Category Archives: Apps of Note

Podcasts of Note: 7 to get you started

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I have many friends who absolutely LOVE podcasts.  They always have recommendations, and are always curious why I haven’t gotten on the “podcast train”.  I listen to NPR most of the time anyway.  Why not have curated shows around my interests?  I have one friend, a game enthusiast, who listens to many podcasts dedicated to his niche obsession.  I’m sure there are plenty of podcasts for someone like me.  But I always hesitated because like Twitter and Snapchat, to dive in seemed daunting.  Where do you start?  How do you know which ones are good?  How do you keep things organized?  It was easier to blast the FM dial and keep it simple.

But then my cousin started a podcast, and on Facebook asked people to check it out.  When I did I found that I enjoyed the format (especially his short 6 minute motivational podcast) and suddenly I dove in.  But I didn’t dive in so far as to get out of control.  True, I now follow roughly 20 podcasts, but I could have stopped at a smaller subset and been perfectly happy with it.  So now I have some answers to my questions.  The biggest being “Where do you start?”  Followed by “How to Keep Things Organized?”  Let me recommend 7 podcasts.  I will give you a few sentences to sum up each.  Then I’ll recommend a couple apps for organization, should you decide to jump into the crazy world of podcasts.  I don’t regret that I finally did.  And it’s not nearly as daunting as Twitter (at least for me).

7 PODCASTS TO GET YOU STARTED

YMH5ArtFinal1.Your Motivational High 5 – short format for quick motivation.  Phil, my cousin, has a great voice and sound advice.  He pulls in others to share their stories, and 5 minutes at a time, he’s helping his listeners re-organize their thought processes around healthy approaches to living a full, rich life.Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.39.48 PM

2.  Stuff You Should Know – Two hilarious guys share their love of learning.  From Evel Knievel to How Night Terrors Work, these guys have mad researching skills and are a blast to listen to.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.34.27 PM3.  Serial – Two seasons are in the can for this episodic examination of criminal cases.  First it was a murder case, which resulted in a new trial for the subject, and then the Bowe Bergdahl case, of the soldier who abandoned his post.  Well paced, well researched, well worth your time.Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.35.30 PM

4.  Someone Knows Something – Similar to Serial, this first season
examines a 30 year old cold case in Canada, involving the disappearance of a little boy.  A cool view into the minds of investigators and an insightful look into different perspectives and the challenges of age and memory.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.37.23 PM5.  Vergecast – For a techie like me, the Vergecast is top of my list.  A bunch of geeks around a mic once a week (roughly) talking about the tech of the day.  Feels like a place I could call home.

6.  Brains On! – For the kiddos.  This podcast produced at the Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.37.00 PMUniversity of Minnesota brings cool science stuff to the inquisitive child’s mind.  “How Do Airplanes Fly?”, and “Why are No Two Snowflakes the Same?”.  I, for one, was fascinated by the “Science of Baking”.  They are short, and full of cool stuff for kids.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.35.48 PM7.  On Being – For those in search of some contemplation, Krista Tippett offers some amazing interviews with great minds.  Famous Names, and not so famous names are included, but all will make you think deeper about life in general.  Check out the Thich Nhat Hanh one for starters!

BONUS: I would be remiss to not include one last podcast. Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.43.02 PM “Spoilers” is the creation of a co-worker of mine.  Their format is basically a bunch of buddies sitting around talking about a specific movie.  Sometimes it’s current releases (Killing Joke and Swiss Army Man), other times it’s old classics (Alien and Time Bandits!)  At times chaotic, it only reflects the fun of hanging with friends and talking movies.  Check it out.

Finally, here are two “podcast apps” that will not only keep your stuff organized, but will help you find the podcasts I’ve mentioned, and find new ones too.

  1. Podcasts – native application on all iPhones and iPadsScreen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.48.18 PM
  2. Pocket Casts – this is my chosen app.  It costs a few bucks but has a great interface to keep it all organized.

