Monday, March 18, 2013

Thanks A Lot, Rovio!

My 22-month-old son LOVES Angry Birds! And I've loved letting him play - it's been great for problem-solving. First he had to figure out how to navigate the app. Then he had to figure out how to make the birds go in the right direction - his first instinct, of course, was to swipe the way he wanted them to go. It took him weeks to figure out how to pull them back and let them go. Now he's starting to get excited every time he smashes a piggie, and I think soon he'll be working on actual strategy to aim the birds at the piggies. (Not quite there yet, but hey, he's not even two, cut him some slack!)

All of that came to an abrupt halt yesterday. Why? Well, Rovio pushed Angry Birds Toons onto every Angry Birds app on every platform. Now, next to the big Play button that takes you to the game, there's an equally-big Toons button. This basically takes you to a built-in TV station with Angry Birds cartoons to watch.

I don't think my son has played the actual game since. He just keeps turning it to the video channel and zombie-ing out.

I keep my toddler's TV time and iPad time separate, and for good reason. TV can be a very useful educational tool in limited quantities, but research has shown that at his age toddlers don't learn as effectively from TV as from the real world. Too much TV can actually hinder their language development, even if it's good shows like Sesame Street. When he watches TV (which is very limited, and entirely through Netflix or DVD), he becomes a lump. He stares vacantly, sits there, doesn't pay attention to what's happening around him.

When he plays games on the iPad, he's actively engaged. He's developing hand-eye coordination, he's solving problems, he's often even interacting with the rest of the world (his new favorite is to play Endless Alphabet and go find his foam letters to match the ones in the game). He still needs to spend lots of time playing with physical toys and running around and reading books, so obviously he's not on the iPad all day (and anyhow, it's my iPad damn it, I want to use it!), but I definitely allow him more iPad time than TV time.

But now Angry Birds has turned the iPad into another TV screen. He's glued to the videos the same way he's glued to Wonder Pets. And as far as I can tell (through both inspection of the game and Googling), there is no way to turn them off the way you can turn off power-ups!

It looks like I'm going to have to delete the game, or at least hide it away in a folder where only mommy and daddy can find it. Thanks a lot, Rovio. I'm sure I'm not the only parent who is annoyed by this.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Top Toddler Apps: Endless Alphabet

Since my 21-month-old son uses my iPad nearly as much as I do these days, it seems appropriate to review some of his favorite apps along with my faves.

I recently downloaded Endless Alphabet by Calloway Arts (designers of the terrific The Monster at the End of This Book), and it has quickly become a favorite. Two immediate advantages: it's free AND contains no ads, a rare combo these days. I don't mind ads on my apps, but too often they frustrate my son when he can't get them off the screen or gets taken to the App Store or web browser repeatedly when he accidentally hits them. So no ads is a big selling point in a toddler app. UPDATE: Ads have now started appearing, although they are rare. About once or twice a day one pops up, usually when he starts up the app. They aren't as bad as ads in many free toddler apps, but still a bit of an annoyance. I paid the 99 cents to make them go away.

The game here is simple enough, but keeps him engaged for a good long time. You pick a word out of the ever-changing lineup (the app downloads new words regularly - again, this is FREE!):

Then you get a straightforward puzzle, putting the letters into place. It's got enough of a margin of error that he rarely gets frustrated, and is smart enough to let him move two letters at once if he wants (another important toddler feature - letting them touch however they want).

When the puzzle is done, they are treated to a short animation about the word with a voiceover giving its definition.

And that's it - now you go to the next word or pick a new one! He can easily spend 15 minutes at this, which is as long as anything keeps his attention.

I think he's right at the perfect age for this app. A few months ago, his fine motor skills weren't quite good enough for this type of puzzle. By the time he can recognize all the letters on his own, simply slotting them into place won't capture his attention for very long. But it's perfectly designed for a two-year-old.

If I have one complaint, it's that the letters don't always say the right sound - an E will always say its short sound, even if its long sound is used in the word. But this is really a very minor in an outstanding (and did I mention FREE?) app.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Well, I did it.

Yesterday I placed my order on Amazon for a 32 GB iPad 4 with Sprint 4G.

I skipped the 3rd gen, and was planning to wait until March/April to upgrade. But with the introduction of the 128GB iPads, most people aren't expecting another real upgrade til October. But iOS 6 is jailbreakable now, and it might not be come October. Or the new processor might not be. So I don't really want to wait til the iPad 5 gets jailbroken, which would probably be a year from now.

