All posts by Andy Hilal

I'm an internet product manager and former employee of Epinions. I managed the Community team there as well as Product development. I love writing and I enjoy explaining. Started this site as a place to continue doing both!

A Robot to Clean up Pet Stains

Bissel SpotBot Robotic Carpet Spot Cleaner

photo 1


Pros: Compact, convenient, and easy to use. Cleans tough pet stains out of carpets.

Cons: Noisy. Can only clean a small area: a circle about 5 inches across.

We have four cats and some of them are shameless about where they deposit their business. We also have light grey carpets and a toddler running around, so… let’s just say that cleaning up cat mess is a constant and urgent business around here. I saw this product somewhere and thought “what a great idea.” It basically works as advertised.

The SpotBot is a small, self-contained carpet shampooing device. It is specifically designed for removing spots, such as are left behind when a cat “laughs at the carpet” after gnawing on some grass outside. This is NOT a carpet steamer for cleaning whole rooms. It is purpose-made for taking the elbow grease out of small stains and spots. If you use it for that, you’ll like it. But don’t try to shampoo your whole living room with it. And if your stain is larger than 5 inches, you may have to use multiple cycles.

How it Works

As you can see from the photo above, there are 2 liquid chambers, one on each side. The one on the right contains cleaning solution: mostly warm water with a little bit of added cleanser. Filling that tank is step 1.

Step 2 is placing the SpotBot on your carpet, with the large robotic brush over your stain. Plug it in, press a button, and walk away.

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The SpotBot will inject cleaning solution into the carpet, scrub it in circles, and then vacuum up the mess. The dirty fluid is blown into the other tank – the one on the left. This is easy to empty and rinse out. Both tanks are actually very easy to deal with and require no tools or jujitsu to take out and put back in.

The SpotBot will work for about 6 or 7 minutes. It cycles between fluid application, scrubbing, and suction cycles. You will hear the sounds change as it goes through these cycles. A loud beep will announce it is done.

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Performance and Limitations

The stain I was working on was a tough one. One of my parents’ cats had regurgitated an entire meal onto the carpet. The food he’d been eating was some store-bought crud with a bright red color which was imparted to our very light carpets. My dad cleaned it as best he could with rags, but a stain remained. That stain had about 2 weeks to set in. Then I set the SpotBot on it. I used the “Set-In Stain” cycle. I’m not sure how this differs from the “Surface Stain” cycle.

When the machine stopped, I picked it up and noticed I’d only cleaned part of the stain. The stain was huge, and the SpotBot had only gotten part of it. I’d need to move SpotBot a few inches and repeat the cycle. I was glad to see that the first cleaning had not emptied the cleanser tank, though. I still had fluid left for a repeat.  Ultimately I got 4 full cleanings out of one tank of cleanser.

Here’s what it looked like when I was done:

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SpotBot can’t clean the entire circle inside the shield. There is about half an inch around the outside that doesn’t get wet at all. And about half an inch inside that which I don’t think gets fully cleaned. I would say in the end that SpotBot fully and effectively cleans a circle that’s 5 to 5.5 inches in diameter. Plan accordingly for this.

Here’s a closeup of the circle left behind by the brush shield, and you can see within it the moist area that got cleaned. Some might say a 6″ circle gets cleaned, but I’d call it more conservatively at 5″.

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One thing I noticed as it worked is that the SpotBot rocks in place a little as the brushes are turning. It seems obvious that as the brushes press down, they may lift up the SpotBot a little. And with the brushes turning like a wheel, the device could travel. But it wasn’t a problem for me. The circular shield around the brush chamber sinks deep into the carpet to provide an anchor, and SpotBot is smart enough to alternate brushing direction as it goes through its several cycles. But keep an eye on it. Carpets are all different. If yours has a pronounced grain, who knows. SpotBot could wander.

