Chinese cubes“Chinese Cubes Starter Pack” is $149 from or free in a limited version for iPad/iPhone. It’s a system of learning Chinese by moving blocks, each of which has a Chinese character, a meaning in English and a simplified way of writing the word or phrase. Using the blocks in various combinations can produce 2500 phrases.

The starter pack comes with a webcam– something nearly every computer has these days — but the program won’t let you go on until you plug it in their web cam. This is unfortunate, because their web cam doesn’t always recognize the blocks you place in front of it. If you keep doing it, however, the instructor built into the software will finally acknowledge that you got it right.

In the early stages, the instructor shows you exactly what to look for; it’s just a matter of going through a pile of 45 blocks. Then you practice pronunciation and use a writing pad to draw the characters.

We couldn’t find any reviews for this learning system, so Joy spent several hours with it as her obligation to promote understanding between nations. (”Char siu” means barbequed pork.) She thought it was fun, despite the frustration when the webcam couldn’t distinguish the blocks. (Bob says he knew a guy who had a Chinese friend write out a note in Chinese characters that he could hand to waiters at restaurants. It said: “I’ll have what the people at the next table are having.”)




parental time lockIn the Android world of tablets and phones, game costs pile up. We heard about a child who spent $70 on her new adventure game before mother caught on. Most of the money for these games goes for buying “equipment.” Like: everybody needs a light sword these days. Where have you been?

In response to criticism, the Google Play store now lets you set a password requirement for purchases offered within a game. To use that, tap the Google Play Store, then the menu button on your phone. From there, tap “settings” and look under “User Controls.” For iPhone users, you can set up a password requirement in “settings.” Tap “General” and then “Restrictions.”

If you want the device to shut off after a specific time, there’s an app for that. For Android, it’s “Kids Place.” For iPhone, it’s “Parental Time Lock.”



wattpad bookThe refined grist of hundreds of conversations has taught us that everybody wants to be a writer. Now they can.

You and you and your Uncle Max can publish their fiction and non-fiction on WattPad, an online site. It also has hundreds of free classics, such as “Jane Eyre,” “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” The web site,, draws15 million readers a month. And posts more than 1.5 million new stories.

Some are from best-selling writers, like Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” But most seem to be from teenagers, who display an inordinate interest in sex. Who knew? Random example: “I’m the SuperModel in a BoysBoarding School.” Not only are these teenagers prolific, so to speak, but display a loose grip on grammar and spelling which does not speak well of their classroom experience.

Does anybody read this stuff? Well, “How to Tame a Bad Boy,” has almost three million readers, although the teenage author admits she’s just messing around and doesn’t know if she has a story yet. Reader comments are posted under each book’s description, Facebook style, and some viewers make plot suggestions. Most books are written in short bursts; a 70 page book typically has 20 chapters – not necessarily connected. Short attention spans are the rule of the day.

Authors with a lot of followers are getting attention from traditional publishing houses. For instance, Abigail Gibbs, now 24, got a three-book deal from Harper Collins. Her first book, “Dinner With a Vampire,” written when she was 19, had 17 million reads and is now sold on Amazon. In the non-fiction section of the website is “How to Survive Wattpad,” with tips on getting more readers. The tips can be good but the sentences struggle. Example: “Do you want to get your book popular?”

Nobody gets paid for their work, and nobody is charged for reading it. Over the years many people have said to us: “I know my life would make a good novel.” Well, here’s a place to lay it out. We are approaching a time, as Andy Warhol said, when everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.



55-Must-Read-Cleaning-Tips-Tricks-laundry-bagcleaning tip55 Must-Read Cleaning Tips” Type that phrase into Google or your favorite search engine. Example: Put LEGO pieces into a laundry bag and wash in the washing machine or dish washer. Or clean bathroom tile grout with a paste made of 3/4 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup bleach.



SitterCitySitterCity helps you find a babysitter. It claims it runs background checks on a database of over 150,000 caregivers. Our niece got a nanny job in New York City this way and friends say it does a good job of finding babysitters, nannies and pet sitters.



TRSPRTrusper, a free app for Android or iPhone/iPad has tips from the public, like how to make a cookie in a mug, and tips from your family and friends if they’ve signed up.  Or visit and sign up through Facebook.



uptoUpTo Calendar, free for iPhone/iPad using the iOS 7 operating system, lets you see your friends’ calendars and they can see yours. If you don’t mind sharing this info, it makes it easy to plan events. Friends’ calendars are hidden under yours. Swipe to add events from theirs to yours. Calendars you follow can include a huge variety of events: Facebook events, TV schedules, concerts coming to your city, and calendars you create for clubs you belong to.



wordperfect home and studentThe latest version of WordPerfect is $99 at Walmart, a big reason why people take it instead of Microsoft Office, which is $220 for the Home edition or $99 a year for Office 365. But there are other good reasons why you might prefer WordPerfect.

Lawyers like WordPerfect because of its legal tools, such as redaction, “Bates” numbering, document comparisons and legal templates. Writers like it because it makes it easy to publish your book to the Kindle; the new “X7” version handles other e-Readers as well. If you choose “eBook Publisher” from X7’s “Project” menu, WordPerfect prepares your manuscript for electronic publishing to the Kindle, Nook or Sony e-Reader, saving many steps. Read more »



PRINTERWe used to point out that laser printers were cheaper in the long run because the ink was cheaper. Now some of the printers themselves are cheaper.

Inkjets are still much of what you see when you go to an office supply store, especially the all-in-one (fax, copy, scan) units. These seem like a great idea, but we’ve found that the individual features of the all-in-one aren’t great. And what’s more they never have been; if you want a scanner, buy a scanner.

But the all-in-ones are cheap. So we’ve bought models from HP, Epson and Canon, the major makers. How can you resist? As usual, we’ve been dissatisfied. We should ask ourselves over and over: why do they sell these things so cheap? Because they make tons of money on the ink, of course.

But what about the print quality? The color is poor compared to the glossy magazine quality of a laser. But enough already. Having spent $388 to buy Canon’s top-of-the-line color inkjet – the “PIXMA PRO-100 Color Professional,” we junked it and went back to an Okidata color laser. Read more »



shoppingWe’re constantly pitched about new shopping sites, but here’s a tip that may beat all of them: type the word “coupon” after the name of the store or product. Bob typed “Lands End Coupon” and got 20 percent off from Joy typed “Niemen Marcus coupon” and saw dresses for 70 percent off. But they were still too expensive. Bob typed “ceramic knives coupon” and got 50 percent off on his favorite Kyocera knives.