That’s how I started.  I just downloaded some of the most popular podcasts and found topics that interested me.  And I’ve been listening ever since.

Hop on board and enjoy the world of podcasts!!

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Charitech – One Today (App of Note)

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I love technology and I strive to be charitable, as much as I am able.  As a tech geek I use technology to make philanthropy easier.  These are my tips and tricks.  I call it Charitech.

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Last Summer, when I started focusing a lot of energy on philanthropy, I was quickly overwhelmed by the daunting task of charity.  It’s so easy to see the great needs and want to run in the opposite direction.  Sadly, that seems like a natural reaction.  So my first goal was finding ways to make charity more accessible and less scary.  One of the first apps I found is called “One Today“.

image“One Today” is a Google product.  For some that’s a great thing, for others that might be a reason to run for the hills!  But I would recommend checking it out, regardless of your attitude towards the great search engine giant.  “One Today” is a great way to do charity in small ways.  And it’s as simple as the touch of a button.

When you first download the app, you are asked to select areas of interest that you would like to contribute funds towards.  I chose: Food, Health, Housing, Civil Rights & Liberties, and Poverty.  From there the application provides a variety of charities to choose from for donations.  And all you’re being asked to contribute is one dollar.  Yep, just a buck.  That is something I could manage.

The very first charity I gave to really opened my eyes to poverty.  The imagecharity is called “Rescuing Leftover Cuisine“.  This charity “brings excess food from restaurants, catering companies, and institutions to local agencies, such as homeless shelters”, in 12 different cities in the United States.  The app provides additional information about the charity and the need.  For this charity they point out that while “40 % of food produced is wasted, while 1 in 7 Americans face food insecurity”.  I was shocked that such a charity was needed in the United States.  In a nation of such great wealth, I couldn’t believe it.  But those are the numbers, and it makes sense, when you think on it a bit.

So what does your ONE DOLLAR get?  Again, according to the app, $1 means 42 meals for the hungry.  42 MEALS!!!  That was another shocker, and it was a simple choice to push the blue button in the lower right corner and contribute one dollar.  Maybe I even dug deep and gave $2 that time and BOOM!! 84 meals for the hungry.  It’s so small, and so big at the same time.

imageI love how this app makes small acts of charity accessible.  My daughter and I created an idea back in the Autumn of 2015.  It’s called “Penny for the fountain, Dollar for the Poor“.  Whenever she comes upon a fountain that she wants to toss a penny into, we open “One Today” and find a charity to give one dollar to.  We talk about the charity options, and press that magic button.  Then she tosses her coin in the fountain.  That’s everything I hoped to accomplish with my other blog “Developing Charity” in a nutshell.  Adding a little charity to an action that was going to happen anyway.  My daughter is a big believer in the power of wishing wells! 🙂

So consider downloading this app, and giving it a go.  It won’t take much time, it won’t take much money, but a little can add up to a lot.

Download the app here:  iOS and Android

And check out more information on charities at www.developingcharity.net

#practicecharity

Podcast of Note – “Your Motivational High 5”

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I’m new to the world of podcasts.  I am a music-head and so when I’m cruising around in my car, I listen to my endless music collection (thanks Spotify).  But I have friends who absolutely love podcasts.  They can’t say enough good things about them. So around the holidays I grabbed a recommended podcast app for my iPhone (Pocket Casts), and grabbed a handful of the most popular podcast in the store.

And I’ve never looked back. Whether it’s keeping up with tech news on the “Vergecast” or learning new things on “Stuff You Should Know“, I have found entertainment in a whole new way.  In my “blog post hopper” I have a draft called “Introduction to Podcasts – we’ll get through this together!”.  I plan to post that somewhere down the road.  I’m even kicking around the idea of a podcast for “Two Lumps of Tech”.  But before I do that I want to just highlight a few podcasts that make the dive into this freaky world worth it. I’m  starting this week with a brand new podcast. This baby is only a couple weeks old.  Its fast paced 5 minute approach is a great example of a micro-podcast, and it is my makes first “Podcast of Note”.