There is a manual wand you can use for hand-cleaning. This is useful for upholstery or stairs where SpotBot might not be able to venture. I haven’t used this feature yet but it’s nice to have as part of the package. The wand is small and definitely only for spot work. You would not have a good time trying to clean a whole sofa with it, and I don’t suggest buying this product if that’s what you want to do.

But Does it Work???

Yes. I was completely satisfied with the cleanliness of the carpet afterward. The dirty water tank bore the tint of that awful red cat food barfstain, plain for anyone to see that the job had gotten done – albeit with a few repetitions. And mind you, it was a tough stain. So yes, I would definitely say it worked.

Sparing me the bent-over chore of scrubbing up gnar-gnar with a rag is the real killer feature, and SpotBot delivers: I didn’t do any manual work to supplement it. Just rinsed out the tanks, wound the cord, and put it away.

Tips for Success

First pick up any “chunks” with a rag. Do not – repeat: do not plop your SpotBot down on a steaming turd and leave it to handle the whole job. I don’t even want to imagine the mess you’ll make. No – this is a stain remover. You get rid of the turd. SpotBot makes sure it doesn’t leave a mark on your carpet.

Fill with warm water. There is no heating element inside the SpotBot so when you fill the cleanser tank, use water from the warm tap. I would not recommend hot water. Filling SpotBot from the kettle will almost certainly damage its plastic parts.

The carpet will need time to dry. I’d say at least a few hours. Most of the water gets vacuumed up but not 100% – the area you clean will be a little damp when you’re done.

Sample carpet cleaner fluid is included! I got two bottles: each with enough fluid for 5 or 6 refills. One is a general cleaner, and one has OxyClean in it. I think both have hydrogen peroxide. The instructions say to ONLY USE BISSEL BRAND CLEANSERS but I always consider that kind of admonition skeptically. Of course they want to sell me more expensive cleanser. But I think I will have no qualms trying our usual “Nature’s Miracle” fluid on the next stain.

Finally, here is some truly hypnotic video I shot of the SpotBot doing its thing. It is loud when it’s working. Not deafening, but sort of like any vacuum cleaner: cats will flee.

And well they should. Because there’s a new sheriff in town.

How to Clear a Slow Drain Without Chemicals

Zip-It Drain Clearing Device by Brasscraft




Pros: It works, it’s cheap, easy, chemical-free, reusable, and made in the USA.

Cons: There is no downside to this product though it may not be suited to every clog. If you’ve never snaked a drain before, yes: it can be dirty work.

Not long ago I reviewed a so-called “green” drain opener liquid which cost me about $15, smelled caustic, and did not cure my slow-draining bathroom sink. Today’s review is the happy ending to that sad story: the Zip-It completely cleared the drain.

If you didn’t read the “pros” above, read them now. This little product is one of those grand-slam win/win/win wonders. Pay a couple of bucks for a two foot strip of plastic with barbed teeth on it, and chances are you’ll be able to clear most household sink blockages without the fumes and long wait of harsh chemicals like Liquid Plumbr.

It’s a really simple concept. The plastic strip has one-way barbed teeth. You insert it into your drain, and pull it out again. My drain was clogged with hair and soap slime. Gross – I know. But it always seems like hair is the culprit in these situations. The Zip-It is perfectly designed to deal with a hair clog. I was able to pull it that out and throw it in the garbage in about 10 minutes. I cleaned the Zip-It and put it away – ready to use another time.

Here’s a quick instructional video from the manufacturer:

Seriously – pick up one or even two of these things. You’ll be glad you did. Did I mention they cost only a couple of bucks? And they’re reusable? Made in the USA? I don’t know how it could get any better except maybe if they were made out of locally-grown, non-GMO, gluten-free unicorn farts.