What I was really hoping for was that with the next version Apple would drop the 16GB and drop the 32GB to $500 - I definitely need more space, but since I also wanted to upgrade to 4G with this version I'm not that happy to be paying extra for both. But that's how it goes - I want a nicer iPad than I bought last time, I gotta pay for it.

With prime shipping, it should be here tomorrow. The thing I'm most excited for, I gotta admit, is the better camera. Since I have my iPad on me more than my camera, I've taken a lot of photos and videos of my toddler on it, starting the day we brought him home from the hospital. But of course, the photos are mostly crap. I've had a few that look ok (not great) printed out at 4x6, but most are way too grainy to even bother printing. A halfway decent camera on my iPad will be awesome!

Friday, February 8, 2013

If Image Capture shows multiple copies? Don't delete them!

I just had a bit of an iPad-induced panic attack, so I thought I'd let you all know what happened so that you can avoid the same fate. Luckily, Restore from Backup fixed me, but better to not have to do that, right?

With the recent release of the evasi0n iOS 6 jailbreak, I was all ready to upgrade my iPad (which is still on 5.1.1) and re-jailbreak. But I'm running out of space on my little 16GB-er, and iTunes said I had 3GB of photos, so I decided to clean house a bit first. As I've mentioned many times, I had a baby right after buying my iPad, and I've been using it to take little videos of him since we brought him home - meaning I now have a lot of video of him taking up room on my iPad.

I opened up Image Capture to import these videos onto my Mac and get them off the iPad, and an odd thing happened - it showed me as having three copies of every photo and video. I thought Well gee, no wonder it's taking up so much space! and promptly selected two of each video and hit delete.

Surprise! There weren't really three copies! Only one, and I just deleted them all! I checked, no longer on the iPad. No longer in Image Capture. It still showed ghost copies, but wouldn't let me do anything with them. All those precious videos of my baby, gone!

After panicking for a minute or two, I managed to get my head together enough to try restoring my iPad from the backup I'd made only ten minutes before. I'd never done this before, so I had no idea if it would work. The dialogue box says it will "only" restore contacts, calendars, notes, and settings, no mention of Photos, so I wasn't sure. And I'd heard people claim that it destroys your jailbreak, but that didn't matter since I was about to upgrade and re-jb.

Luckily, it did work. All photos and videos restores, and jailbreak was not touched, for the record. My iPad is now exactly as it was before I hit the delete button. I have now properly imported all those videos and they are safely on my hard drive. I also have a good 3GB of space open on my iPad, which is more than I've had in months.

So, lessons:

  • Every time you plug your iPad into the computer, make sure it's backed up before you do anything.
  • If Image Capture shows multiple copies of things, don't believe it. Act as though every copy is the only one.
  • If you do delete things unintentionally, Restore from Backup will fix it. It takes a good 15 minutes, though.
  • Restore from Backup does not destroy your jailbreak! (At least, this was true on an iPad 2 running 5.1.1 jailbroken with redsnow. No clue if it will hold true with the new stuff.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Conceptis Brings Japanese Logic Puzzles to the iPad

I'm a puzzle nerd, although I'll admit that having a baby has slowed me down a bit. I do regular crosswords and occasionally sudokus, but I'd rather do a cryptic crossword or another type of Japanese logic puzzle like a Nurikabe, Heyawake, or Hashi.

These logic puzzles are perfectly suited to the touch interface of an iPad, but until recently they were only available via iPhone apps. The low resolution limits the size of the puzzle grids, and therefore the difficulty of the puzzles. The hardest Nurikabe in the paid app only took me about ten minutes to finish - and I am not especially good at these.

Finally, though, these are slowly making their way to the iPad in full HD resolution!

 Most of these puzzles were invented by Japanese company Nikoli, but are often distributed in the United States by Conceptis, Ltd - while the iPhone apps were under the Nikoli name, the iPad apps are by Conceptis. Currently there are six iPad apps available:
The interfaces are clean and uncluttered. These apps are all free, and come with an impressive 120 puzzles each to get you started! 40 easy, 40 medium, and 40 hard. Additional puzzles can be bought in various packs ranging from $1.99-2.99 depending on the size of the puzzles.

