other words, this product is not a nutritious food.

This product contains soy and milk and because there are no notations on it, one must assume it is not Kosher or gluten-free.

Storage/Cleanup

So long as one leaves the Warm Oatmeal Cookie Cocoa Classic powder in its packet, it ought to stay usable. Given that it has an expiration date almost two years away (the packet my wife got last week has a February 25, 2017 expiration date), one assumes it will last quite a while and dissolve appropriately when one attempts to use it. The packets, for those of us who consider the environmental impact of such things, are terribly wasteful and expensive. The foil/plastic wrappers are not recyclable anywhere I've been.

Cleanup is very easy as well. If the product spills while dumping it into the mug, simply wipe it up or brush it up with a dry or damp cloth. If it has already been reconstituted with water into hot cocoa, simply wipe it up. Light fabrics are likely to stain if this gets on them, in which case consult your fabric care guide to clean it up.

Overall

One of the better, more intriguing flavors of Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics, the Warm Oatmeal Cookie is well worth trying!

For other Land O' Lakes hot chocolate drinks, please visit my reviews of:
Butterscotch & Chocolate Hot Cocoa
French Vanilla & Chocolate Hot Cocoa
Chocolate & Caramel Hot Cocoa

8/10

For other food or drink reviews, please visit my Beverage Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Racing Toward Finale, The Flash Tries To Save The Enemies Via "Rogue Air!"


The Good: Performances, Plot development, Most of the character elements
The Bad: Some over-the-top character moments, Details/Continuity
The Basics: Despite a few very "comic booky" moments, The Flash continues very strong with "Rogue Air!"


As The Flash races toward its first season finale, the show is working to reconcile its bottle episodes and the main plot that has been developing over the course of the entire season. The main plot has centered around Barry Allen struggling to reach his potential as the super-fast hero of Central City, The Flash. Over the course of that, Barry Allen and his team have learned that the night his mother was killed, a future version of himself and another speedster were present and responsible for the death of his murder. With the identity of the Reverse Flash exposed, Barry has been racing into a direct conflict with the Reverse Flash and perhaps the most impressive aspect of "Rogue Air" is that The Flash does not wait until the season finale to bring the thunder.

Keeping up the momentum from "Grodd Lives" (reviewed here!), "Rogue Air" puts off the main conflict between The Flash and Reverse Flash for one more episode. While Eobard Thawne's machinations are clear and have a strong influence over "Rogue Air," the episode largely reminds viewers of the many metahumans still left alive in the DC Television Universe. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of "Rogue Air" is that for those who are only fans of The Flash, the abrupt and somewhat confusing entrance of Deathbolt to the series and the sudden dependence on the Arrow McGuffin of a mysterious prison island make the episode stand alone a little less well than it ought to.

While Barry comforts Iris and tries to reassure her that the Flash is still looking for the captured Eddie, Cisco uncovers the truth behind Dr. Wells's wheelchair. Discovering that the chair has a futuristic battery of incredible power, the S.T.A.R. Labs team is suddenly surprised when the particle accelerator begins to reactivate! Going down into the Pipeline, Joe, Cisco and Barry discover the Reverse Flash, who gets away (in part by using Peek-a-Boo as a distraction). Returning the metahuman to her prison, the team hears Eddie calling for help and rescues him from Eobard Thawne's subterranean prison room.

Shortly thereafter, Cisco discovers what Thawne was working on; a power source that is reactivating the particle accelerator and now menaces the five metahumans who are imprisoned in the Pipeline. When Joe cannot find a legal way to transport the imprisoned metahumans, Barry turns to Leonard Snart for help with the transport plan. With the relationship between Eddie and Iris falling apart, Snart comes up with his terms for Barry. Against Joe's advice, Barry agrees to erase all traces of Snart's criminal record from the world in exchange for him helping to get the metahumans to Ferris Air (where they will be taken to Oliver Queen's island prison). But when the five super-criminals arrive at the air field, the metahuman containment field breaks down and the Flash and his team have to rescue the world from the threat posed by the Weather Wizard, Rainbow Raider, Peek-A-Boo, Deathbolt, and Mist!

Almost incidental to "Rogue Air" is the episode's final act which marks the high-powered return of the Reverse Flash for a slugfest that propels The Flash into its first season finale. The episode's climax marks the return of Oliver Queen, Ronnie Raymond, and (the technology of) Ray Palmer, which is a pretty big moment for the season. Rather than saving it for a powerful beginning to the finale, it makes for an intriguing end to the penultimate episode!

