• Review: NutriBullet 12-Piece High-Speed Blender/Mixer System

    I am a busy geek, and I have no time for your complicated salads, nor do I fancy Soylent. This gadget—buy it on Amazon for $80—is an especially great model for college students in dorms, so consider shipping one to the freshman on your list.

    Eating healthy on a busy day can be a challenge. I love cooking, but I'm an efficiency junkie, and don't always want to use up valuable time in the kitchen. My go-to solution when I'm hungry and busy with work is generally fast food, protein bars, or caffeine, but they all make me feel like crap later.

    I needed something better. What I ended up getting for myself is a gadget that produces quick, plant-based power-meals whenever I'm hungry and short on time.

    Eating right for me these days means a plant-centered diet. The beneficial effects are too numerous and too well-documented to ignore. Proponents argue benefits around obesitycancer, and even the environment.

    But industrial processed food and sugary drinks are everywhere, as is seductive street meat, and protein shakes with complicated ingredients.

    pour

    Researching around, I re-discovered MagicBullet. I remembered the product from their old-school infomercials, but MagicBullet is also the name of the company and they have a few models now. Checking them out, I realized one model might be exactly what I was looking for so I ended up purchasing the NutriBullet 12-Piece High-Speed Blender/Mixer System on Amazon for $80.

    bounty

    NutriBullet is a personal sized super-blender billed as a "nutrient extractor":

    Nutrition Extraction is the mechanism the NutriBullet uses to break down fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and other plant foods down to their most absorbable state. Unlike juicers and blenders, NutriBullet nutrition extractors break down the cell walls of fibrous plant foods, releasing important vitamins and minerals contained within.

    ~NutriBullet

    The 12-Piece set comes with a 600 watt power base (models go up to 1700 watts). It's heavy with a durable plastic build. The design is is both smart and minimalist: suction cup feet on the base lock onto countertops, no buttons or switches to deal with, and the interchangeable blending containers are also the serving/storage cups. It comes with one "tall" (24oz) and two "short" (18oz) BPA-free cups . The cups have two storage lids, one cup-lip ring and one cup-lip/handle combo ring. They also pack in a recipe book and pocket guide to get you started in the kitchen (which count as pieces 11 and 12). 

    nutriblast

    The recommended process of making a smoothie (err, NutriBlast!) is simple, just add your desired ingredients into the cup like so: greens in first, then fruits plus whatever else you want, then add liquid up to the marker-line on the cup to prevent leakage when blending. Now screw the blade onto the cup to seal it and you're ready. Pressing the cup into the base activates the motors safety switches turning it on automatically.

    I was pleasantly wowed by the power this thing packs the first time I put the bullet cup into the base. It liquefied the ingredients immediately. The engine is quieter than you'd expect a blender to be and it only needs a few minutes to finish the job (run-time depends on your ingredients and desired viscosity). Greens sometimes get stuck in the cup– just remove it from the base, give it a quick shake to dislodge them, and return to blending it.

    I've been using the NutriBullet for 6 months now and I haven't looked back. I tend to use the Extractor blade with the tall cup for a single servings, but my girlfriend is using the Milling blade more and more as an alternative to a larger food processors.

    mouth

    With this thing, I finally have a working system for quick, healthy food: just keep a stock of frozen berries, fresh greens, and some simple plant protein (usually chia/flax/hemp seeds) around. I can get creative by adding yogurt, honey, kefir– whatever. Hunger pang? Stuff some goodness into the NutriBullet to get a healthy meal replacement. It's only a minor interruption with major benefits.

    It's small enough to tuck away in any home or office kitchen and cleanup is easy: just rinse when you're done. That cleanup issue is key if you're thinking of buying this for a student who lives in a dorm setting (my only option when I was one was a crusty hotplate, and ramen every day isn't pretty). 

    MagicBullet offers some specialized models too, for things like baby food and desserts. They also have the original or Pro version for those who want a bit less or a bit more power from their machine respectively, or, for our top-of-the-line fans, their latest high-end offering: NutriBullet-Rx.

    The Magic Bullet NutriBullet 12-Piece High-Speed Blender/Mixer System is available on Amazon($80) along with many accessories and replacement parts.

  • The best 'budget' barbecue grill I've found: Char-Broil Performance TRU Infrared 480
    A lovely flame on my Char-Broil.


    A lovely flame on my Char-Broil.

    Until I tried shopping for a barbecue grill, I had no idea how hard it would be.