If you enjoy Sudoku, or its cousin Ken-Ken (which has been making regular newspaper appearances lately), I highly recommend you check out these other logic puzzles via these excellent free apps! These just started rolling out in November, with the most recent appearing in January, so hopefully they will continue to release other puzzle types.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

My favorite iPad text editor: PlainText

One app I've been using a lot lately is PlainText, a simple text editor that syncs seamlessly with Dropbox and saves as actual .txt files. (Free with ads, lose the ads for $2.)

I use TextEdit a lot on my Macs, doing almost everything I can in plain text or .rtf documents. I only use Word when I actually need the features. But it was surprisingly hard to find an editor on the iPad that could open and save to a simple .txt. I tried Evernote, but it saves you work as some internal file type that can't really be accessed outside of Evernote itself. Same for my extensive collection of notetaking apps that allow both typing and handwriting.

I wanted an app to work on simple lists, blog posts, and other writing projects in, so that I could also open them in TextEdit or other programs on any computer. Enter PlainText.

It's simple and does its job beautifully. It creates a folder in DropBox, and you can either set it to sync continually or only when you tell it to. (I had it set to sync continually, til my husband was using the computer and got annoyed when it kept telling him that Note.txt had been updated - now I sync manually.) You can create subfolders within the app. The text editor itself is simple, no frills. The document list is in a column on the left (it doesn't autohide in portrait, by the way), or you can go into focus mode and see only the text you're working on.

It's certainly nothing fancy. But it is precisely what I'd been looking for. If I could wish for one upgrade, I would want it to also do simple .rtf files, possibly via MarkDown. I've had a hell of a time finding anything on iOS that does .rtf. But for now, it's serving its purpose very well.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A few favorite photo apps

Sorry I've been gone for a bit, but hopefully I'll be updating regularly again now!

I do a lot of photo editing on my iPad. A LOT. My camera has an Eye-Fi card in it that auto-uploads every picture I snap to Photobucket. I use the Photobucket app to sort through those, put them in albums, etc. Then I download the ones that need fixing up and do that on the iPad and reupload them with the app.

I have literally a couple dozen photo editing apps on my iPad, but over time I've found that there are just a few that I keep going back to, the workhorses that are good for more than just a few gimmicks.

Snapseed - There's a reason this app won app of the year last year. We went to Hawaii this year, and the photo problem was that there was tons of nice scenery, but it was overcast and rainy almost the whole time so it was hard to get a nice shot of it. Enter Snapseed, with their Drama filters and excellent tuning tools. Over and over again, I put in a photo that was too dark, too underexposed, and it found whatever information was hiding in there and brought it out to great effect.

Photo as originally taken:

After running it through Snapseed:

Snapseed brought out details of the island that I thought had been lost, and made the water look more like it had before the clouds rolled in and dulled its surface. And it took just a couple of minutes!

PhotoGene - This is actually a recent purchase, but I'm already using it constantly. I bought it for its redeye correction - the Photos app can catch some red eyes, but sometimes it overdoes it and you wind up with eyes that look like they came out of a horror movie. Rather than simply putting black blobs over the red, PhotoGene adjusts the color to a yellower hue and darkens it. And if that doesn't work, it has a dodge mask feature that lets you darken just the bit you want, to get rid of remaining pupil glare. And if that doesn't work, it has a cloning heal tool, and I will freely admit that I just printed out a couple pictures that had one iris cloned over to the other side to cover up an irretrievably red eye. You have to be careful with that, of course, or you'll wind up with some very creepy results, but if you're careful you can't tell, especially at 4x6 size. The masking tools are useful for a variety of other applications as well, and I have barely begun to explore this app's other features.

Here is an example of my dog Fred before:

And after redeye correction and a burn mask in PhotoGene:

As you can see, the Photo app correction is a little too harsh in this picture; I find it works best when the pupil is well-defined and is the only thing that's red:

PicStitch - I assumed that a collage-making app would be a gimmick I'd use once or twice and forget about, but this turns out to be a very useful tool. When I have a variety of similar shots that I want to share online (say, of my baby trying different foods and making a mess out of all of them) I don't have to make my FaceBook friends flip through a whole album. I even print them out sometimes - I wanted to capture the interesting local options on the Waikiki McDonald's menu, but didn't really want to print out four photos of a McDonald's, so instead I printed this one picture: