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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INTERNUTS AND MUSIC

evolution of dance– At YouTube.com, search on “Evolution of Music.” It starts in the 11th century and moves through the 16th century on to the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and today. We noticed that almost half of the four minutes involves music from the 1990s on. This video has been viewed more than 44 million times.

— “The Evolution of Dance,” also at YouTube.com, features an average guy doing all the dance steps of the late 20th century. It’s been viewed over 276 million times – and the crowd goes wild!

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BABY CAM

baby camWe’ve looked at a lot of security cameras, but the $129 “Baby Cam” from TRENDnet.com is the simplest we’ve seen:

It’s slightly smaller than an average person’s hand and can be placed on a surface or stuck on the wall. It records sounds and can take video in normal light or in darkness, using infrared light. You can watch live from a web browser or an app available for Android or iPhone. You can choose to have video clips emailed on a regular basis.

We were impressed with its infrared night vision. Pictures were quite clear even in complete darkness from up to 16 feet away. The built-in speaker and microphone allow two-way audio communications from your phone, tablet or computer. Check the YouTube video.

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PAINTING LIKE A PRO

PAINTER PROThough we’re not professional artists or even students, we decided to try Corel’s new “Painter 2015.” This is a program that has been around for decades and is used by professionals to turn photos into artworks as well as design original art for ads and games. Reviewers are nuts about the new brushes, which can create special effects, like smoke, pixels, color shifts, etc., as you paint.

The program is $429, which is expensive for someone who just wants to dabble, but if you upgrade from an older version — even going back to Painter 7 from 12 years ago — it’s $229.  We saw Painter 7 selling for $20 on eBay, so you can certainly save a few bucks this way.

Before you upgrade, you might want to try out an older version of Painter. Get the feel of what it can do, learn the tools and rules. Later versions add more tools, but they may not be tools you care about. This is true of almost all programs, by the way: just because something is out in a new version doesn’t mean it’s a better version for you; it may in fact even have new problems.

Best of all, older versions have tutorials on YouTube or Lynda.com, but we couldn’t find any video tutorials for the latest version of Painter. Lynda.com has great ones for the previous version, Painter X3. If you do go with the latest version, makes sure you check Painter 2015’s system requirements. We fell far short on this one and were surprised. Read more »

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