Things to be aware of:

  • The Zip-It is about two feet long. If your clog is further down than that, you probably need a real snake.
  • You should go slowly and use caution as you insert the Zip-It and pull it back out. Its teeth can catch on your drain parts and though the plastic seems flexible and sturdy, you wouldn’t want it to get stuck or break off.
  • When it comes out, it’s going to be dirty. You will be horrified what is lurking in your drain, just inches from where you brush your teeth, wash your hands, and generally enjoy the illusion that your world is clean.
  • Keep a garbage bin handy, and some paper towels. It took multiple repetitions before my drain was fully clean. Each time I wiped the Zip-It with a paper towel, wiping toward the handle so as not to catch on the teeth.

Closeup of the teeth:


Every home should have a Zip-It! Pick one up the next time you’re at the hardware store, and feel good that you’re not dumping harsh chemicals into our water system the next time you need to unclog.

Zep Drain Care: It Does Nothing. Nothing!

Zep Drain Care Build Up Remover



Pros: labeled biodegradable

Cons: does nothing to open a slow drain

Unfortunately this is one of those reviews where I’ve already said it all. “Natural enzyme action opens slow drains,” it said on the bottle. And after multiple uses, my bathroom drain is still just as slow as it was before. This product may be biodegradeable, but now I feel like an idiot for using it at all, because it did nothing, NOTHING for me.

The instructions say to add just 1 ounce of the product after warming your pipes by running the hot water. I did this. They also say to follow up with 16 ounces of water. I did this. I waited the proscribed 6 hours. The drain was still very slow. I repeated the steps several times. No change.

The directions do say that for faster results, you can dump in 8 ounces instead of just one. I did that. I did it three times. Still no change. The bottle, which claims to contain “up to 40 treatments” is now two-thirds empty, and my bathroom sink still drains as if a mouse crawled down it and died. I’m ready to believe that I’ve been scammed. There’s probably nothing but Windex in the bottle – and perhaps a little tinkle from the president of Zep corporation to give it that distinct green color. Seriously, I know that’s pretty gross, but this drain opener performs precisely as well as a Blue Hawaii that’s been pissed in, and is worth about as much.

Call me a sucker but I always buy the “environmentally friendly” product when I can, even if it costs more. In this case I think I would have been better off with a few cups of vinegar. I think I’ll go cry into my sink now and see if my tears do any more good than this worthless product.

This Compact Heater Works Great

Lasko 5429 Oscillating Space Heater



Pros: small but mighty

Cons: front grill gets dangerously hot to the touch

This review probably comes about 6 months too late for many of you, but if you need a compact heater for a small room, you could do much worse than this Lasko.

What you get is a small upright unit with a plastic body and a metal grating where the heat comes out. It can oscillate side to side through just less than 90 degrees. It has a low and high fan setting, as well as a fan-only setting which emits no heat. There is a thermostat dial that allows somewhat automatic operation if you need that.

We’ve had this unit for over a year and it has performed well for us. We use it in the bathroom, especially to warm things up for our daughter’s bathtime. The heater has a sturdy construction and has held up well through almost daily usage.

It’s attractive enough and small enough to keep in the bathroom all the time. When we aren’t using it we just push it up against the toilet and it practically disappears. For scale, it’s just less than a foot tall at 11.2 inches. My hand is large enough to span the entire grill. It’s really a compact unit.

It puts out more than enough heat for our bathroom. I’ve also used it in our master bedroom a few times and while it takes a while to heat a room that size, it’s definitely capable. I find that the oscillation feature really helps distribute the heat, rather than just sending it up in a straight line to pool at the ceiling. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I always turn on the oscillation.

In general this little heater is probably my favorite of the 4 or 5 I’ve owned in my life. It has given us no real problems, though there are one or two things to be aware of.

First, it has a built-in ground fault protection device. That means that if it detects a short-circuit, it will turn off. This is a safety feature to prevent it from electrocuting anyone if for example it is operated in a puddle of water. However, a few times this safety feature has been tripped for seemingly no reason. When this happens the heater appears to be dead: you plug it in and turn it on but nothing happens. You need to reset the heater to make it work again. Unplug it, and turn the switch to OFF. Directions on the back of the heater describe how to do this, but you could miss them if you’re not looking carefully.