Your Motivational High 5

YMH5ArtFinalFirst things first.  I know the guy who just launched this podcast.  He’s a family member though not one I know extremely well.  After just a few episodes, I’m already getting a good picture of him.  And it’s this picture that makes me want to share this podcast with you; not just because of my family connection.  Phil Larson, the creator and host, is trying something out.  He’s exploring different aspects of our lives and our psychology, in an effort to discover more about what gives us motivation.  What holds us back?  What gives us hope? He’s looking at the “narratives” in life that give us inspiration or take it away. Phil is asking himself lots of questions, and his stories are personal and honest.  And by signing on to his podcast,”#YMH5″, he’s asking his listeners to ask these questions of themselves.

The category of “self help” is a crowded space.  Everyone is offering something.  Some of the advice comes from an authentic place, while in many cases self-help gurus are just out for the money.  Maybe they help people along the way, but that’s not their end game.  That is NOT the story of “Your Motivational High 5”.  Phil has a good heart, and he wants good things for himself, his family, and his listeners.  You can hear in his voice that he isn’t in this game for any other reason.

The approach couldn’t be simpler.  Phil has a topic, following a common theme using the word “on” (i.e. “on hope”, “on risk”, “on conflict” etc).  He speaks to this topic for a few short minutes, and then challenges listeners to look at their reflection and speak a sentence affirming things about themselves related to the topic.  Is that a little cheesy?  Sure.  I don’t think that invalidates it though.  If anything, for me, it just shows me more of the man behind the podcast.  If you feel silly speaking to your mirror, or your iphone in “selfie mode” imagine speaking these words to a podcast audience.  Phil has courage to put himself out there.  To share his struggles and his journey.  And I highly recommend you consider joining him, as I have already done.

Everyone can use a little motivation, and this great new podcast will only take 5 minutes of your day.  But you might be surprised by how motivational those 5 minutes can be.

Here’s the info if you want check it out:

Check out the home page with various links HERE

Or get it from iTunes HERE

Follow on TWITTER at #YMH5

Follow on FACEBOOK HERE

Charitech – Where Charity Meets Technology

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Last August I had a moment.  One of those moments that forever changes your trajectory.  That moment came from my experience with a story about a displaced Palestinian man, who fled Syria to Lebenon with his two kids.  He made a living selling pens on the street.  The amazing element is that a picture of the man spawned a kickstarter style campaign, raising over $250K for him and his family!  The story of such giving floored me.  And looking at myself in the mirror, I knew I that I wasn’t doing enough.  Why?  Because I wasn’t DOING ANYTHING!  I talk a good talk, but that was it.  So at that moment I decided to change.  I launched a new blog (www.developingcharity.net).  And I started an effort I called “Project 520” where I would donate $10 to a different charity every week of the next year ($10 X 52 weeks = $520).  And I’m just wrapping up my 10th week.  And it’s been great so far.  But I wanted to find a way to connect my love of technology with my newfound charitable efforts.  And that’s what “Charitech” is all about.

Charitech – How technology tools can enhance the process of personal philanthropy (in big and little ways)
I’ve long held that technology needs to enhance our lives.  That’s the essential element.  I have found tech tools that enhance my experiences with charity, and I plan to highlight a couple of them in “Apps of Note” in the coming weeks and months.  But let me introduce you to one tool that is well worth your time.  It is called “Charity Navigator” and it is availalbe as an app (iOS and Android) and a website.  If you are a skeptic when it comes to charities.  If you wonder, “where does my donation actually go?”  or “how much of my donation goes to administration and fundraising?”  This app will help you.  This app can give you a wealth of information in an easy to digest package.  So let’s break it down with a simple “App of Note” review.