     Choosing a good one for my home on my  budget range, around $200 to $300, turned out to be pretty complex. But I found one I love, and have used it regularly for a month now: the Char-Broil Performance TRU Infrared 480.

    There are so many factors that go into filtering through barbecue models. What kind of fuel: coal, rocks, gas, or—this surprised me—electric? What shape, what size? If gas, do I need a propane tank or can I hook it up to my home's natural gas line? How "portable" is a portable grill? What exactly is a hibachi, really? And what is it made of: stainless steel, aluminum, porcelain?

    It all tasted as good as it looks. First grilling on my new Char-Broil.


    It all tasted as good as it looks. First grilling on my new Char-Broil.

    I knew what I wanted: a standalone barbecue I could quickly fire up, use, and clean without a lot of hassle. I wanted portable to mean I could roll it around the backyard, and store it easily. It had to be durable and sturdy enough to last me more than a year of steady use.

    However, I am a price realist. I don't expect a $200-300 grill to last a lifetime. I just ask that it grill meats and veggies evenly with good temperature control for strategic grill locations (RIP Mitch Hedberg).

    exploding-grill

    High-end grills start at around $1,000 and easily surpass $10,000. I was looking more at modest grills. I needed a good size cooking area to handle parties for 10 to 20 people.

    On the lower end of the price spectrum you find charcoal hibachis. They have their place in my BBQ world. Some of the electric and portable hibachis make great camping tools. But I was looking to host get-togethers in my backyard. I wanted a gas grill because it's not messy like charcoal. I wanted the fuel to be propane gas. Hooking up to the natural gas line (like my stove does) wasn't an option in my apartment complex.

    ezgif-936700265I came across the Char-Broil on Amazon, and I liked what I saw.

    Char-Broil has a number of product lines for standalone grills priced along features and build quality. The Commercial Series looked great, but I thought that Performance Series gave the perfect balance of build, size and power within my price range. It had Char-Broil's recently upgraded TRU-Infrared™ grill technology, which is their patented radiant heat cooking design.

    A blurb from the company's website.


    A blurb from the manufacturer website.

    (more…)

  • When online security is literally a roll of the dice, which dice do you use?

    I needed to update my passwords. I have long had a bad habit of using a funny little personal "system" for creating passwords–you may have one, too–but I knew it was outdated and insecure.

    There is much about my life online that I have no control over. But one small thing I have absolute control over is my password. Passwords must be strong, easy to remember, and they must be routinely changed. Fail any of those three requirements, and the results can be devastating.

    When I read Cory's recent post about creating strong, easy-to-use passphrases with a method that involved actually rolling physical dice, I knew I had to try it out.

    The so-called Diceware Method seemed like a great security tool, but it also spoke to me on a personal level. I feel a real affinity for old-school Vegas and craps. It's in my blood. My mom and dad often brought me "cancelled" casino dice when they returned home to Brooklyn from trips to Las Vegas back in the day. Holding casino dice in my hands today invokes a feeling of fond nostalgia.

    swirling die 30

    Precision balance

    Casinos do not use the same kind of dice that come in Yahtzee! or backgammon sets. They use what's called Precision Dice. Gaming dice are cheaply made and importantly, they are not random. Gaming dice have rounded edges and pips. The little dots cut out from each side to form its numerical value. This produces an uneven balance as the "six" side has more pips (less material/weight) than the "one" side.

    Because of this, pips and rounded edges can skew the randomness pretty heavily:

    "Afterwards we calculated the results and the Chessex and GW dice averaged 29% ones. Mind you that this is an average and our high was 33 and our low was 23. We removed any statistical anomalies and came up with 29%. Game room logic, a poor source of anything, would dictate that the side with the one is heavier and would therefore be on the bottom more. Unfortunately this is just not true, take popcorn or batholiths as an example. The 6 is too light to stop the momentum of the die, the rounded corners cannot prevent the die from turning due to the weight. In the end 1s are by far the most common result. On a 6 sided die any given number should appear 16.6% of the time, the Vegas dice were dead on and the square dice with pips were pretty close, only displaying a 19% ratio for ones."

    ~That's How I Roll – A Scientific Analysis of Dice

    Using those dice might be fine for board games with family, but not for making the keys to my house.

    Only precision dice, used correctly, are truly random. For our science and math whiz readers, I'll note the 2012 study examining whether dice are truly random or chaotic, but such debates are beyond my expertise.

    Precision- but not random

    Precision nonrandom numbers – "No roll!"

