Smartphones in summer are far from perfect. The screens are hard to see when you’re out of doors, they tend to run out of batteries at inopportune moments, and it seems you’re always in a no-cell area when you need one. Still, your smartphone can be your summer companion on the road or in your own backyard. Try these apps for the glory days of summer.
In Your Own Backyard
Start by looking at the sky. Google SkyMaps (free, Android) identifies celestial beings from your point of view. Point the phone at any location in the sky and the app will tell you what you’re seeing. Planets, stars, constellations – are all unveiled. Apple users who want a prettier map can download SkyApp from Celestron (iPhone/iPad).
A surprisingly handy app, Flashlight (iPhone/iPad) transforms your phone screen to a bright white light. For reading menus, finding a keyhole or just getting somewhere in the dark, it’s a handy addition.
Gardening fanatics have a huge number of app choices. Those who prefer an encyclopedic approach will enjoy Botany Buddy ($9.99, iPhone/iPad). It provides an almost overwhelming description of every plant and shrub in existence – all searchable by name, location and description. Cooks should look at iPlant ($1.99, iPhone/iPad), a culinary guide. If your garden is infested, you need Garden Insects (iPhone/iPad), the 99-cent guide to garden insects.
For getting in shape, use your smartphone as a pedometer with Pedometer Pro GPS+ ($2.99, iPhone/iPad). Since it knows your location through its GPS, it can calculate how far and fast you’ve walked and run, through what kinds of terrain. Set your personal goals and get started.
Weather buffs and outdoor party planners might download WeatherUnderground’s free app (Android/iPhone/iPad), where local folks like you contribute weather information in real time. Crowd-sourced weather at its finest!
Looking for a local event to pass the time? From movies, to concerts, to fairs and art, Eventful (free, iPhone) lets you follow upcoming concerts, performances and other live events through the site. Eventful goes a step further by giving fans a place to demand an event.
On the Road
AccuTerra Unlimited (iPhone) is the hardcore map and GPS tracker for hiking, running, biking, and skiing. We’re talking five million square miles of terrain and trail maps. The maps are beautiful and have been optimized for the iPhone. You’ll want to download just the maps that you need to use (the app can get quite large). This all-access pass comes at the hefty price tag of $29.95.
When you’re off the trail, Where You Go (free, Android) is an app with 500 preset categories that can locate anything from drug stores to restaurants to points of interest.
Campers and RV enthusiasts should head to Camping Road Trip ($2.99). Available on iPhone and Android, it provides a complete list of 15,000 RV parks and campgrounds and lets you share your notes and ratings with others.
On the Interstate? Download iexit ($.99, iPhone) and find out what restaurants and hotels are just off the next exit – without ever exiting.
An app I find especially handy for summer travels is Park n Find ($.99, iPhone). Park your car, take its photo, and the GPS coordinates are captured and reported back to you. You’ll never be the last car out of the lot again because you’ve forgotten where you’ve parked.
TripIt (free, Android, iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, Windows) watches as you book your flights, hotel , rental car information and turns it into your personal itinerary. Trip Advisor (free, Android phone/tablet, iPhone/iPad, Windows) shares the often very vocal opinion of travelers everywhere. Read before you book.
Higher-education costs have skyrocketed 450 percent, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard lots of chatter about new online models for higher education. Some critics are outraged by the thought of removing the classroom experience from the equation. Others cite cheating and accountability as major obstacles. Still others, no doubt, recognize the warning sign in the form of a pink slip.
Techy optimists see online education as the next great Internet democratization. Anyone willing to learn, regardless of how much is in their checkbook, can gain access to the greatest institutions of higher education in the world.
From the East Coast bastion of ivy comes the MIT and Harvard salvo. The institutions announced a partnership called edX to offer free online courses from both schools. According to the New York Times, those who complete the courses will get a certificate and a grade, but no course credit. By teaching large numbers of students through a single course, edX hopes to gain insights into the teaching process as well as provide academic opportunities for all types of students.