Charity Navigator

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In the simplest terms, Charity Navigator is a repository of sorts, gathering up data on a vast array of charities from around the country and around the globe.  With a simple “search” function, you can lock in on a specific charity and look at the basic metrics of their philanthropic efforts.  A quick search for one of my favorite charities, “water.org”, shows a 4 star rating, and a score of 95.38 out of 100.  These numbers are arrived at through an analysis of both the financial responsiblity of the charity, as well as accountability and transparency.  The main page of the search shows the address and phone number of the charity, and lists the board leadership, CEO, and mission statement. All important information to have public, ensuring that your chosen charity is on the up and up.

A slide to the right reveals the next feature of the app, “metrics”.  Two pie charts are shown, the first a breakdown of where contributions come from (contributions, gifts, grants = good), and the second charts shows how the expenses break down (the larger percentage going to “program” the better).  For my chosen charity, 99.2% of their funds come from “contributions, gifts, and grants” and 73.4% of their expenses go to program.  That’s not too shabby.  Though I have seen charities with over 90% going to program.  It’s just important to remember that the
larger the charity is, the more money is probably being donated, and there will be corresponding overhead, in terms of the people needed to manage those funds efficiently.  Which is what leads to the final section.

IMG_0548[3] IMG_0549[1] IMG_0550Sliding the screen down from the two pie charts you are greeted with a vast array of data.  Revenue vs Expenses in bar chart.  Full breakdown of expenses.  A checklist of accountability and transparency including things like “audited by independant accountant”, “independant voting board members”, and “CEO listed with salary”.  The more check marks, the stronger the charity.  Finally you’ll come to the money.  Actual totals of revenue and expenses.  Here’s where you find out if a large adminstration cost is justified.  Water.org has annual contributions of over 15 million dollars.  So I can understand why they would need people to manage those funds, and ensure proper distribution to the people who need the services the charity provides (in this case, clean water to third world countries mostly).

The Whole Cup Summed Up

Charity Navigator is a tool in the arsenal of anyone interested in becoming engaged in philanthropy.  I agree when the skeptics say you need to know where your money is actually going.  Where I break with the skeptics is the next step.  Many people use the bad charities as an excuse to do nothing.  If there are charities mis-using donations then all charities are bad.  I guess that’s the logic.  But with tools like Charity Navigator, we don’t have that excuse.  This tool helps anyone become educated in intelligent giving.  You can know with a reasonable amount of certainty that you are indeed giving to a good cause by using these tools.  And I highly recommend checking the app out.

Charitech – Where Charity meets Technology

apps supporting charityThis is just the first tool I’m sharing on Two Lumps of Tech.  I have others.  I have a whole folder on my iPad and iPhone filled with such tools.  Giving isn’t hard, once you do it.  It’s that first step.  That first buck or $10 in my case.  And once you have your tools straight, once you have your plan of attack, then it’s easy.  And it feels good to do it.  Because now your technology is not only helping you, it is helping others.  And that brings our gadgets to a whole new level.

Remember – Something is Better than Nothing.

#practicecharity

App of Note – Funny or Die News Flash

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UPDATE: August 2016.  This app is no longer being offered.  But read on and remember a cool concept, and hope for something similar to return to the news landscape.  We can all use a little humor in our daily news!

I’ll admit it.  I’m a bit of a news junkie.  I do my best to stick to tech news and the major headlines, and I try to stay away from the comment sections.  I think it’s good to be informed, but in a world where endless news articles are just a click away, some balance is required to not find yourself immersed by the torrent.  Enter, smart news applications.

Smart News apps are designed to give you a quick burst of news.  Not too much, but not too little.  I’ve already reviewed one of my favorites, Yahoo News Digest, in a previous “App of Note”.  Today I want to introduce you to another.  And I’ll get this out of the way first, it is currently iOS only.  So if you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, you are out of luck for the moment.  But do read on, for this sweet little news app will certainly come to Android in the future, and if you’ve got a good sense of humor, and a tolerance for minor vulgarity, this news app will keep you informed while it’s making you laugh, and it’s called “Funny or Die News Flash”.

What Makes a Good Smart news App?