On the character front, "Rogue Air" manages to take the episode into intriguing territory by exploring the answer to one of the big potential questions raised by putting the metahumans into the Pipeline. Barry Allen, according to Joe, takes a walk on the Dark Side in "Rogue Air," but it is hard for viewers to adopt the same mentality. Fans of comic book-based works and science fiction tend to be very engaged and question the decisions of their favorite characters. So, while it is hard to argue with Barry Allen wanting to save the lives of the five metahumans who remain in the Pipeline at the end of the first season, fans would undoubtedly question his methods. Enlisting Captain Cold as a failsafe is an intriguing direction and it fits Barry Allen's goal of trying to see the best in people and do the right thing (mine would have been why didn't Barry Allen incapacitate the Metahumans one by one and run them over the ocean to the island prison? He had a thirty-six hour countdown to work with . . .). "Rogue Air" actually makes Barry Allen grow up and his determination and trust help characterize him as a lawful good superhero. "Rogue Air" manages to make him interesting and watchable . . . when villains and shifty heroes usually steal the limelight.

Similarly, on the eve of joining the next DC Universe/CW spin-off, Captain Cold re-establishes himself as a somewhat monolithic villain. Captain Cold is duplicitous and angry and he makes an investment in "Rogue Air" that continues the promise represented by his character into the next season of The Flash.

On the performance front, there is a surprising potential revealed by Rick Cosnett's portrayal of Eddie Thawne. Cosnett's final performance in "Rogue Air" has him playing Eddie with a twitchy quality that will undoubtedly start a summer's worth of speculation that he will end up as another Reverse Flash. Eddie's part in "Rogue Air" is handled very well by Cosnett; he responds to Iris's melodrama with a realistic level of being disturbed.

Perhaps the most fun aspect of "Rogue Air" is the on-screen chemistry between Peyton List (Golden Glider) and Carlos Valdes (Cisco). While there appears to be some sort of in-joke between List and Panabaker (were they in something else together? were the actresses a couple before?) that has Snart's sister and Dr. Snow acting oddly snarky to one another, Cisco and Lisa Snart resume their flirting and it plays out well on-screen. The credibility of that banter definitely comes from Valdes and List having great on-screen chemistry.

Ultimately, "Rogue Air" acts as an interesting cap to the first season's bottle episodes while preparing for a big finish for The Flash that is focused on resolving the big serialized arc for the character of Barry Allen.

For other works with Doug Jones, check out my reviews of:
Legion
Quarantine
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer
Pan's Labyrinth
The Benchwarmers
Hellboy
Adaptation.
Men In Black II
The Time Machine
Mystery Men
Mimic
Batman Returns

8/10

For other television episode and season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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About What We Can Expect From Them: Clif's Chocolate Peanut Butter Builder's Protein Bars!


The Good: Very healthy, Not the most inaccurate flavor
The Bad: Very expensive, Does not actually taste like peanut butter or chocolate!
The Basics: Doing what it claims on the filling and energizing fronts, Clif Builder’s Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars are more what we expect than anything exceptional or exciting.


I have a lot to be thankful for in my life right now. Near the top of the list has got to be my employment situation. I am once again happily self-employed and doing well enough to support my family . . . on our own terms. Just a year ago, I was working for a big mega company I absolutely hated and completely devalued me and being empowered enough to leave them and succeed without the hoops they made me jump through is pretty wonderful still. It also means that I am no longer compelled to eat things like the Clif Builder's Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bars for survival and a cheap source of food while being overworked each night!

These bars are not remarkable enough to enthusiastically recommend, though they do live up to their promise of being filling and loaded with some essential nutrients.

Basics

Clif Bar is the company that merchandises its foods for active people who are on the go and need a lot of nutrition in light, convenient form that travels well. For exercise enthusiasts, outdoorspeople, and/or dieters, the Clif Builder’s Bars can be a real asset.

The Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars come in a 2.4 oz. chocolate bar that is foil-wrapped. Each bar represents a single serving and Clif Builder’s Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter bars are a smooth chocolate coated bar 4 1/16” long by 1 5/8” wide by ¾” thick. The very slightly textured top of the bar contrasts the smooth rest of the bar. One bar is one portion, so this is very easy to get into on the portion front! These snack bars come sold as single bars or in boxes of 12.

Ease Of Preparation

Eating Clif Builder’s Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars is not a real challenge. After removing the wrapper, simply pull out the bar and take a bite off it. There is no particularly complicated equation to eating this chocolate bar. This is an entirely ready-to-eat food!