In the best amalgam situation, Cousera, founded by two Stanford professors, already offers free online courses compiled from some of the best universities: Michigan State, Penn State, Princeton, Stanford. Interestingly, Cousera teaches the arts, including history and poetry, as well as smogasboard of computer courses. The courses do away with the traditional lecture; the instructor and assistants play the role of advisors, identifying common problems, offering clarification, and stimulating conversation. Peers and experts perform grading and other course interaction. HackedEducation provides a deeper look into Coursera here.
Udacity was born when Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun and two of his colleagues taught a free online AI course to about 160,000 students. Graded by machine, and focused on the computer sciences, Udacity offerings are all no-cost. An ABC interview says that ultimately the company plans to use student data for recruitment purposes, hence monetizing their efforts. Unlike the others, Udacity is not affiliated with any university, as Thrun and his colleagues left Stanford to start the company.
Together, this trio represents what has come to be known as MOOC: Massively Open Online Courses. Can you learn just as well in a crowd of 100,000 as you can in a small seminar? I suspect that individual learning styles will ultimately create everything from blended models to premium services. Meanwhile, reading through the forums and posts on Udacity and Coursera, it’s hard not to be encouraged by how grateful these far flung students are to be in the midst of this education revolution.
Higher-education costs have skyrocketed 450 percent, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Over the past few weeks we’ve heard lots of chatter about new online models for higher education. Some critics are outraged by the thought of removing the classroom experience from the equation. Others cite cheating and accountability as major obstacles. Others, no doubt, see the writing on the wall in the form of a pink slip.
Online optimists see online education as the next great Internet democratization. Anyone willing to learn, regardless of how much is in their checkbook, is able to gain access to the greatest institutions of higher education in the world.
One thing is certain, the ivory towers are crumbling as I write, and the 600 pound guerillas are beating their chests.
From the East Coast bastion of ivy comes the MIT and Harvard salvo. The institutions announced a partnership called edX, that will offer free online courses from both schools. According to the NYT, those who complete the courses will get a certificate and a grade, but no course credit. By teaching large numbers of students through a single course, edX hopes to glean insights into the teaching process as well as providing academic opportunities for students.
In the best amalgam situation, Cousera, founded by two Stanford profs already offers free online courses compiled from some of the best universities: Michigan, Penn, Princeton , Stanford. Interestingly, Cousera teaches the arts , including history and poetry, as well as smorgasboard of computer courses . The courses replace the traditional lecture but the instructor and assistants play the role of advisors , eyeballing common problems, offering clarification, and stimulating conversation. Grading and interaction is done by peers as well as experts. One of the deeper looks into what’s behind Coursera can be found at HackedEducation.
Udacity was born when Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor and two of his colleagues taught a free online AI course to about 160,000 students. Graded by machine, and focused on the computer sciences, Udacity offerings are all computer science classes and are all free. An ABC interview says that ultimately the company plans to use student data for recruitment purposes, hence monetizing their efforts. Unlike the others, Udacity is not affiliated with any university as Thrun and his colleagues left Stanford to start the company.
Together, this trio represents what’s come to be known as MOCC or Massively Open Online Courses. Can you learn just as well in a crowd of 100,000 as you can in a small seminar? I suspect that individual learning styles will ultimately create everything from blended models to premium services. Meanwhile, reading through the forums and posts on Udacity and Coursera it’s hard not to be encouraged by how grateful these far flung students are to be in the midst of this education revolution.
You betcha! B.F. Skinner, the father of psychology’s behaviorist movement, would be giving electronics manufacturers the high five right now. It turns out that 1) kids like working for rewards and 2) technology is a really good motivator. A few examples…
Zazoo Kids Alarm Clock: Do your kids wake up at 6AM on Saturday morning believing you should be up too? Do they hop out of bed before the naptime whistle? Zazoo’s charming little alarm clock ($89) helps retrain little bed-jumpers by offering four different sets of background images that tell your child it’s ok to “get up” or time to “stay put”. A moon and dark background say “stay asleep” while bright sunny sunshine says “rise and shine”.