20150510_131352000_iOSIn my opinion, every Smartnews app should meet the following criteria:

1.  Scheduled Delivery– Smartnews should come at specific times during the day, versus constantly being updated.  That way you can read all the content, and you know you’re done until the next delivery.  Just like the good ole newspaper!

2.  Short Informative Articles – Smartnews should be a quick read.  I’m talking about the walk from the car to the office, or an elevator ride.  You should barely need to scroll down through the article, because your goal is to know the top stories and that’s it.  There are plenty of apps offering a more lengthy take on the news of the day (see #3)

3.  Links, Links, and more Links – While a smartnews app is designed to be a short read it should offer links to get to longer articles, or even related articles from within the app.

4.  Social Element – Smartnews should at the very least offer buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Text, and Email.  That way if you read an article you want to share with others, it’s just a click to send it on it’s way.

5.  Intelligent Swiping – This one might just be me, but every smartnews app I’ve used makes use of up/down and left/right 20150510_131459000_iOSswiping in intuitive ways.  That’s the key to a quick read.  Read what is on the screen, swipe left, read the next story, swipe left, and so on.  You want to send to Facebook, swipe up, click the icon, and off it goes.  If a smartnews app is clunky, it is no longer serving it’s purpose.

So let’s see how the “Funny or Die News Flash” application stacks up to my criteria.

It Offers a Good News Spectrum

The app takes brevity to a whole new level.  Each “story” is designed with two sections.  The first part is the informative news piece.  The second part is the joke related to the first part.  It can literally be two sentances.  That certainly puts the “flash” in news flash.  But while the articles are incredibly short, they are also very diverse.  US, International, Business, Entertainment, Sports, Tech.  They don’t all show up each day, but I’ve seen them all appear from time to time.  I checked the articles showing in the app against some of my other favorite smartnews apps, and I found they all had similar stories, because they all cover the most popular things in the media at the time.  So for “short informative articles” Funny or Die News Flash nails it.

It Offers Social Element and Links

20150510_131523000_iOSEach article includes a “share” button, which allows you to send the story to a wide variety of sources.  These include Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Flipboard, and Pocket.  Along with standard email and text links.  Across from the “share” button is a link to the “Full Story”, which includes the name of the source (i.e. Baltimore Sun, Telegraph).  Clicking this link takes you into Safari and you are able to read the entire story, which is great.  So “Funny or Die News Flash” is solid with “link, links, and more links” and the “social element”.

It Offers a Slick Interface

One reason I love the Yahoo News Digest is how the swiping works.  There you just swipe left/right to go through the articles, and up/down to read the articles.  The “Funny or Die News Flash” just takes out the up/down element.  Each articles is a single page, and you swipe left/right through them.  You might be think, “what’s so slick about that?”.  Well the really cool part is the video element.  This is the first app I’ve seen that basically has a GIF running for every story, relevant to the article it covers.  That means you actually have a short video (muted), playing while you read the story.  It looks great.  It loads fast!  So “intelligent swiping” is a solid yes.

Where it Hits, and Where it Misses

The other thing “Funny or Die News Flash” has that no other smartnews app I’ve seen hastime to get off the toilet is the humor.  I’ve found myself laughing out loud at some of the jokes they tie to current headlines.  It’s like having a comedian reading the news, which is really the only way the news should be read in my opinion.  I get to be informed and entertained at the same time.  So that is a big HIT for this application.

The only element I find frustrating is related to “scheduled delivery”.  The app seems to only refresh at certain times during the day, but there’s no control over that (like there is in other smartnews apps, like Yahoo News Digest).  And I have found that they tend to add new articles to the front of the “news feed” while leaving some articles on the back end that I’ve already read.  Those jokes were certainly funny the first time I read them, but they lose their kick the next go around.  And I really want to swipe to the very end, because that’s when the Funny or Die News Flash delivers, what I think is it’s best joke (to the right).

