neonflamesNeon flames”  lets you design your own nebulae. Choose a color from the palette on the left and start moving your mouse cursor across a black sky. The color deepens if you move over and over the same section. The effect looks remarkably like a real star cluster. This is also available as an Android app.



Cotton molecule

Cotton molecule

Nova Elements” came out last year as a free iPad app, and now it’s free for Windows – but only for users of Windows 8.1. That is a free upgrade for users of plain old Windows 8. Find it by tapping the Windows key, (looks like a flag), and typing “store.” The upgrade should be right there.

Nova Elements delves into basic chemistry to teach us how elements combine to make everyday things, like cotton. It includes an interactive periodic table, a game, and the two-hour NOVA program: “Hunting the Elements.”  It’s educational, it’s fun, and there are no ads. This is the first time Joy’s ever played a chemistry game for more than five minutes.

One of the neatest features is that you can click on any element in the periodic table and get a related video clip from the NOVA program. Combine several elements to build your own caffeine, water, and plastic molecules. It’s almost a cup of coffee.



The start button returns in Windows 9.

The start button returns.

A preview of the new Windows 9 operating system will be shown all over the known universe this Fall. The scuttlebutt is it will correct the mess known as Windows 8; computer users will no longer be forced to look at a screen meant for tablet users. (Yep, that’s what it was designed for.)

The final product won’t be out until Spring of 2015. (And we have found that all “new release” dates change frequently.) So if you want to buy a new computer now, should you go with Windows or Mac? Most people choose Windows. It’s what they use at work, it’s cheaper and it works with a ton of programs.

But with the new iMac, it’s time to re-think that. The latest version of the 21.5-inch iMac is a nice all-in-one desktop machine. At $1099, it’s $200 less than the average Mac all-in-one. Sure, it has only half the storage space: 500 gigabytes instead of a terabyte. And it’s not quite as fast. But it’s still faster and roomier than the average person needs.

Macs have several selling points but the chief one is stability. Few readers have ever written to us about Mac problems. They’re often quite gushy, almost religiously fervent about Apple. In fact, nearly every reader problem we’ve ever received, and there have been thousands over the years, is about Windows.

We recommend Macs for students going off to college, despite the initial expense. They can keep their Mac for a decade before it feels out of date, so the initial investment pays off in the long run. Besides, that’s what all the other kids will have.

We have an 11-inch MacBook Air. It’s light, fast, has a long battery life and never gives us problems. We take it with us on trips. But Bob grumbles that the screen is hard to read and the keyboard is small and cramped. Worst of all, we can’t use our Windows keyboard shortcuts and don’t have Mac versions of familiar programs like Microsoft Word. Our “Parallels” software lets us run Windows programs on the Mac, but they always run clunky.

Bottom line on which way to go: We have both kinds of computer, but the curious thing is, when we need to get some work done we still use Windows. Why? Don’t really know for sure, but it seems right for work and the other system for play. Visiting kids always like it.


ELDERS REACT TO GOOGLE GLASS has stories put together by former New York Times columnist David Pogue. We watched an amusing short video titled: “Elders React to Google Glass.” And we read about a New York state law that levies a $500 fine for taking “selfies” with arms around tigers. Apparently this has become a problem in New York; thank heavens the legislators are on top of it.


A VIRTUAL WORLD FOR CHILDREN lets children walk around in a virtual world, try on new clothes, play games and talk to others by choosing pre-selected phrases from a menu. It’s free but has lots of ads. The artwork is stunning but we got a little woozy waiting for things to load in Woozworld.



league of legendsRaptr” is a free program that automatically optimizes every game on your computer, making sure the graphics and other drivers are up to date. On Joy’s Windows 8 computer, it just found one, but it had links to tons of other free games with stunning graphics.

Under “simulation,” we found “Rail Nation,” free for train buffs; at “Big Farm,” also free, you compete to build the best farm, and “Settlers Online,” is a classic adventure game we remember from decades ago. Some of the online communities had more than two million members. Raptr lets you chat with your gamer friends while you play, even if you’re both playing different games. The most popular games are “League of Legends” and “World of Warcraft.” More than 27 million people play League of Legends daily, and eight million play World of WarCraft.



brain trainingJoy and a couple of her lady friends are hooked on the Lumosity brain training games; she plays them on her computer every day for 15-30 minutes. Bob prefers playing bridge and trying to figure out why politicians never answer a question directly.

The games are now on an Android app. Basic membership is free for a limited number of games, or $15 a month for the full list. There’s a two-week free trial of that full list. Adding it all up, there are about 50 million users.

The games test your wits in the areas of memory, flexibility, attention, problem solving, and speed. Joy has become a speed demon — in the top one percent of players in her age group. She swears she’s getting smarter by the day, though she still can’t remember where she put her cell phone.



FliporaMost people find good websites through social networking sites. The six most popular are Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, Digg and LinkedIn. The seventh, Flipora, is one we’d never heard of till they announced a new version.

The new Flipora 2.0 analyzes your Facebook posts to recommend topics for you, and as you browse the web, it gets to know you better. If you install the free browser extension, you get frequent pop-ups recommending a website based on your recent searches. Otherwise, you can go to for recommendations.

Some of these suggestions are good: We were looking at El Greco’s famous painting: “A View of Toledo” (Spain), when a link popped up telling us to look at Andy Warhol’s lost (and recently rediscovered) computer art. Not bad. We also watched a great video on government corruption. But many recommendations are out of date and uninteresting. Joy likes economics but wasn’t interested in two year-old forecasts of bank closings in India or the country’s 2012 tax policy. We suspect many or most of Flipora’s 30 million users are in India.



sharing a headsetHere’s a $10 gizmo that should make plane rides and train trips more fun. Instead of just watching your own movie on your own gadget, watch it together with a friend or family member.

We don’t mean you should take off your headset and let the volume rip. The “Divvy” from Wicked Audio, splits the sound between two headsets. It’s a tiny box that plugs into one socket. Each person can choose their own volume level. So if Grandpa is watching a movie with a grandchild, he can have the volume higher if he needs it.  It would also come in handy if two people want to listen to the same audiobook or song. We couldn’t find it on Amazon, but we hear it’s available at Game Stop, Airport Wireless and phone stores. Belkin offers a similar splitter on Amazon. Very cheap.



PetPaceFor around $300 a year, you can monitor your pet’s health better than you monitor your own. The PetPace “smart collar” tracks dog and cat health 24 hours a day.

This seems like a great thing to have if you’re away on a trip and wondering how Fido is doing at the local kennel. It sends alerts to your phone if your dog is starting to have an abnormal temperature, pulse or breathing pattern, and monitors his calories, pain, and activities, comparing them to other dogs his age. (Get up Fido, it’s time for your floor exercises.)

So far, the main customers will likely be vets, who can buy a pro version of the collar and put it on animal patients to monitor them after they’re released from the hospital.