ART OF THE GREETING CARD

happy birthdayJoy is mad for greeting cards, usually making her own with programs like Nova Development’s “Greeting Card Factory.” But CleverCards.com was too clever to pass up, for digital as well as printed cards.

CleverCards connects with your Facebook account to show all your friends’ birthdays at a glance. Cards can be scheduled way off in the future. Upload photos and choose your own text to personalize. We’ve always been fond of fake magazine covers and they have several of those. Write your own headlines and your loved ones appear to be stars of the news. CleverCards puts them in an envelope, addresses and stamps them for you. Charge is typically $2. If you wait a few days after signing up, they’ll send you a link to a free printed card

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YOUTUBE TIPS AND TRICKS

youtubeMaking a “playlist” in YouTube is a great way to provide an evening’s worth of  entertainment without ever getting up to change the video.

Search for a video or performer you’d like to watch. We searched on “Danny Kaye.” Click it and then click “add to” the “Danny Kaye playlist.” Then search for another,

click “add to,” and add it to the playlist you already created. Now whenever you go to YouTube.com you’ll see your playlist off to the side. They also keep track of any video

you liked enough to click “like.”

 

A few tips for watching videos: Tap the “L” key on your keyboard to leap ahead ten seconds; type “J” to jump back ten seconds. Tap a number to jump ahead by a

percentage: tapping a 5 takes you ahead 50 percent, tapping a 9 takes you 90 percent. Tap the space bar to pause or start play again. Tap “M” to mute the video and tap it

again to unmute.

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APPS FOR ART’S SAKE

famous paintings app– “Famous Paintings” is a free Android app with paintings by Matisse, Homer, Uccello, Velasquez and dozens of others. Tap to zoom in once, then spread your fingers to zoom more. The details are remarkable. (Bob once visited a home in Morocco with $25 million worth of paintings in the entrance hall: A row of Fragonards on one wall and Watteaus on the other. Raphael was in the study. Now Joy has seen some of them too.)

– “Guess the Painter” is a free iPhone/iPad app for improving your knowledge of art by trying to identify the artist simply by looking at the style of the painting. There’s a quiz. Bob rocks at this.

–“Paintings by Famous Artists” is a $2 app for iPhone with hundreds of paintings by Renoir, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and other artists. (Apps like these are like a free short course in art history.)

– “Art of Glow” A free app lets you doodle on your tablet screen and get glowing lines in multiple colors. A 99 cent version lets you save your masterpieces. They’re not much but kind of interesting.

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SUPER CHEAP TABLETS

Chromo 7ci tabletTalk about cheap: There’s a $50 tablet called the Chromo 7Ci. It started out at $38, but high demand drove up the price.

It’s about the same size as an iPad mini or a Kindle. Everything about the 7Ci is low quality, because that’s how you drive the price to the bottom. The battery is terrible – only lasts a couple of hours, so keep it plugged in. Still, there are plenty of nice uses for a cheap tablet: it can collect your email, surf the web, play music and handle video phone calls. You can download apps, just like you can with any tablet, and we list some nice ones down below.

For another $10 – making a total of $60 – you can go to a quality brand: Toshiba. Their cheap table, the “Excite 7c,” is a refurbished one for just $60 and it has twice the storage, five times the battery life, and high quality all around. Amazon sells a new one, the “Excite Go,” for $88.

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NUMBERS REPORT: STREAMING

roku streaming stickConsumer research outfit NPD.com projects that within two years, 40 percent of households will get TV, movies and apps from a streaming stick plugged into their TV. So far there are five: Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and Walmart’s new Spark. This is a hot area for innovation and we can expect fast and wide development; basically, everything is going to come from the Internet.

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ANOTHER WAY TO ESCAPE CABLE TV

the vudu sparkMore and more people are getting TV channels without paying a monthly cable bill, often called the movement to “cut the cord.” Now Walmart has entered the fray, with its $25 “Vudu Spark.”

The Spark comes with its own remote control and plugs into the USB port on your TV or laptop. It comes pre-loaded with the Vudu movie and TV app, and that’s it. But it’s $10 less than the Google Chromecast and comes with a $25 credit for Vudu movies.

The downside of these movie and TV-streaming sticks is you have to pay for most of the things you watch. You don’t have to pay much, but obviously it adds up depending on how much watching you do. Vudu offers 10,000 titles, ranging from 99 cents to a few dollars.

