Retro Gaming Review: Icewind Dale

I’m not going to give you a full-fledged review of Icewind Dale. The odds are that if you are reading this, you are already quite familiar with the game itself. I will, however, extol on its virtues as virtually free entertainment, which works quite well with the general topic of this blog!

I’ve bought Icewind Dale twice. The first time, back in 2000 or so, I picked it up from a store, in a box, for only $7.99, which at the time was a super-duper deal. Of course, I only realized when I got home that the darn thing was in French.

It turned out not to be a problem, besides breaking the First Rule of All Things Computers: English Only! I’m quite fluent in French, and played the game through with no problems.

The pictures I have included are of the old box I bought all those years ago. I’m careful with my things, so it still looks good.

The second time I bought it was a few weeks ago, on I bought the Dungeons and Dragons Masterset, which included 10 classic D&D games for only $21 and change. That’s *literally* hundreds, if not thousands of hours of entertainment for just over twenty bucks. That is unbeatable.

Original Icewind Dale Box

Original Icewind Dale Box

So I’ve been playing Icewind Dale over the last few weeks, and I’m reminded of something I discovered when I played it the first time: I’d always thought that Icewind Dale would be Baldur’s Gate runtish little brother, a wannabe that just looks good but doesn’t deliver.

That impression was all wrong, as I’m pleased to rediscover. It’s more like Baldur’s Gate cousin; related, of course, but very different.

Visually speaking, the game can look dated from a certain perspective, but it’s really not that bad. It has a lot more to offer than just looks! While it doesn’t even come close to the sprawling splendor of Baldur’s Gate II, it has a lot going for it.

Original Icewind Dale CD Case

Original Icewind Dale CD Case: Games in those days used to come on round pieces of shinny plastic called Compact Discs.

The Story-line: The story in Icewind Dale is not as developed as in other games using the Infinity Engine, however it is still very enjoyable. It is certainly more linear than the others, and you’re often going back to the same town – Kuldahar – to sell your loot, talk to people and get new quests.

The Graphics and Soundscape: The graphics are hand-drawn backgrounds on which the characters move around, in what’s called an Isometric view. It works really well and looks absolutely wonderful. The combination of beautiful backgrounds with the excellent music and sound effects really let you immerse yourself in the Dungeons of the Spine of the World, as if you were right there. I only miss the ability to occasionally zoom in to check out details (such as you would in Neverwinter Nights). Old habits die hard, but that’s a ‘me’ problem, nothing wrong with the game.

Icewind Dale Paper Map

Icewind Dale Paper Map, translated in French. Unlike other game maps (such as the Ultima maps) this one just looks good but is useless for gameplay.

In terms of gameplay, Icewind Dale is relatively fast paced and there is plenty of combat. There is not too much backtracking over areas you’ve already cleared, although it happens once in a while, especially if you want to get absolutely all the Quest experience. There’s plenty of story to keep things moving, and tons of back-story to be found in various books everywhere, for those who want to bother. I do.

Icewind Dale Paper Manual

Icewind Dale Paper Manual

As you can see in the image above, my box actually included a paper manual. It’s incredible how games used to include all that stuff and then one day it was gone. I miss it. I still open my old games once in a while to browse through them and readt the manuals. This particular manual goes through the actual gameplay, and includes a description of every single spell in the game. It’s actually quite useful. Of course, I never use it, as it would make it dog-eared. But I could.

Anyways, on the topic of cheap entertainment, this takes the crown, or at least it does until I start Baldur’s Gate II over again. Let’s say $3, or 300 pennies, for 50 hours of gaming. It’s going to be more like 100 hours or more, but whatever. In a most-expensive scenario, that comes out to 6 pennies an hour to play. The electricity for my comparatively grossly-overpowered desktop is probably more than that.

I’m happy to recommend Icewind Dale, and indeed any game using the Infinity Engine. They’re all GREAT, and some are exceptional. Pick them up on GOG for cheap during a sale!

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson: Book Review

I’ve been a fan of Brandon Sanderson ever since I picked up Mistborn a few years ago. I was interested by the author, since he’d been picked to complete the Wheel of Time series after the unfortunate demise of its author, Robert Jordan.

The original Mistborn trilogy was absolutely fascinating. It took place in a more or less traditional fantasy setting, but what really set it apart is the magic system, in which you consume and burn metal to have access to various powers.

In Sanderson’s own words, The Alloy of Law was written as an exercise to refute most classic fantasy settings, in which things are static and never change, year after year and eon after eon. David Eddings, anyone?