The clock doubles as a digital photo frame, and can play video clips and music – and you can set it so the kids wake up to anything from your voice to their favorite song or video. It has both USB and SD inputs so it can really serve as a little one’s first multimedia machine. The only caveat is that it’s not a touch screen. Parents will have to use a system of menu and arrow buttons on the back of the clock (much like a traditional alarm clock) to set it appropriately.
GeoPalz could be the best-kept secret on the planet. It’s a $25 pedometer made especially for kids. It comes in all sorts of fun designs like flowers, peace signs, and devils, and is made to be worn on shoes, belts, a pocket, wherever. Each GeoPalz has a unique serial number – kids go about their day, rack up the steps, and when they log onto the GeoPalz website, there’s a payoff. For every step walked, they gain points for prizes. And the prizes are from places the kids love like Target, REI, Xbox Live and others. There are games and challenges, and (of course) a virtual world to explore. Rewards for exercise are a good way to start building a kid’s consciousness about how exercise makes them feel.
Tykoon is a website created to encourage children’s financial literacy. Assign your kids chores or assignments with the opportunity to earn some type of reward. Each task is assigned a frequency by the parents and then checked off when the task is done. Parents can pay cold hard cash or they can decide on a reward system like staying up late or watching a TV program if they’d rather.
Kids are encouraged to set long and short term goals – college, an ice cream, a charity gift – it’s all there for your family to choose how to allot. As your children saves, a graphical view displays how they’re progressing toward their goal. Many parents will take advantage of the “Giving” part of the site to ingrain the importance of charitable giving (the sites partners include Make a Wish, ASPCA, Toys for Tots and others). And of course they get to spend. The site is also a kid’s “shopping mall” (parents need to ok the purchase) filled with kid friendly items from bicycles to video games.
Of course anytime the “bank” is right next to the “store”, you might wind up with the whining tyke-oon, but this is a site that lets families discuss their financial beliefs and gives them the tools to instill those beliefs in their children.
BF Skinner would be smiling from his grave to know that his reward theory for behavior modification is alive and well in the digital age.
In my last posting I promised to report on my progress with the Kinect and Xbox, but things took an unexpected turn when we began renovations on our kitchen. Since we live in a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan, renovating one room requires the destruction of the other. Hence no living room, no workout room, no Xbox w/ Kinect.
Instead, I decided to take advantage of the fitbit I acquired at CES. My cute little blue fitbit has measured my steps, counted the number of stairs I climbed, calories burned and miles traveled since January. At CES, I was averaging about 15-16,000 steps a day. Despite New York being a “walking city,” it is taking a bit more effort to hit my daily average of 10,000 steps.
I kept to my workout routine of 4 runs of 2- 3 miles each and added a few extended walks on the days that I would normally do a Jillian Michaels DVD. Of course all the cleaning, lifting and shopping involved in renovating a kitchen added steps too. My results using the fitbit took me by surprise.
HOW IT WORKS
The fitbit clips to an article of clothing or slips into a pocket; it’s not much bigger than a USB drive. The blue display screen offers encouragement, number of steps taken, calories burned, and number of floors climbed. It uses a flower metaphor. The more steps you take, the taller the flower.
The fitbit syncs wirelessly to your online account through a docking station that is plugged into a USB port on your computer. Data is then uploaded and posted to your Dashboard. You can also update fitbit data from a smart phone – adding what you’ve had for lunch, for example. The company just recently launched its Android app but I use the iOS version.
Steps, stairs and activities are rewarded with badges as your stated goals are met and exceeded. If you are into it – you can compete with friends on Facebook for leadership board positions or use apps such as My Fitness Pal.
Fitbit has actually become “my little buddy”. I feel quite naked without it. But, I’ll admit some of my friends in the non – CE world are appalled at all of the naval gazing and body monitoring. When I explain that body sensor controls will be the fitness craze of the future they say they’re concerned with what it’s going to do to their privacy. Whatever, I don’t know if “big brother” is watching or not, but I lost 7 lbs, my kitchen is beautiful, and now that I’ve freed my living room I’m about to order my Xbox with Kinect. Any bet on whether Xbox or fitbit will win my self-inflicted weight loss program?