    Interesting: Precision dice are made with rounded/beveled edges too– for high-end backgammon!

    anatomy of casino die

    General attributes of precision casino dice

    Casinos take infamous care when it comes to protecting the house odds. Precision casino dice are designed and manufactured strictly to ensure perfect balance and true randomness on every roll. Precision dice come in various sizes depending on the country and casino's requirements– most commonly a 3/4 inch or 19mm cube. Made with "Razor" (sharp) or "Feather" (rounded/beveled) edges, they come in a variety of colors with a "Polished" (gloss) or "Sanded" (satin) finish, (making them transparent or translucent respectively).

    Precision dice do not have pips. Instead they're called "spots"– shallow borings drilled into the die, like pips, that are then filled-in with a special paint of equal density, bringing the die's weight and balance back to par. Each set gets a serial number and can be custom monogrammed to a casino's specs.

    Standard casino practices add security: all dice used on a casino floor are issued and retired with that particular workshift (every 4-8 hours). After each shift, the dice are then "canceled" by having a hole drilled though them (randomness is lost) to be sold in the gift shop. Casino precision dice that are still valid can be harder to find.

    Paul-son Dice Manufacturing Process Paul-Son precision dice manufacturing process.

    Digging deeper, I found that genuine precision dice are made for and sold to casinos by few companies, with the main players being: GMI's Paul-Son, and Midwest Game Supply. Midwest has been around since 1945, and their "Certified Perfects" are the only precision dice manufactured in the U.S.A.

    Legit Paul-Son dice at retail can be hard to find, and Midwest only sometimes directly retails dice overruns. At the time of this blog post, I can easily find Midwest Game Supply's American made Certified Perfects, in their classic Gold Sleeve sets of 5, right on Amazon ($16). They come with free shipping via Midwest's client, Gambler's General Store, a local Las Vegas supplier who special-orders them for retail.

    midwest_dice27 Midwest Game Supply's Precision Dice from Gambler's General Store via Amazon

    I went with the classic polished reds to blow on (there's a bit of a street superstition in me). Mine arrived in the mail quickly: a double bubble-wrapped stick of dice in the company's signature Midwest gold foil.

    As I unwrapped them, I had that feeling of being a child opening a new toy. Wide-eyed in anticipation, undoing the foil, I saw the dice gleaming in the light. They looked majestic. They looked like the kind of tool that a guy like me could use to generate strong crypto.

    Security is no game. These are serious dice.

    midwest_dice04 Unwrapping the signature "Gold Foil"

    Each die has an engraved gold serial #148 on it, and is crystal-clear transparent red. The dots are smooth and seamless to the touch. The edges are, as the name implies, razor-cut, with sharp-to-the-touch pinpoint corners. They are smooth, and in their own way, genuine works of art. Call me a geek– but a symmetrically cut, perfectly balanced, and highly polished transparent red cube, with an ancient human history, is pretty cool.

    midwest_dice18 Midwest's "Certified Perfects" from Amazon

    These puppies are big and heavy. Three-quarter inch cubes coming in at about 9 grams each, or 46g all in the wrapped packet. They have a solid presence about them that scream "Let's Roll!" And given all the data breaches lately, me and my data are gonna need all the random Lady Luck we can muster.

    Precision dice are not board dice. You can't just roll them on across your kitchen table. To ensure their randomness, they have to tumble a certain distance and/or bounce off a vertical surface at least once, like the walls of a crap table. Oh, and speaking of craps: if a craps player shoots the dice and they do not bounce off the table and a wall, it's the stickman's decision to disqualify the toss, shouting "No Roll".

    Don't roll these high quality dice across your floor, or against a wall like you're on a street corner. I know it looks cool, and you may have seen people doing that in rap videos or whatever. But just don't. They can chip easily on hard surfaces, which ruins their randomness. Casinos have plenty of cushioned felt to roll dice on, but at home you can safely roll them with a board game dice cup (think: Yahtzee!) or a simple shoe box. I was lucky and found a nice felt-lined shoe box in my closet that worked perfectly.

    midwest_dice25 A shoebox was my craps table.