Taste

The Chocolate Peanut Butter Clif Builder’s Bar smells surprisingly little. Removing it from the wrapper at room temperature, my nose had to really search for the scent of peanut butter in it. It has a vaguely nutty aroma that is not distinct or aromatic.

On the taste front, the chocolate that surrounds the bar tastes vaguely sweet. Like so many of the sports-oriented bars, this tastes more mealy and like a slightly chalky granola bar as opposed to a delightful blend of chocolate and peanut butter that one might actually want to consume. That said, the chocolate coating is sweet and the peanut butter layer actually bears a flavor pretty close to that of peanut butter!

This bar has a strong nutty and (oddly) sour aftertaste that lingers in the mouth after eating it. It persists withy a strong, dry aftertaste in the mouth and I found myself drinking a considerable amount of water while eating it and afterward, despite the fact that most of that water did not actually reduce the dry aftertaste!

Nutrition

Clif Builder’s Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bars are intended as a supplemental food or to replace a full meal when one is on the go. These 2.4 oz. bars represent a single serving and they have a boatload of nutrients in them. Made primarily of soy protein isolate, beet juice concentrate, and organic brown rice syrup, the ingredient list does become a mess of preservatives and vitamins near the end. This is not an all-natural food product and these snack bars were produced on equipment that forces them to add a disclaimer about peanuts, dairy, soy, wheat, and almonds.

Clif Builder’s Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars have a stunning 270 calories (which, to be fair is pretty much what consumers of this type product want from them!), only 70 of which are from fat. A bar represents 25% of one's RDA of saturated fat, though they are cholesterol free. As well, they are surprisingly low in sodium, having only 210 mg per serving. They also have twenty grams of protein and at least ten percent of twenty-three different vitamins and minerals! These are not vegan compliant, but they do not use any genetically engineered ingredients.

Storage/Cleanup

Clif Builder’s Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bars do not vary in taste regardless of when they are eaten or how they are stored. Unopened, they have a decent shelf life around eight months, though they seem to last much longer on the shelf after that (i.e. in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, these will be very safe to eat!). If they melt, they will stain, so consult your fabric guide if that happens. Otherwise, cleanup is simply throwing the foil wrapper away when you are done with the chocolate bar.

Overall

Clif Builder’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bars are not the worst protein bars I have yet tried, but they are hardly going to thrill those who love actual chocolate and/or peanut butter!

For other reviews of Clif's products, please check out:
Crunch Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
Builder's Chocolate Mint Protein Bar
Cool Mint Protein Bar

5/10

For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food And Drink Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Head It Comes To: The Second Season Of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Climaxes Adequately In "S.O.S. Part 2!"


The Good: Pretty awesome special effects, Plot resolution is interesting, Decent-enough performances
The Bad: Light on character development (villains turn especially dull)
The Basics: "S.O.S. Part 2" caps off the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. by resolving the battle situation between S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Inhumans.


It's a big night for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Following on the heels of The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (reviewed here!), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is working hard to soften fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe up for The Inhumans (a team that is far more obscure and less popular than The Avengers or The X-Men, so it's like a third or fourth-tier team franchise). To do that, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going big with the two-part season-finale "S.O.S." to cap off its second season. With "S.O.S. Part 2," it gets its wish; enthusiasm for the next season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and establishing the legitimacy of The Inhumans in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

Picking up immediately after "S.O.S. Part 1" (reviewed here!), "S.O.S. Part 2" cannot be discussed without revealing where "Part 1" ended. With the big scene between Coulson and Calvin Zabo capping off "Part 1," and the Inhumans having taken S.H.I.E.L.D.'s helicarrier, "S.O.S. Part 2" starts with a clear distinction between the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents and Jiaying. Jiaying has turned the Inhumans into an angry army that is determined to kill S.H.I.E.L.D.'s remaining agents.

Aboard the Helicarrier, Jiaying demonstrates how she killed Gonzales by killing Agent Oliver to extort Agent Weaver into broadcasting a distress call that will lead the remaining S.H.I.E.L.D. assets to the Helicarrier. While Coulson works with Zabo to prepare to retake the Helicarrier, May manipulates Ward into killing Kara during the attempt to rescue Bobbi Morse. Having seen Jiaying's true nature, Lincoln Campbell becomes wary of sticking with her, though Gordon convinces him to remain with the Inhumans. Campbell runs into Skye and their fight is quickly truncated by Skye talking Campbell into revealing where Jiaying took the crystals she has.