A recent study from NPD shows that one in five consumers want a fitness device that they can hook up to their PC. Today’s question is “will people have more incentive to actually buy these devices if they can use them with friends”.
Striiv, a smart pedometer that caters to casual exercisers who like rewards, thinks that collaboration with a friend is going to increase the likelihood of using your device effectively. Last year the company introduced a pedometer that allowed the user to either win game play or make a donation to charity upon meeting goals.
The new version released this week adds the “friend” element. You can now see your goals and progress side by side with others in your group. Dan Wang, the company CEO calls it the “social pedometer” where the motivation comes from games, rewards, friends and charity.
Other devices like BodyMedia, Fitbit, and Jawbone focus on data analysis – tracking your movements. Fitbit keeps a record of caloric intake, BodyMedia does that plus tracks sleep. Jawbone now lets users post a food photo diary to share with others, and offers online incentives.
More serious athletes turn to devices from Polar and Garmin. Polar offers built-in coaching as well as endurance and recovery time training in their devices. Garmin offers special devices for runners, cyclists and even golfers.
The benefits of using technology to monitor your workouts have become nearly undisputed. But is monitoring yourself with friends more effective than going solo?
Research presented in the Economist gives examples of group training being more effective (the secret is endorphins). And the Telegraph in the UK found similar results. Women in particular do better exercising with friends, says a Motley Fool advice column. On average, their article finds a women will lose 10 pounds more if they exercise and diet with a female friend, and that 20% of women that exercise alone do not lose any weight at all.
So which type of fitness buff are you? The lone Rocky Balboa or the grab a buddy and go?
Interactive whiteboards in the classroom have been plagued by any number of problems. Often mis-calibrated, sometimes proprietary, always expensive – and it forces the teacher to be in front of the classroom. It’s high time for an alternative to the old “teacher stands in front of the whiteboard” trick.
Enter Penveu, a very different approach to the standard teacher/whiteboard interaction. Penveu looks like a big fat pen. Hidden inside the pen are 12 accelerometers, 3 gyroscopes and an optical system. Invisible targets are embedded on the screen – hidden to the viewer. All this tech means it never needs to be recalibrated.
The pen can be used as a either a pen to draw, write, or mouse. You can highlight and erase. The teacher can use it from anywhere in the classroom, or hand it over to the child in the back row. Penvue is compatible with any large screen display or projection device.
The pen is sold with a “black box” peripheral that accepts a VGA cable from the display and a VGA cable to the PC. The pen itself is wireless. The cost? $500, a fraction of the price of an interactive whiteboard and way more portable and flexible.
Switching Penveu between pen and mouse, and learning its other, more specific capabilities (for example pressing harder in pen mode draws a thicker line) takes some getting used to, but gaining the freedom to walk away from the board and pass the pen around the classroom could make a huge difference in how teachers teach.
To see the Penveu in action, watch the videos. It’s a product worth investigating for classrooms or boardrooms.
Arianna Huffington gets stressed out too! I don’t know why, but I take great comfort when people who look pressed and pretty all the time confess that they need to deal with stress just like the rest of us. But unlike the rest of us who keep our stress to teeth grinding or lip biting, Arianna Huffington shares her taming stress message via a new campaign – a GPS for the Soul app.
Hopping on the “body as sensor” technology movement, the Huffington Post announced GPS for the Soul, a movement designed to tame the stress monster. It will take the form of an app created in partnership with HeartMath (creators of EmWave2, a handheld biofeedback like device that tries to achieve what they call “heart coherence”) and bLife, an app developer that specializes in health-related apps.
The goal is to provide people with tools, techniques and technology to take charge of stress and find more joy, peace and quality in life. The GPS for the Soulwebsite on HuffPo is already providing content devoted to reducing stress and enhancing spirituality and mindfulness.