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson: Book Review

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson: Book Review

In any case, The Alloy of Law takes place in what would be about the mid-19th century, with a definite Old West tinge and a general Steampunk feel. Magic still exists, although it is much more diluted in the general population; people have access to a single Allomantic power, as opposed to the God-like Mistborn of the previous series.

The story follows Lord Waxillium Landrian, better known as Wax, the scion and heir of an old but impoverished noble family. He abandons his life as a lawman in the Roughs – and this is where it sounds very Old West – to take up the mantle of Lord Landrian at the passing of his uncle.

He is accompanied in his adventures by his friend and sidekick Wayne, a sticky-fingered dueler and former criminal.

Both are powerful Allomancers in their own rights, although with very different powers.

Without giving away too much, the plot revolves around a gang of thieves performing heists in the City of Elendel, and kidnapping young women for a intentionally vague but certainly nefarious purpose.

Brandon Sanderson is without peer at describing awesome battle and action scenes, and the book certainly doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Moreover, the story and characters are both well-developed and satisfying.

If there was anything even remotely negative I would have to bring up, it is the fact that the book is quite short, weighing in at only 332 pages. Certainly shorter than anything else I’ve read by the same author, and much, much shorter than the epic novels I usually enjoy. I did leave me with a sense that the story was only starting.

On that note, it is clear by the end of the book that Mr. Sanderson has left the door wide open for sequels or additional novels, featuring the same characters. I look forward to reading them!

On the topic of cheap entertainment, I have borrowed this book, and even though I’ll now have to give it back, it doesn’t get much cheaper than that. If I’d had to purchase the book to read it, I would certainly have waited for the paperback, as the length of the book did not warrant a full hardcover price, even discounted.

Costco’s Kirkland Signature Kitchen Garbage Bags

I must say that thanks to Costco, buying garbage bags of any kind is often less than a yearly proposition. Imagine my surprise, if you will, when I discovered that my trusty box of Kirkland Signature Kitchen Bags – for garbage, obviously – was done for! I so rarely get to shop for these!

Of course, shopping is quite the exaggeration in this case. I just picked up a box when I was at Costco today. Here’s what the packaging looks like nowadays.

Costco's Kirkland Signature Kitchen Garbage Bags

Costco’s Kirkland Signature Kitchen Garbage Bags

For having used these exact same bags for the last two years, I can say the following: they are easy to use, easy to close thanks to the ‘Smart Tie Closure’, and most importantly, are not particularly easy to pierce. I can’t even recall that happening a single time. They fit my little garbage can perfectly – it’s one of those plastic pedal-operated ones.

Here are some facts about the Kirkland Signature Kitchen Bags:

  • Cost: $14.49 (plus tax in Canada)
  • Count: 320 bags
  • Cost per Bag: 4.53 cents, each
  • Estimated longevity of Box: 106 weeks, or a little over two years
  • Size of Bags: 20 inches by 19.5 inches
  • Bag Thickness: 0.90 mil, or 22.8 microns
  • Features the surprisingly useful ‘Smart Tie Closure’
  • Costco Canada Item number: 714389

There isn’t that much more to say about these Kitchen Garbage Bags. They’re white. They’re useful to contain and throw out garbage. They handle liquid well. I wish I could tell you how much I love them, but they’re a completely utilitarian item and it’s difficult to get emotionally attached to them.

I already feel like I’ve said too much. Thanks for reading!


Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs: Book Review

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m serious about books; not only as one of the ultimate forms of cheap entertainment – in the same league as quality video games, but cheaper – but also for their own sake.

I have problems with borrowing books, either from the library or from friends. I like to display them when I’m done reading them, even though the odds are good I’ll never read them again. Of course, I’m always eager to find a bargain!

Imagine my pleased surprise when I found a book by an author I really enjoy, AJ Jacobs, in the discount bin at my local bookstore (that would be Indigo, the Barnes and Nobles of Canada). The book is titled Drop Dead Healthy, and I paid a whopping $6.99 for it, in hardcover no less.

Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs Book Review

Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs

AJ Jacobs is the author of two other books I thoroughly enjoyed: The Year of Living Biblically and The Know-It-All. In the first, he spends a year living *exactly* as mandated by the Bible, and let me tell you, modern Jews and Christians: no matter how devout you are, you’re not even CLOSE to what the Bible actually demands of you.

In the second book, he reads the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover in an attempt to know everything, with the predictable result that he becomes an insufferable know-it-all.