Coulson assembles a team of quinjets to retake the Helicarrier with Zabo's help. Nearing the helicarrier, Fitz realizes that the distress call is a trap (thanks to the Mack-rescued Skye) and Coulson turns back the rest of the team. Rescuing Skye, still leaves the helicarrier in danger as Jiaying is determined to figure out who on the carrier is Inhuman and who is not by putting them all through The Mist. She easily removes Zabo from the mix using Gordon, though Fitz devises a way to neutralize the teleporter. But as Jiaying chooses her Inhumans over Skye, she puts Skye's life in jeopardy and forces a conflict that fractures Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. team.

In an episode that belabors the "will they or won't they" (kill her) with Bobbi Morse, perhaps one of the most refreshing aspects of "S.O.S. Part 2" is that it does not cheap out on resolution for some of the big character elements of the season. Fitz has spent the entire season with brain damage and there has been a reasonable expectation that at some point n the season, a rabbit would get pulled out of a hat that would restore his mental prowess. "S.O.S. Part 2" does not reverse the important character shift that occurred as a result of Ward's actions against Fitz in "The Beginning Of The End" (reviewed here!). Fitz being featured periodically through the episode in his diminished state lends credibility to the struggle over whether or not Bobbi Morse will survive her Ward-induced injuries.

At the other end of the spectrum is Simmons and the way she takes charge of her relationship with Fitz. It's somewhat impressive that Fitz remembers that he told her he loved her, but that Simmons tries to broach her feelings in "S.O.S. Part 2" gives viewers a sense of catharsis over the emotional investment in the Fitz/Simmons relationship.

In a similar way, Mack once again becomes a vital and interesting character as he is drawn back into the battle for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s survival by virtue of simply being on the carrier and wanting to survive himself. He rescues Skye and has a chance for his experience to play out in the form of a decent monologue. Well-played by Henry Simmons, Mack is arguably given the episode's big moment when Mack makes a pragmatic decision to try to save Coulson's life when it appears the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. is about to die.

The thing about climactic episodes is that they have to have good villains to make the heroism of the heroes reach new heights. "S.O.S Part 2" belabors keeping Ward around and his final moments in the episode are surprisingly unsatisfying - he finally, explicitly, reaches the point where his character has been going the entire season (and it, frankly, seemed he had reached mid-season). Even so, the trap he falls into is very satisfying to watch.

Unfortunately, Jiaying hardly stacks up as a great villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jiaying is given decent motivation before degenerating into yet another megalomaniacal adversary in the pantheon. Far more compelling would have been for her to be another good character who just has a different perspective from Our Heroes. Similarly, Calvin Zabo's rising action is abruptly aborted and his resolution makes for an interesting reference to T.A.H.I.T.I. which will go over the head of anyone who is not already invested in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Because the cast of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is so bloated now, "S.O.S. Part 2" utilizes an otherwise underdeveloped enemy who is basically the same as one from X-Men III: The Last Stand (reviewed here!) and The Flash episode "Fastest Man Alive" (reviewed here!).

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally pays off the investment in Kyle MacLachlan as Calvin Zabo. MacLachlan has a real character journey as Zabo. Zabo does in "S.O.S. Part 2" what one wishes Jiaying would have done; he listens to reason and the emotional investment Zabo has in Skye leads him to Coulson's team. Zabo has decent rising action in the episode and as the various battles ensue, he acts as a wild card. MacLachlan keeps him engaging and, surprisingly, realistically motivated. MacLachlan's final scene is heartbreaking to watch, even if similar scenes have been done in other genre works.

"S.O.S. Part 2" is the closest Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done to a big special effects-driven episode. Fights between Alisha and so many other people, the alien artifact (which appears to be the Venom Symbiot), the incapacitation of Gordon and the make-up effects for Calvin Zabo are all pretty intensive on the special effects front and it works. In fact, the special effect front works better than most of the character arcs in the episode. The cast of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is huge at this point and, unfortunately, the climactic events of the season finale do nothing to weed out the character deadweight of the show. That sets the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. up as another series of episodes scattered among the large cast, instead of allowing a few core characters to dominate the plots and develop in compelling and complex ways. "S.O.S. Part 2" uses great special effects and complex stunt sequences to distract from the lack of complex or surprising character moments or truly demanding performances.

That said, "S.O.S. Part 2" caps off the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a way that redirects the series for the next season. Set up to be a Coulson/Skye "explore the world" show, the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is prepared for by the way all of the characters are given something to do and the rising plot action between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans is resolved in "S.O.S. Part 2."

For other big season finales, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"Daredevil" - Daredevil
"Hope And Fear" - Star Trek: Voyager
"The Erlenmeyer Flask" - The X-Files

7/10

For other reviews of elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of all those reviews!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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