Unrelated to the HuffPo campaign, we’re seeing attempts to bring rising stress levels under control. I’ve been playing with ZEO, a $99 bluetooth-enabled sleep monitor that works with your smartphone and an app to track sleep patterns, diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors for achieving optimal REM and deep sleep. Better sleep quality, according to research, leads to less stress.
And just for kicks, according to the American Psychological Association, Americans are masters of stress, with 22% reporting being extremely stressed, and study after study linking stress to chronic disease.
Technology and thinking green did not always go together very well. Filled with icky harmful metals and substances, never recyclable and persistent energy hogs – electronics were known for creating more environmental problems than they solved.
One problem being solved in innovative ways is device recharging. Our phones, TVs, game machines and household products are electricity gobblers. Here are some Earth Day alternatives that we should use all year long.
Scosche solBAT II Solar Battery Charger: Scosche’s solar battery charger ($29) works with most USB-powered devices to recharge them using the power of the sun. Included with the rechargeable solar battery is a suction-cup windshield cradle so your mobile phone can charge as it soaks up the sun. ($29 at
Solar Firefly Lights: For kids starting to learn about the magic of solar power, for some great porch decorations, or even a night light, go to Think Geek. They’ve got some sweet little mason jars that store up solar energy for built in LEDs – the result is a firefly in a jar ($35).
Voltaic OffGrid Solar Backpack: One of my favorite solar gadgets is from Voltaic. The company makes a line of solar products that combine fashion with solar recharging. Take a look at the OffGrid Solar Backpack ($229). It’s versatile in that you can remove the solar pocket and attach it other things. It’s got lots of storage, and includes a laptop sleeve and a place for your cell phone. As long as there’s sunshine, you’ve got power and style.
nPower PEG: If you’re ready to put your whole body into green energy try the Kinetic nPower PEG Charger ($159.99). This device builds up charge as you walk, hike or bike. Toss it in your briefcase or pocket and start moving. It’ll work with plenty of gadgets – including iPhone and BlackBerry handsets.
Belkin Has You Covered: Belkin’s got an entire line of green products to help with your gear and gadgets. One of my favorites, The Belkin Conserve Valet Energy Saving USB Charging Station ($40), charges up to four devices at once. Even if your device is plugged into it for a charge, the Valet shuts off automatically once a full charge is achieved – preventing wasteful use of electricity. And many gadgets draw energy even when they’re turned off (like your TV). Because the Belkin system uses zero energy, you know that the idlers have been silenced. Added benefit? You use only one wall outlet instead of four and it looks tidy too. The Conserve Valet draws zero power when not in use and that saves a bundle of electricity.
Can’t decide which Pixar movie is your fav? Don’t give it a second thought. If you own a Microsoft Kinect you can grab a copy of Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure where you’ll get a taste of all your favorites with you staring as the added attraction. It’s fantastic and tailor made for an ADD generation that loves to surf from one Disney fav to the next.
In this case, you’re immersed in the worlds of The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Cars, and Toy Story at your choosing. Kinect scans you in and you actually become a character in the movie. I wish you could “take it from me”, but my nephew Drew absconded with the disc, promising a review in his own words. (Just remind me to hide the discs next time he comes over).
RUSH (by Drew Raskin)
“Disney’s Pixar Rush is a great game. If you’re looking to go on an adventure Rush is the game for you. It feels like you are in the adventure. I know I love adventures so I knew this was a great game for me. There’s Ratatouille, Up, The Incredibles, Toy Story, and Cars. All of those in one game! It makes you feel like you’re playing all these games with your friends. And if it’s not fun to play alone you could play with another person. I really think this is a good game for people who love to go on adventures. For Up, it’s like your hiking with Carol and Russell. For Cars, it’s like you’re driving with Mater and Lightning Mcqueen. For the Incredibles, it’s like you’re fighting crime with the family. For Toy Story, it’s like you’re playing with Woody and Buzz. And for Ratatouille it’s like cooking with Remy and Linguini. It’s almost as if you’re sucked up into the game.”