As you can imagine, Drop Dead Healthy follows in the same vein. In this case, the project takes him two years. Bit by bit, AJ modifies his habits in a bid to become the healthiest human who’s ever lived.

What I Liked about Drop Dead Healthy

The Format: I love how AJ presents his progress, chapter after chapter, and how he truly tries to apply what he discovers from numerous interviews. The fact that the projects – all the books are similar in that way – seem to completely take over his life, with obvious and often hilarious results, makes for a really easy read.

The Knowledge: AJ Jacobs is obviously a really smart guy, and he interviews really smart people. He knows which questions to ask, or at least he edits properly and puts only the good stuff in his book. I feel like I’ve actually learned a lot of facts from reading this book.

  • Did you know that having a 6-pack might not be great for your health?
  • The best way to walk, health-wise, is leaning forward (falling in to each step)
  • And a thousand other well-researched facts

The Humor: AJ Jacobs is very funny, or at least that’s how he comes across in his books. Think self-deprecating Jewish humor. One of the best. It makes his books fun and easy to read.

The Lists: Mr Jacobs has kindly provided many lists, at the end of his book, which sum up his observations. If you read this looking for inspiration, it’s a great way to get on track without re-reading the whole thing. Some of the topics include:

  • How to Eat Less
  • How to Turn the World into your Gym
  • Five Tips of Treadmill Desks
  • Five Foolproof Methods for Stress Reduction

What I Didn’t Like About Drop Dead Healthy

Ironically, The Format: This is the third book AJ Jacobs has written in this style, by which I mean the project taking over his whole life. I’ll probably buy the next one he writes, if he does, but I’d love to see him try his hand at something else. I’d buy that, too.

The Pacing: This is true of all his books, and that may just be the nature of The Projects. The first half to three quarters of each books are detailed, intricate, hilarious and fascinating, and the rest feels… rushed, for lack of a better word.

The Verdict

Buy the book. AJ Jacobs’ books are always funny, very informative, and written in a way as to keep you turning the pages. You won’t be bored, and it’s important to put some good stuff in your brain from time to time. You only get out of it, what you put in, or so I believe. Also, you’ll be supporting AJ, who seems like a really nice guy.

Prime 100ft Outdoor Extension Cord at Costco Product Review

One of the many advantages of being a new homeowner is being able to go out and buy a bunch of stuff for the house. You know, stuff that you’ll probably buy a single time in your life, so better make it good.

I quickly discovered that the puny extension cords that had served me so well until now were past their usefulness, so to speak. I have a large yard, and unfortunately quality battery-powered yard tools are out of my budget. I purchased some good-quality, corded tools instead – a weed trimmer and a hedge trimmer – and I needed the extension cord that could reach to all corners of the yard. On to my local Costco!

I purchased the Prime Outdoor Extension Cord, measuring a 100 feet in length, for $39.99 (Canadian dollars) plus the unavoidable taxes. Considering the power-hungry tools pictured on the box, I figured it would be OK for my light yard work.

Outdoor Extension Cord, 100ft, at Costco

Outdoor Extension Cord, 100ft, at Costco (Item number 688888)

I’ve now used it a couple of times, and here are the good points, and those that will probably bother me in the long run. No deal breakers.

Good Points

  • 100 feet in length: a generous length that’s more than enough for all my needs, present and future;
  • 12/3 gauge: thick enough for the toughest, most power-hungry tools you can imagine;
  • Power Indicator Light: A nice little feature that helps make sure you know there’s power in the cord when you plug it;
  • The price: at $39.99, it was $30 cheaper than a NOMA similar-length extension cord at Canadian Tire, and the same price as a 25′ professional cord by the same retailer
  • Costco: I bought it at Costco. I get my 2% off with my Executive Membership, my Amex Rebate and Costco’s unbeatable Satisfaction Guarantee

Points to Consider

  • The Weight: a 12/3 heavy duty gauge and 100′ in length come at a price: the cord is REALLY heavy. Not a problem if you’re just leaving it there, but pulling it around for yard work is a workout. Coiling it by hand strains the shoulders.
  • The connectors are not as tight as I’d like them to be, but that’s hardly a real issue, just something to be mindful off.

The Verdict:

An excellent purchase. Combining the unbeatable price, Costco’s warranty and the product’s obvious versatility, it’s clear that I won’t be buying other extension cords for a long time.

How To Save Money On Coffee

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a real, bona fide coffee addict, which means that I need to have coffee regularly, particularly in the morning and before lunch. In real terms, that translates to about 3 coffees a day, when I’m at work. This doesn’t include the coffee I drink at home, which I talked about in this excellent article.