The Whole Cup Summed Up

20150510_131412000_iOSSmartnews apps are a great way to get fast news on mobile devices.  They keep you informed while not taking up too much of your time.  It’s the perfect tool for someone constantly on the go.  Who has time to watch CNN, MSNBC, or the rest of the 24 hour news cycle anyway?  With “Funny or Die News Flash” your in, you laugh, your out, and more clued in to what is going on in the news for the day.

If you have an iPhone and a good sense of humor, pick up the Funny or Die News Flash right now!  It’s free and it’s hilarious.  Well worth the few minutes it takes to get through the content.  And if the news stories of the day aren’t so rosey, don’t they say that laughter is the best medicine?

Apps of Note – Scribblenauts Remix

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Taking a brief break from my “Tech of Disney” series, I thought it would be fun to highlight a game I recently came across called “Scibblenauts Remix”.  My daughter got a Nintendo 3DS XL just after Christmas.  The high cost of the system itself sent me off to the pawn shop to find cheap games.  While her focus was on Littlest Pet Shop and Pokemon, I was hoping to find some games that had some educational element to them, as well as fun gameplay.  I struck gold when I found the original DS version of “Scribblenauts” for $2 in a bargain bin!

scribblenauts questionBasically it is a puzzle-solving game.  You are presented with a challenge within a small 2D environment.  Could be a farm, could be outer space, or underwater.  You then use your “magic notebook” to type the items that you need to solve the problem.  Those items will then appear on the screen for you to use.  I love this game because it teaches critical thinking skills with the problem solving and it challenges my 2nd grader to spell all the words for the items she wants to use.  She is really enjoying it.  Heck, I’m really enjoying it.  But I got tired of asking her if I could play “her” 3DS (with her listing the conditions I must adhere to in order to use it), so I decided to see if the App Store had some version of the game.  I found it right away, and it is pretty awesome.  Let’s break down the mobile app, “Scribblenauts Remix”.

 The Cup Half Full 

scribblenauts peopleI’ve compared gameplay between the DS version and the mobile version, and I’ve found very little difference.  Sure the 3DS offers a second screen, but that’s mainly used for stats, the game itself is entirely played on the touchscreen of the 3DS.  So there’s no difference between it and the mobile app (aside from using a 3DS stylus, though you could use one with the mobile app too, if you wanted).

The mobile app offers up a ton of levels for $0.99!  And if you drop an additional….wait for it…. $0.99, you get all the current levels (around 50 right now) plus access to all additional levels coming down the road.  I did some research and the original 50 levels were a breakdown of 20 original Scribblenauts game levels, 20 Super Scribblenauts levels, and 10 levels created especially for the mobile app.  That’s a pretty amazing package for $2, being that buying new versions of the two DS games would run you $40 pretty easily (if you aren’t a pawn shopper like me).

scribblenauts magic notebookFinally, the mobile app has some cool additions not found on the 3DS version.  One is the use of the dictation speaker built into the keyboard to speak the names of the items you want to get in your “magic notebook”.  This negates my plan for spelling practice, but my daughter knows that speaking is a last resort, and she seems to be sticking to the plan so far.  Also, if you want to scrap all of your current creations in the current level, all you have to do is shake the phone and you will be prompted to agree to scrap all creations.  That’s comes in handy when my elaborate plans don’t work out so well.

One final bonus, since the mobile game works on iPad as well, you can play on a much larger screen than with the 3DS version!

The Cup Half Empty scribblenauts avatars

As with all mobile apps, this one offers “in app purchases”.  These come in the form of “avatar” character packs to use in the game.  It comes standard with the primary character Maxwell, as well as a Lifeguard, a girl Maxwell, and God (picture old guy in white robe).  There are several avatar packs that will run you another $0.99 for each group.  They include mythical characters, historical figures, and monsters.  So if you really want to play as Shakespeare or Dracula, you’ve got options.  But it’ll cost ya.  There are also “playgrounds” which come in a three pack for, you guessed it, $0.99.  So I call the “in app purchases” a half empty thing, but really, you could get everything they have to offer and not even reach the cost of a single 3DS game, so that’s pretty cool.