The other thing to know is that the front grill does get hot when it’s on. I myself am not worried about brushing against it – it’s not that hot. But we are cautious about our daughter touching it after she comes out of her bath. There’s always a moment where we’re wrestling with her and a towel to get her dry, and a couple of times she’s bumped into the Lasko. No burns, but it’s hot enough that you need to be careful. When turning the heater off, we usually run it in “fan only” mode for 10 seconds to cool the grill.

Overall a great heater and a recommended buy. I have never owned a Lasko product previously but I would trust the brand again after having this positive experience.

Keep this handy compressor in your car for emergencies

Campbell Hausfeld RP1200 12-Volt Compact Inflator


Pros: cheap, small, plugs into car’s cigarette lighter

Cons: air nozzle can be slightly fussy

This inexpensive air compressor can be a lifesaver and I recommend everyone keep one in their car. The next time one of your tires is low it’ll get you out of a jam.

It’s got a simple female schraeder-value air nozzle on one end (the kind you need to inflate a car tire or most bicycle tires), and a 12-volt car cigarette-lighter power adapter on the other. There’s a good 8 feet or so of electrical cable too, enough to allow you to reach all 4 wheels on your car.

Having one of these in the trunk is much better than stopping at a gas station and putting a quarter into their machine for 30 seconds of air. For one thing, you can use it at home or on the side of the road as needed. For another, you’ll have it at home for inflating things like bicycle innertubes and basketballs.

It comes with a universal adapter for the nozzle, which basically means a long, narrow cone. You should be able to use this cone to inflate air mattresses or beach balls of various sizes. Just insert the cone until it stops and you should have a moderately good seal.

The compressor puts out 150PSI of pressure, which is plenty for a car or a bike. Usually a passenger car wants around 30 PSI and a bicycle tire wants around 60PSI so you’ve got plenty to spare.

My only complaint is the operation of the nozzle could be better. You fit the nozzle over the valve you want to inflate and then turn down a lever to lock it in place. This lever is short and really hard to turn. It generally takes both of my hands to do it, especially in tight spaces like between the spokes of a bike. Sometimes using both hands to turn this lever means I lose my grip on the nozzle itself, which may come apart from the valve or just bleed some air from it. It’s a problem going on and coming off. But overall it’s a minor thing and I’ve gotten used to it. It doesn’t interfere with the basic functionality of the compressor, which works well.

A nice feature is that the compressor has a built-in compartment for bundling up the nozzle and cable. Just wrap ‘em up and place them inside this compartment, close the lid, and you’ve got a small black box with a handle on it – nothing dangling around. The unit is about the size of a box of Wheat Thins. It fits under the driver’s seat in both of my vehicles so it’s not even taking up trunk space.

When my truck was burglarized last year, they stole my compressor out of it. Jerks. I went and bought the exact same one a second time. I think that should show how much I like it. And you really can’t beat the price.

Unique Kitchen Toaster / Dock for iPhone

KharaTech iPicToastia 6900ffs



Pros: unique photo-on-toast printing

Cons: toasting is slow, charging is slow, high temperatures probably not good for your phone

Technology makers are moving into the kitchen in a big way.  Korean giant iHome has been building iPhone docks for your bedstand and kitchen for several years, as the traditionally male-dominated desktop PC business begins to slow and corporate strategists realize that women are wielding more power over the family purse than ever. Now there is finally an iPhone dock that charges your phone and makes toast, too.

Not that only women make toast. Gee that really came out wrong. Let’s start over. The KharaTech iPicToastia 6900ffs is a combination sliced bread toaster and iPhone charger, with a twist. Sure, you’ve all seen this kind of product before. It has two slots. Bread goes in one, and your iPhone goes in the other. No longer do you need to suffer the humiliation of moving between two separate appliances to perform these two tasks, yadda yadda. But wait! This unit has one additional feature that just  might turn your head.