    Being security-minded, I always check for updates. It looks like the Diceware method got a bump-up to 6 words for general usage. This actually makes your passphrases stronger yet easier to remember. Considering writing's rule-of-three, 2 groups of three words should be more effective than one group of five words. Nice, for us.

    midwest_dice22 History, art, science

    With Diceware, you create five digit numbers with dice to match up to words on the Diceware list or the alternative Beale list (contains fewer Americanisms and obscure words). You can roll one die five times, five dice once, or any combo therein to create a five digit number. I threw all five dice into the shoe box and gave them a good shake and swirl–10 shakes is the recommendation. Then I leaned the box to one side settling the dice and opened the box to reveal my five-digit number with which to look up a word.

    rolling-CROP

    Shake, rattle, random

    That's it. Just repeat and match up your six, five-digit numbers to the Diceware word list, and you're done! Don't like the passphrase? Still too clunky to remember? Roll again, it only takes a minute!

    dice words

    The idea of figuring out a new way to create secure passwords and putting that into practice felt like an intimidating hassle before. With Diceware, and these cool dice I found, I have an easy, fast, fun DIY way to do it.

    Learning more about dice just drew me in deeper. Legitimate casino precision dice aren't commonly used, but they're very cool little toys to have around. I'd recommend their purchase for that enjoyment alone. The security is a bonus.

    GO ON AND GET SOME:

    Midwest Game Supply's Polished Red "Certified Perfects" are available in sticks of 5 dice with free shipping on Amazon for $16. They also come in Polished Amber, Sanded Red, or Sanded Green.

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  • The best affordable fan for cooling your home this hot summer: Vornado 660

    poodfan

    Choosing a fan for my home was more complicated than I expected. Do I go with a traditional oscillating fan, or go bladeless? Box fans also have their place in the world, but probably not in my living room or bedroom. I wanted a sturdy blower with a low profile, for a compact urban space.

    I came across Vornado, a company that describes its fans as Air Circulators. Vornado is a 60 year old company with design roots in aerospace. They have a history of focusing on doing exactly one thing: moving air. I ended up purchasing the Vornado 660 ($99 on Amazon) for a test spin. I was so pleased, I bought my second one three days later. What I really liked about it were three things: its profile, power, and smart design.

    The fan (okay, "Air Circulator," whatever, Vornado!) is small and circular. It looks like a miniaturized jet engine. When you unpack the shipped item, you attach the circular base stand, which enables the fan to rotate on its X axis only, to provide a wide up-down movement. This is important, because it lets you focus the main airflow in any direction you wish like a laser, with three deep-pitch blades.

    This model is offered in black and white, and I chose black. It has five buttons on the back panel representing power and up to four different speed settings. The power cord is a generous length, and excess can be coiled up beneath the base for neater appearance. While it may resemble a jet engine, the noise output of the Vornado does not. On it's highest setting you get a pleasant, steady white noise in the background. On the lowest setting, you can't even hear it.

    Power-wise, this thing really is like a jet engine when it's on high. But the key to the Vornado 660 is the ramp-up. It is not used like a traditional oscillating fan, because this fan doesn't oscillate itself—it circulates the air. Whether the weather is hot or cold, this fan can keep a room comfy by circulating the available cool or warm air, preventing buildup at the ceiling or floor. This can help you lower your heating and air conditioning bills because you do more with less, circulating out the air accumulation pockets in your room.

    v101-vornado-660-premium-air-circulator-44

    To do this, you have to set the fan on the floor in the correct position of the room, which is generally in a corner. Direct its output flow toward the opposite upper corner of the room, diagonally. Once set in place, turn it on to the medium setting a little while. This primer stage kickstarts full room air circulation, and creates a vortex airflow pattern that sends currents of air circulating around the room. Instead of a push-out of random air, the Vornado accelerates a beam of air, which then forms smaller currents and eddies throughout. Once you have the fan on medium for a few minutes, you increase to one of the higher settings.

    You feel an immediate difference and can fine-tune the air flow with the higher speed settings in the fan. The result is a nice light breeze anywhere in the room, at all times. Exactly what I was looking for.

    Cleaning is easy—just vacuum from the back. If you need greater access, you can open the grille and remove the blades in, at most, three screws (some models have two push-in clips instead of screws).

    vortex-optimize

    Bottom line: Yes. I am very satisfied with my choice. The end result for me since I bought the Vornado 660 Air Circulator has been a cooler summer, a warmer winter, and savings on my energy bills all year long. Amazon has a number of Vornado models, suited for rooms of all sizes. The cheapest one in the line at the time of this blog post is $29. The Air Circulator is also offered in a heavy duty model, or a very cool looking vintage model, if that's more your style.


    [Editor's note: The author of this blog post paid for the device he is reviewing with his own damn money, because we're too cheap, and this review isn't paid or bartered content of any kind.]

    A vintage version is available, in red and green. Photos:  Vornado


    A "vintage" model called Vfan is available, in red and green. Vornado

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