The other issue I’ve found with the game is related to “Game Center”.  At first glance it appeared that a game I started on my iPhone would transfer over to my iPad Mini, but that doesn’t appear to the case at this point.  Though that could be a setting issue as much as anything.  I’m not a hard-core gamer, so this isn’t a big concern for me, but I know that could be a deal breaker for some, who count those points like they’re real cash.

scribblenaughts-remix-weaponsParental Note:  This game does allow you to call up guns and other weapons.  If you “shoot” the weapon at another character they will lose hearts and vanish in a cloud of smoke.  When shooting humans, this will generally result in losing the level and having to start over.  The game does not have overt violence, but for those sensitive to this issue, it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

The Whole Cup Summed Up 

“Scribblenauts Remix” is a great little mobile game for both smartphones and tablets.  It’s been around for a few years now, so new gamers will find tons of content, with more coming.  I would expect a game with similar gameplay to cost at least $1.99 in the app store. But they’ve made this one accessible for everyone’s wallet.  The gameplay is on par with the much more expensive 3DS version, and even offers a few perks like shake to scrap and voice commands.

You’ll probably be tempted by those in app avatar purchases, and who could blame you!?  So if you’ve got a few extra bucks, pick this up.

And a note to parents.  I sought out a game for my daughter that would be so fun she would barely register that she was learning and developing her brain, and this was a total score.  So definitely check it out if you’ve got an elementary school kiddo.  But be prepared to spend some time playing it yourself, cause it is tons of fun!

Available on iOS and Android.

Try and tell me you don’t want to know what’s going on here!?

scribblenauts polka dot horse

 

Apps of Note – Yahoo News Digest

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In recent years Yahoo has been in the midst of a brand shift. They changed everything from their leadership to their logo. The company that was the “Google” of its day, has been looking for a way to get our attention, especially on our smartphones and tablets. They released a Weather App, which I also highly recommend. That app took advantage of the finger swiping we’ve all grown accustomed to on our hand-held devices. I’ve been using Yahoo weather since the day it was released. When I heard that Yahoo was releasing a News App, I was pretty excited to see if they could give me a similar experience, but this time instead of the 10 day forecast or storm warnings, they would give me a dose of the daily news. In my opinion, they certainly delivered.

Do you like to be informed on the daily news without feeling the need to become a news-junkie? Do you prefer your news to come in a package that you can knock out in five minutes flat? Then I’ve got the app for you. It’s called the “Yahoo News Digest”.

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The real genius of the Yahoo News Digest is you get the amount of news you want, which can be a quick glance, or an in-depth read. It’s up to you how far you want to dig. When you open the app, you get a list of 7-12 news stories stacked for a quick scroll through vertically. Each story is categorized (World, US News, Politics, Arts, Science, Entertainment, etc.). If you just want to see the high level news, one swipe and you’re done. Just the headlines and sentence or two.  To go another level in, just tap which ever story you want to read and a short news article appears. Swipe up and down and you can read the article. Swipe left and right and you’ll be jumping through each of
the articles you had in the main screen. It’s fast!

Each article includes links to larger news stories, or relevant articles to consider for further reading. Once you’ve read all the articles available, you get a “Did you Know” fact that is related to the day or one of the articles you’ve just finished. It doesn’t take long to quickly scan through all the content, which is saying something in the world of the never-ending news cycle.

The Digest is delivered twice a day, and you set the time you want to receive it. My morning digest comes at 7am, and my evening one at 6pm. Finally the app has all the standard social networking links, so if you want to tweet about an article, post it to your Facebook wall, or email it to a friend, the buttons are right there for your clicking pleasure.

The Cup Half Empty

YND twice a dayThe Yahoo News Digest is intended to be a “twice a day news” resource. If you want up-to-the-minute breaking news stuff, the Digest will not suit your needs. I put that as a “half empty” element, though for me, I like that it doesn’t constantly update with new information. Once I’ve read my 10 articles, I’m done till the next Digest is delivered.