It prints your iPhone photos directly onto toast. 

That’s right. If you’re like me, sharing virtual photos on Facebook is becoming a sign of these disconnected times. In the era of the “Poke” we find ourselves wondering, “what happened to the good old fashioned handshake?”  And of course with the advent of Instagram, many of us remembered fondly the days of actually eating physical photos fresh out of the chemical developer at Fotomat (while mom was busy parking the car at Alpha Beta). Who else remembers the taste? I know I’m not the only one!

Well, this innovative product allows you to return to those days -at least in spirit. Numerous studies have shown in recent years that the silver ions in photo paper interfere with a developing nervous system, and are not good to eat.  But as far as I know, toast is still in the clear.

The iPicToastia combines an advanced photo processor with a dynamic heating element matrix to imprint the photo of your choice onto the bread product of your choice.



I found the process was slow but the results came out well (see my photos of Buster, above, on some nice Kilpatrick’s sourdough. Just download the companion app from the app store, open it, select the right photo from your gallery, dock the phone, insert the bread, and wait! There’s no chemical smell or aftertaste to the process, and images appear with a higher resolution than you would think.

The process does take a little more time than I expected. Toast is supposed to be ready in 2-3 minutes but these prints can take up to 15 minutes to be ready. KharaTech says that the dynamic heating element matrix needs to move carefully through a series of passes to print the photo onto the toast with multiple discernible “shades,” or degrees of darkness. These add dimension and life to the photo, but they also take time.

As a charger, the iPicToastia is much slower than the stock iPhone wall adapter. I would not advise purchasing this product simply for use as a charger. It’s specifically designed for people who want edible photo prints. But then again, in this day and age,  who doesn’t?

Play PC Games With Your Xbox 360 Controller

Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver for Windows



Pros: bridge between 1000s of PC titles and one of the best controllers ever made

Cons: no real downsides – would be nice if it could recharge your controller

This will be a short review because this is a simple device. When you buy an Xbox 360 game console it comes with one wireless gamepad controller. Many have remarked that it’s one of the best designed game controllers of all time, and I share that opinion.

Your Xbox 360 has a wireless receiver built into it that allows it to talk to the controller. But a PC does not. If you’re like me, you wondered at a certain point how to use an Xbox 360 wireless controller with a PC for games. That’s where this receiver unit comes in.

Just plug it into a USB port and you’re ready to go. The setup is easy and I’ve had many many hours of flawless gameplay. It’s got 6 feet of cable and about a 20-30 foot radio range. I think in most cases this is plenty because PC gamers tend to sit close to the computer.

Be careful when buying. The market is full of less expensive generic receivers but folks have reported lots of reception issues and problems with software drivers. The genuine Microsoft adapter cost me about $30 which is significant. But I’m glad to say I had zero problems with it under Windows 7. It’s advertised to work with XP and Vista as well. I do not believe it will work with MacOS, and I don’t know about Windows 8 (my guess is that it will work).

I used rechargeable AA batteries in my controller because I got tired of the controller running out of juice and needing to be recharged. I highly recommend this route as you can pop in another 2 batteries and be on your way again.

Local Musician’s Lullaby Album is a Joy for Adults and Kids

Teacher Barb’s Train to Sleepytown


  • Learn more at


Pros: Soothing for sleep time, fun for kids without being “kidsy”

Cons: There’s nothing not to like about this album

Teacher Barb is a local musician I know through friends. She has multiple music projects going at any time but has shown an enduring love for kids, and this album is a gift to kids and parents alike.

It’s a high quality set of classics sung in a soothing voice, played at an easy pace, in the folk idiom.  As it opens with “You Are my Sunshine” and moves into “What a Wonderful World” you realize that this is no Disney kid’s sing-songy jingle-jangle. These are classic, soulful songs for adults but sung for children at a calming nap-time volume. They’re the kinds of songs you hope your kids will remember for a lifetime and sing with you for years to come.