The coffee machine at work charges $0.50 (fifty cents) per coffee, including all the sugar, cream or milk I could ever need. I drink one coffee before starting work, and one during each of my two breaks, for a total of 3 coffees per day.

A buck-fifty a day for coffee, I hear you say, that’s not that bad. It’s not. Or is it? The devil is in the details, my friends. That innocuous-looking work coffee addiction is quite expensive. Consider this.

  • Cost of Each Coffee: $0.50
  • Coffees per Day: 3
  • Cost per Day: $1.50 … seems alright.
  • Cost per Week (5 days): $7.50 … Ummm. Starting to look expensive!
  • Cost per year: $390 … Holy Mackerel! I knew it! And those are AFTER TAX DOLLARS!
  • Estimated Overall Taxation Rate: 35%

REAL COST: $600 … Yikes!

I knew drinking coffee from the vending machine was not a good long-term idea, but I had no idea it was that bad. I need to EARN $600 to pay for those 3 stupid coffees every day for a year. Ridiculous. I could buy a new Galaxy Tab Pro 4 12.1 for that price. I could make an extra payment on the mortgage, or pay for a good chunk of a vacation.

The thing is, I’m not about to go without coffee at work. Considering the fact that I need the caffeine more than the taste – I mean I’m not a coffee snob, not that I don’t like tasty things – here is the solution. Spoken like a true addict.


The Solution: Nescafé

I got this huge tin of Nescafé at Costco – where else – where I paid about $8 when it was on special. Let’s assume it was not, and that I paid $12, instead. Here’s what it’ll cost me to replace my work coffee with Nescafé, since the coffee machine at work kindly provides free boiling water.

  • Cost of tin of Nescafé: $12
  • Number of Cups per Tin: 260 … that seems like a lot.
  • Cost per cup: $0.046 … just under a nickel.
  • Cost per year of drinking Nescafé: $35.88, after taxes

Net Savings, after taxes: $354.12

There you have it. After a year of drinking Nescafé, I’ll have saved over $300. That it very significant, and just one of the many small things you can do to save money, increase your quality of life without really making any sacrifices.

Can you think of other ways, such as this one, in which to save money? Share in the comments below. I’ll be happy to try out your ideas.

Incidentally, I’ve decided to make this article the start of a new Series, called “The Small Things”, where I’ll share all my ideas about the small changes that we can make to our lives that will end up having a huge impact, financially, health-wise and more. Stay tuned.

Ziploc Space Bags at Costco

I’ve always wanted these. I think it’s my inner hoarder that’s talking when I say things like that. For me, Ziploc Space Bags are just something that would allow me to accumulate more stuff.

I know, they are supposed to be used, at least according to the infomercial, to store extra pillows, blankets and winter gear during the summer. For me, it would just mean that my closet has gotten bigger, and can now hold more stuff.

So imagine my surprise when I saw them at not one, but two of my local Costcos. The 15-bag box (various sizes) costs, at the time of this writing, $22.99 which for some reason seems expensive. Does anyone remember how much they were sold for when they were advertised on TV?

Ziploc Space Bags at Costco

Ziploc Space Bags at Costco

According to the box’s claims, each package has enough boxes to hold the following:

  • 10 Pillows
  • 5 Comforters
  • 3 Jackets
  • 6 Shirts
  • Between 65 and 77 sweaters, although I find that’s an oddly specific number

I’m sure it’s a great deal, but I’m trying to get to a point in my life when I can start saying goodbye to things that have followed me around for much too long already, so I will not be buying these.

Not before I can prove to myself that I can actually get rid of things.

Not even if Ziploc’s Space Bags go on special at Costco. In their case, probably liquidation, but whatever.

Kirkland Signature Dishwasher Pacs Product Review

Today I thought I would share with you another one of my regular Costco, Kirkland Signature purchases, namely the Kirkland Signature Dishwasher Pacs. They come in a little clear bucket with a yellow top, there are 110 pacs in the bucket, and the whole thing costs $10.89, Canadian dollars.

Because of the size of the package, I don’t have to buy this often, at most twice a year, and that’s probably an exaggeration. Like most automatic dishwasher detergent, Costco’s dishwasher pacs claim the following:

  • Grease-Fighting Power
  • Sparkling Clean, Streak-Free Dishes
  • Ease and Convenience
  • Lemon Scent
Costco's Kirkland Signature Dishwasher Pacs (Item number 567036 in Canada)

Costco’s Kirkland Signature Dishwasher Pacs (Item number 567036 in Canada)

What I like most about them, besides the fact that they work as advertized, is their cost: only 9.9 pennies per use. Thirty or forty cents a week to have all my dishes clean sounds pretty good to me!

