YOUR RING IS LISTENING

RinglyYou’d have to be living on Mars to be unaware of all the smart watches coming out this year. But did you know you could also get a smart ring?

Ringly” has $195 rings with a choice of emerald, onyx, pink sapphire or moonstone. Each ring connects to your iPhone or Android phone by the phone’s Bluetooth wireless chip and will vibrate and light up when a call or message comes in. That could be handy if your phone is set to vibrate. You might otherwise miss a call if it’s in a purse or bag. Of course the ring has no screen, so you won’t know who’s calling unless you look at your phone. You can  set it to flash only when certain people call or text.

Ringly needs charging every two days; just put it in its jewelry box, connected by USB to a power source.

 

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GOOD STUFF FOR LESS

certified refurbishedYou don’t have to buy a new tablet or computer to get a good one, any more than you have to buy a brand new car. “Refurbished” machines are items returned to the store or the manufacturer, but they’re not lemons.

According to Digital Trends, an online magazine, refurbished tablets and computers are subject to more rigorous testing than ordinary machines. After a person returns something to the store, retailers want to be darn sure there’s nothing wrong with it. From our own experience, we know that some equipment labeled as “refurbished” is brand new and has never been opened; a company ordered too many and returned the surplus.

Apple has an online store where refurbished iPads sell for $420, an $80 savings. At other company sites, smartphones, tablets, computers, laptops, cameras, and TVs are discounted by as much as 50 percent. To find the Apple refurbished department, go to Apple.com, click “store” and scroll down to the bottom of the page. In tiny print, you’ll find “refurbished and clearance.”

Similarly, Amazon has an outlet store at Amazon.com/outlet. You can find others by going to Google.com or any other search engine and adding the word “outlet” to your search term. For example, a search on “Sony Outlet.” or doing the same for Dell, HP, Nikon, New Egg, Best Buy and many others, turns up their bargain basement divisions.

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CAT’S PAW TRACK

GPS PawTrack collarThere’s a new version of “PawTrack,” for monitoring your kitty. It’s a GPS collar that keeps tabs on tabby. The collar is $125 and the service is $10 a month. It lets you know when your furry purry returns home, when it sleeps and where it goes when it roams the neighborhood. The new version is due in November.

But you may want to re-think the need to let your cat outdoors. We Googled the words “dangers of letting cats outside,” and found a list of potential problems, including ticks and fleas, car accidents, poison and cat fights. Outdoor cats live on average four to five years, we learned, while indoor cats live 12 to 15, with some living as long as 20 years. On the other hand, maybe a short eventful life is best.

(Bob says it has been experience of many years as a newspaperman, that articles about cats draws more readers than any other subject except movie star scandals.)

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WORLD SUNLIGHT MAP

World Sunlight MapDie.net/earth has a “World Sunlight Map.” It shows where the sun is shining at  the moment you are looking at the map, also which areas are in darkness.

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SAY IT IN FARSI

language learningLivemocha.com is a language learning community that covers more tongues that you ever thought you might want to know. Say it in Farsi (Iranian), or Zulu (South African tribal language).

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TWEET TWEET

twitterMany people tell us they’re confused by Twitter. What is it? Who’s out there? And what are they saying? Oh: And why would we care?

Twitter delivers “tweets.” And each “tweet” is no more than 140 characters. But there’s usually a link in there to a longer story. Tweets can come in to your computer, your phone, or whatever you have that can connect to the Internet. You can get pages of tweets from sources and subjects you select and they can range from bits of chit-chat about family members to what’s happening in the Congo.

Surprisingly often the source of those tweets may be from someone right on the spot, perhaps snapping a picture long before a reporter gets there – because tweets can include pictures. They can be hot, hot, hot. When the U.S. sent a Seal team to capture Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, someone who lived nearby tweeted that there seemed to be  two military helicopters headed for that walled compound a few blocks away. He thought they looked American. Fortunately for our side, the target wasn’t connected to Twitter at the time.

That was in the early days. Today, there are more than 500 million tweets a day. Aye, there’s a the rub, as some playwright once remarked.  So you have to pick your shots, selecting who you want to hear from and what subjects and/or locations you want to hear about. Go to Twitter.com, sign up, and be careful, because some people think nothing of sending a hundred messages a day – and we are not exaggerating. Nobody has that many interesting things to say. Read more »

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BOOKS AND SPRITES

BUILD IOS GAMES WITH SPRITE KIT“Build iOS Games with Sprite Kit,” by Jonathan Penn and Josh Smith, $34 from PragProg.com. It shows you how to make games for the iPhone and iPad. You learn how to build two games that are fun: One is a pinball game and the other a version of “Asteroids.”

This isn’t an easy book, so if you want to build some interesting games using “sprites,” there are other places to go: If you do a web search on “sprite games” you will find instructions and simple games from Microsoft and the UCLA computer department.

Sprites in computer talk are small clusters of anywhere from two to sixteen pixels that define an object that can be moved independently on a screen background. They can be programmed to explode on contacting other sprites, or release other sprites, like missiles to blow apart asteroids.

Early games like those from Atari, Apple and Commodore often used sprites that could be controlled by the mouse as they appeared to move across a scrolling background. Sometimes the background itself could be a large sprite, adding complexity. Early games might have two to eight sprites. As processing power increased, small game machines like the GameBoy Advance, were able to handle 128 sprites at once, keeping track of their locations, movement and special characteristics.

You can download ready-made sprites for your game at many sites on the web; just search for “game sprites.” Of course that’s just the beginning; you must design the game. You can also look at sample games others have designed.

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CONVERTING PDFS

pdf to wordA reader asked us to find a free program to convert a “PDF” (portable document format) into a Microsoft Word document. We like Nitro PDF.

Most people use Adobe Reader to open PDFs, which are documents that retain their original look (all the formatting and illustrations) no matter what program they were created with. To convert a PDF back into a Word document is usually done with a costly program like Adobe Acrobat. But we’ve had no problem with the free PDFtoWord.com, made by Nitro PDF.

We tried it with a complex calendar full of colorful icons and it worked well. The converted file is emailed to you seconds later. They also offer free conversion to Excel files at PDFtoExcelOnline.com.

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TINKERBOX: FREE GAME FOR TEACHING ENGINEERING

tinkerboxTinkerbox HD” by AutoDesk is a free puzzle game for iPhone/iPad/iPod, for teaching basic engineering concepts. Build outrageous machines or download popular inventions

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WEIRD BUT TRUE!

cheetahs_234_600x450“Weird but True!” from the National Geographic. It’s a free kids app for iPhone/iPad/iPod that lets you in on some of Nature’s strangest secrets. Like: Cheetahs can change direction in mid air while chasing prey. Or so they say.

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