This album was given to us as a gift when we had our first baby and we’ve given copies of it to other friends in turn. We keep it in the car now and our daughter still listens to it and loves it. We used it as background music in her first months when she’d cry for hours in the evenings. It soothed her but it also soothed us. The songs are easy to sing along with and kept us sane while they eased her to slumber. If you know a couple about to have a baby, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you buy them a copy of this album as a gift. 

There are definite kids’ songs in the mix, like Puff the Magic Dragon and Hush, Little Baby. And a few songs that were probably about romantic love to begin with but are easily reimagined by any parent as about love for your child. Songs like “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” and “Love Me Tender.” My favorites of the bunch are probably the Beatles “Blackbird” and James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes.” Here’s a listen at that one, and the full track list.

1. You Are My Sunshine
2. What a Wonderful World
3. You Can Close Your Eyes
4. Moon River
5. Blackbird
6. I Can Sing a Rainbow/The Rainbow Connection
7. Fantaisie Pastorale Hongroise, Op. 26
8. I Can’t Help Falling In Love
9. Puff the Magic Dragon
10. Dream a Little Dream of Me
11. My Pony Boy
12. Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight
13. Hush, Little Baby
14. Love Me Tender
15. All I Have to Do Is Dream
16. Somewhere Over the Rainbow

If you’re local to the Bay Area then you’re lucky enough to be in reach of Teacher Barb herself. and does an amazing job leading a room full of kids through song after song. They love her, and you can see below, it’s mutual. But whether you’re here or elsewhere, Teacher Barb’s Train to Sleepytown is the next best thing to being gently sung to sleep.

Teacher Barb with my daughter at a friend's birthday party
Teacher Barb with my daughter at a friend’s birthday party


A fun and ambitious action game for Smartphones



Pros: Innovative and surprisingly good control scheme. Fun upgrade paths. Sense of humor.

Cons: Be prepared: there’s an in-game purchase you will want to buy before too long.

Bardbarian is one of the most surprising iOS games I’ve ever played. It’s a good blend of fun,  humor, replay value, and quality construction. A few elements are quite clever and innovative, and the game layers on several levels of game mechanics without ever feeling complicated.

It’s a fast-paced action game requiring joystick-like control to run around, dodge bullets, and shoot enemies. Your main character doesn’t actually fight the enemies, but he’s surrounded by a party of followers who can. As you progress through the game you unlock different options for types of followers. They range from archers to wizards to robot-building engineers, and they have a colorful diversity of talents. By recombining different follower types, you can experiment with a huge number of different playstyles and strategies. This gives the game lots of replay value.

The game is set of a 2D map which feels about the size of like a football field. You can’t see the entire field at once, only a portion of it as you run around. But there’s a mini-map that shows you some representation of where all the enemies are. You use a thumb on the screen as directional input, joystick-style.

What’s surprising is how well this actually works. I’ve never played a game where you place your thumb on the screen like a joystick, and actually liked the results. But there is something different about the way Barbarian makes it work. Instead of showing you a graphical d-pad and making you press virtual buttons, you just place your thumb anywhere you want on the screen. Slide your thumb to the right from where you put it down, and the character will run right. Slide it to the left from where you put it down, and the character will run left. You can pick up your thumb and move it to another spot on the screen – anywhere on the screen – and start over. A small transluscent circle shows you where you put your thumb down and the spot you’re currently rooted to.

It’s subtle. It’s simple. It works amazingly well. You never have to look down at your thumb basically. You don’t have to hold the phone just-so and keep your thumb in position over some stupid virtual joystick that’s taking up a big chunk of your screen.

The game’s theme is a mashup of medieval combat and heavy-metal rock and roll. Literally, your character runs around with an electric guitar, rocking out guitar licks while his minions do the fighting around him. The longer you play the more “notes” you generate. These are spent on summoning more party members, or on temporary boosts to damage, shield, and running speed.