Let’s be clear about one thing: this isn’t a gel-filled, swirly little pack with different colors in it; it is a no-frills, powder-filled pack that somehow manages to do the job quite well. Costco’s Kirkland Signature Dishwasher Pacs is a product that has delivered for me very well, at a very good price over the last few years, and I would be happy to recommend it to anyone. To learn more about dishwashers and dishwasher detergents and pacs, please follow this link.

Techlite Lumen Master Security Flashlight On Sale at Costco

Okay. Well, it might not have been on sale as much as liquidated, but the result was the same for me: I got a great flashlight at a very affordable price. This awesome security flashlight by Techlite Lumen Master was available for only $19.97 (Canadian dollars) and came, in true Costco style, with the four (4) C batteries required.

This provides plenty of power for 20 hours of continuous use on the ‘Low’ setting, 5 hours on ‘Medium’ and 2 hours on ‘High’. Now, even the low setting is quite bright, I can’t imagine needing the ‘High’ setting for anything but under the most extreme situation, such as to blind someone – literally, the package carries a warning – or to signal a rescue plane.

Techlite Lumen Master Security Flashlight

Techlite Lumen Master Security Flashlight (Costco item number 406347)

Here’s what the package says about this handy-dandy flashlight:

  • It’s made from tough, aircraft-grade anodized aluminum;
  • It features a senses-deafening emergency strobe light mode;
  • It has a scratch-resistant polycarbonate lens;
  • It is both weather- and impact-resistant

I guess that the combination of the aluminum body, the impact-resistant feature and the convenient weight of the batteries make this security flashlight quite a handy blunt instrument, as well, but I understand that they can’t write that on the packaging, even though it’s a great selling point.

Like any new homeowner, I’m a sucker for specials at Costco; I actually walk the aisles and focus exclusively on the prices; anything that ends with 97 gets my immediate and undivided attention. I also end up with some stuff I don’t need, but you can’t have everything.

To conclude on the flashlight, I would have to say that this CREE Leds-powered security flashlight, by Techlite Lumen Master is quite the beast. It strikes the right balance between being light and hefty, and is extremely bright, even under the least powerful setting. All in all, I think I made a good buy.

4 Simple Tricks to Save at Costco

Costco is by far my favorite place to shop, as most readers of this blog have already figured out. I can buy most of my food, meat and produce, canned goods, and all the little things that make life easier. Even the computer I’m using right now, I got from Costco. It was a hell of a deal, too, but more on that later.

To be able to really save money at Costco, you have to be able to follow these four simple rules, which I will admit is easier said than done! Remember that consistency is key; your Costco membership costs you at most $10 a month. You can save that much in a single, small order, if you shop smart!

One. Have a Budget and a List. Going into Costco without a clear idea of what you want to spend is a recipe for disaster. Costco is very, very good at presenting you with products you didn’t know you needed, but now can not live without, Make a clear budget, and stick to it like glue. Avoid temptation.

Saving Money at Costco

Can you really save money at Costco?

Two. Buy What’s on Special. There are a lot of specials at Costco, and taking advantage of them can really help you save big. There are, of course, the specials advertised by the flyer they give out at the door, but that’s not all. When you go through the aisles, you will notice a LOT more specials that the flyer holds. Take full advantage. To really save money in the long term, you need to buy the specials, and follow the next rule just as carefully.

Three. Buy in Bulk. I know, I know. Everything at Costco is in bulk. That’s not my point. When the huge boxes of Cheerios are on special, buy three. When the laundry detergent is on special, buy a whole bunch. The initial cost of these orders will be more, but if you manage to follow the next rule, you’ll end up saving a LOT of money over the year.

Four. Don’t Buy Impulsively. I know that at Costco, this is the toughest rule to follow. The reason why they move products around all the time is to make you look for what you habitually buy, so that you’ll discover more stuff on the way. Don’t fall for it. IT’S REALLY DIFFICULT.

If you manage to consistently follow these rules, you’ll make the most of your Costco membership, and you’ll save a ton of money of products you need and use every day. For it to work, you have to follow all four. If you skip one – any one – you’ll still be ahead compared to what you would have spent at the grocery store (*** shudder ***) but you won’t be saving nearly as much as you could have.