We forgot to mention last time we wrote about the Roku and Amazon Fire Stick that these things are sometimes quirky. Once in awhile, you may not get a signal. We get our signal back every time by simply unplugging the stick and plugging it back in again. Our guess: they get overheated and need to cool off. Integrated circuit chips tend to run hot.

 

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TEMPORARY TATTOOS

picattoo Picattoo can turn your Instagram photos into temporary tattoos. Twelve ink-transfer tattoos cost $15.

Start by going to Picattoo.com and sign in to Instagram. You can either take a new picture with your phone or choose one you’ve already stored in your photo gallery. Back at Picatoo.com, choose the photos you want to make into tattoos. Our favorite example was a photo of a cute dog. The ink is high quality and looked almost as detailed as the original picture.

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A FLIP OF THE WRIST

misfit flashThe Misfit Flash we wrote about a few months ago is expanding. Not literally, of course, but the features are expanding to track and control a lot more than your fitness exercises.

It looks like a blank-face watch on a wristband and is the cheapest wearable tracking device we’ve found for what it does. The $50 device counts swim strokes, measures deep sleep, tracks our biking and our walking. And from there they’re moving up. Coming in March, the Flash will interact with other apps and you won’t have to buy a new Flash if you already have one; it will be part of an update.

Suppose your phone is playing music from Spotify. Instead of digging it out of your pocket, you’ll press your Flash to start or stop the music. If you have a “Nest Learning Thermostat,” a press of the Flash will adjust the room temperature while you’re still in bed. The Misfit Flash can also control lights and TVs. A “yo” message can be sent to friends when you press the Flash twice. “Yo” is the way you say hello in Philadelphia or if you’re meeting Sylvester Stallone. The device will be able to lock and unlock doors, or  trigger your cell phone to take pictures just by pressing the Flash. See this stuff in action on YouTube. Search on “Misfit Flash’s Smart Button.”

When we first wrote about Misfit Wearables, they only had the “Shine,” which cost more and did less. We expect to be impressed; if we’re not, an angry letter will follow.

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GAME MUSIC

syrinscape playerYou can create a musical score made up of the kind of music and sound effects you hear in adventure games and save it to any application you wish, even making weird sounds for your cellphone. This is free for the month of February from Syrinscape.com if you feel like trying out their new beta version (pre-market release) of the Syrinscape Fantasy Player.  

Creating a musical score is as easy as selecting items from a menu. You can choose to hear gentle rain or lightning and thunder, add battle sounds, sword play, howling wolves or whatever you fancy from menus of dozens of effects that can be used alone or strung together.

Since the program is in beta, it comes with two sound sets: “Bugbear Battle” and “Witchwood.” Within each of these are subsets with names such as “Defeat is imminent,” and “Something’s out there.” Each subset has slide controls. Want more “unsettling wind,” “distant wildlife,” and “battle music?” “Sad noises” and “curses” might be appropriate additions if things are turning against our hero’s side. When you’ve made your adjustments, name your creation and save. Anything you download or create is yours to keep, even after the free beta period ends.

 

This is a surprising amount of fun. Programs like this are often used by game creators but can be just as useful for teachers, filmmakers, musicians and sound engineers. Play with Syrinscape on your PC or Mac, or download the free Android app version for phones and tablets.

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FREE STORAGE FOR CHROMEBOOKS

hp stream 11We’ve written about Google Chromebooks, a laptop for surfing the web and answering email. They cost around $200 and now they throw in a terabyte of free storage for two years.

A terabyte is one thousand gigabytes. To put that in perspective, the Encyclopedia Britannica, including all illustrations, takes only about 4.5 gigabytes. The big appeal of the Chromebook itself is that nearly everything it does takes place online. Because of this, any problems with the computer itself are automatically fixed every time you start it up and connect to the service. You don’t need an anti-virus program.

In a way, Chromebooks are a return to the past, when most computer users worked with terminals – stand-alone monitors and keyboards — which were connected to a large computer somewhere else. Now that large mother computer is operated by Google and we connect through the Internet. Sales have been steadily increasing and now schools are buying more Chromebooks than iPads: 715,000 to 702,000 in the third quarter of last year.

If you’re a diehard Windows user however, and we admit that we are, HP is now selling the $200 “Stream 11,” a full Windows laptop. It comes with one terabyte of storage free for one year. We haven’t tried it yet but some early users have complained that it’s real slow. That’s partly because it comes with a lot of free stuff sometimes called junk-ware, and partly because of its low-grade processor. That always slows things down.

 

 

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