You also have basically no control over what news you receive. Most news apps have a lot of customization built into them. Not interested in Kim Kardashian and the Hollywood crowd? Just turn of the “entertainment news” and you’re good to go. That’s not an option with the Yahoo News Digest. Though I’ve never seen a Kardashian article yet, so that’s good.  Everyone gets the same “paper” for every daily edition, and for many that could be seen as a bad thing, in an age where we like everything customized for us.

The Whole Cup Summed Up

YND3The Yahoo News Digest is trying to do something very specific.  Provide two daily doses of relevant news for the masses.  The interface is clean and easy to use.  The tap and swipe approach makes this app great for people just getting into smart phone and tablets.   The ability to read stories quickly, but also dig deeper into the “in-depth” elements is great for a news-junkie like me.

But at the same time, Yahoo’s “one size fits all” approach to the app will certainly frustrate some users who want to only see news about things they are interested in.  If that’s you, I recommend checking out “SmartNews”, which take news customization to a crazy place, and is also one of my go-to news apps that I use every single day.

I really like the Yahoo News Digest and think that it truly is news for masses.  It’s the daily and evening paper of yester-year in a cool new package.  So stay informed without the distraction of news apps that consume time and attention.  Because it’s much better to experience the world than read about it.

Available on Apple and Android Smartphones and Tablets for FREE!

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Apps of Note – Hanx Writer (iPad app)

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Sitting atop the free apps in the App Store is an odd choice.  It’s a typewriter app.  It’s actually the typewriter app that I am using to write this short review.

So, I guess Tom Hanks (yeah the ‘life is like a box of chocolates’ Tom Hanks) is really into typewriters.  Seems to border on an obsession, but then again, I can think of worse things for a movie star to spend all his piles of money on.  Mr. Hanks has decided to try and infect the rest of us with his typewriter hysteria, by way of the “Hanx Writer“.

The Cup Half Full

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The app comes with one free typewriter interface, and it’s a decent design. You get an onscreen keyboard with buttons that actually move down as you press them. Of course half of the fun of typing on a typewriter simulator is the clicking sound of each letter and the PING of the carriage return. Fear not! There is no requirement that you physically move the carriage tray back to the left once you reach the end of the page (though you gotta admit that could be kind of cool). You get all the standard word processing options, including spell check, and the ability to  backspace (no white out required). But for the courageous, you have the ability to turn off “modern delete” and type without the ability to correct. I am not that brave. While the free typewrite is decent, you do have the option to add additional typewriters for $2-$5.  I’ve already made the upgrade to the “Writer Bundle” for $4.99 (see above).

The Cup Half Empty

There is a glaringimage issue with this app, which has been well documented in the app store reviews, and it’s all about the export options. Basically you are typing a PDF document on this app.  I say that because all of the export options (of which there are actually quite a few) only let you export in PDF format. You can’t export to Word or even to Pages. You can send it to Microsoft’s One Drive cloud storage, or Evernote, iBooks, or Kindle, but all you can do with the document there is READ it.   I have found that you can copy and paste into any word processing app you might be using, so there is that. Though it’s certainly not ideal. I wouldn’t be surprised if the popularity of this app brings about some new exporting options in the future.

The Whole Cup Summed Up

The Hanx Writer is certainly a geeky indulgence. Are there better writing apps out there, with enhanced functionality? Of course there are.  But the joy found in the sound of each button press is definitely something that will trigger the romantic side of many writers. The idea that we are getting a taste of an old way of crafting words and sentences into characters and story.

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I’ve long held that the technology that captures our fascination and imagination the most are those that offer new ways of doing things with which we are familiar. And the Hanx Writer, typewriter simulator, is the essence of that idea turned right on its head! Doing something old on something new, in a revolutionary way!

So if you have an iPad or iPad Mini, and want to take a trip into composition’s past, grab this app and get typing!