These fundamentals work really well. You run close to an enemy and your party members start shooting at it. If your party is made up of archers, they’ll have long range and shoot from a far distance. If your party is made up of brawlers, you’ll have to get closer – but they do more damage per shot. There are several kinds of wizards and other creatures in the party member list. But in any one game your party can only be made up of 3 unit types. You have to select your 3 types before you play, and stick with that choice until your next game. If that combo doesn’t work out, you can try another.


Each party member type has its own upgrade path, which you spend your hard-earned gold to unlock. There are upgrades for your main character too (things like his health and running speed). Last are some upgrades to the environment itself: one upgrade gets some of the folks in the town to keep their shops open and help you fight the bad guys. Another sets the town drunk loose to vomit on the bad guys.

The game has a fun sense of humor. One of the upgrades you can buy is called “body spray” and it allows your party to bunch more closely together. You can expect a few fart jokes and such, but the game overall is witty and enjoyable. The lively rock-and-roll soundtrack rounds it out.

Basically, if you like Tenacious D, you will love Bardbarian.

You might ask why the iPhone version costs a buck but Android is free. Well, almost as soon as you play you’ll be presented with the chance to buy a golden guitar that doubles your gold collection rate. Gold drops from enemies as they are slain, and you need gold to unlock every kind of upgrade in the game. Earning gold 2x as fast will get you through the game with less grinding, especially as you move higher and higher through the upgrades. Most of them get very expensive at their higher levels.

This “golden guitar” costs real money. They’ve experimented a bit with the price but last I saw it was $2 on iPhone and $3 on Android. So either way, if you buy this extremely useful item, you will enjoy the game more, and it will wind up costing you a total of three dollars no matter what kind of phone you play it on. I’m not sure why they split the price up differently on iOS. I guess they’re experimenting to find the optimal way to make money with the game.

I recommend this game if you like the sound of anything you’ve heard. It’s well put together. Attention to detail is strong. Quality is good. I’ve had no crashes and very few glitches. I really never thought I would be able to play a live-action joystick game like this on my iPhone but it works amazingly well. I’ve played for many many hours already. I hope you enjoy the game as much as I have.

Here’s a trailer showing some actual gameplay.

A Jolly Good Little Adventure for the Kid in All of Us

Commonplace Mouse

A children’s book by Karima Cammell (2009)



Pros: Gorgeous watercolor art, quirky and fun story, rich language

Cons: A couple archaic turns of phrase might confuse

This is a truly delightful and short book about a mouse who puts down his morning tea and sets out to find supper. It’s written in a mock-dramatic tone of voice and uses formal phrasings throughout to convey the dignified character of the protagonist mouse. He’s a dapper little gent and the writing conveys a very English stiff upper lip. Here’s a taste from page 1:


Occasionally the phrasing may throw some folks off. A sentence like “Who can but be optimistic on such a sunny morning?” might come off sounding like the exact reverse of what it means – to an untrained  ear. Be prepared to work a little bit harder with the language of this book – it’s no “see spot run” – but it’s worth it. We’ve been reading it to our daughter since she was 1 and she never failed to grasp what was happening in the story.

The elegant language is really fun once you get used to it, and presents a wonderful contrast to the simplified diction of so many kids’ books. If you are like me you want kids books that won’t dull your adult mind while you read them to your child. This is one that entertains us both nicely.

The story is short but there’s wit and a plot twist on every page. The mouse sets off on his quest with his nose in the air but winds up bedraggled by some mishaps along the way. In the end he triumphs and brings home the bacon (actually sardines). There are no scary moments in the book, unless you consider it scary to have your clothes stolen by a bird.


One complaint is the odd shape of the book. It’s very wide and not that tall. It winds up not fitting in to any of the other books on our shelf. And the very long length puts stress on the spine as you hold it. Our copy has sadly begun to tear apart.

I hope you love this one as much as we do: literally love to pieces.

This review is part of a series on Great Childrens’ Books