The Foos, by CodeSpark

>> Sunday, March 22, 2015

My kids are interested in learning to program. Maybe it's because their dad already does that, or maybe it's because they want to create a My Little Pony game, or a Skylanders game of their own.  Either way, there are a lot of resources available to children nowadays to learn this wonderful skill.

I took a look at The Foos, by CodeSpark.org, having read about their efforts some time ago.  I was pleased to realize that this first game of theirs is out already, so both I and my 7-year-old son took a look at it.

First off, it's fun and has a light-hearted personality, appealing to boys and girls alike. There are no detailed instructions, relying instead on as-you-go tutorial learning. That is, it tells you which piece to use and when, for the first time you need to use any particular piece. On each level you are to collect the star, and as many coins as you can, for a good score.  Occasionally there's a silly-looking miscreant type of character opposing your progress somehow, and sometimes your mission is to capture the little guy.

The game teaches logic, patterns, and situation assessment. There's almost never a need to hurry through any particular level, although on occasion there is merit to finish quickly. You play by choosing a series of actions available to your character, and then allowing him or her to play through those actions all at once. In this aspect, it reminds me a bit of a boardgame by Wizards of the Coast called RoboRally, or the more-recent clone of that one called Robot Turtles (which raised kazoodles of funding on Kickstarter).  Of the board games, I prefer RoboRally, but it IS more complex than the Turtles.  I digress.  The Foos is very lenient in how you're allowed to solve each level.  You can program and reprogram your character's actions as many times as you want, and it only affects the rating you receive for finishing.

On the downside, the Foos is remarkably short.  There's a sort-of subtitle associated with the game where they call it the "hour of code" and for kids that's probably about right.  For adults it would take a lot less time than that to finish - I did it in about 15 minutes, I think!  Once you're finished with the missions provided, there is a sandbox area that you can play in.  The sandbox was actually a little confusing; you could use the coins you collected to buy additional characters, but once you started playing around, there really wasn't much you could DO other than move.

Overall, it seems that The Foos is a nice, little distraction that introduces the younger set to the world of "if-then".  Considering that it's free and is available on every platform (it's built in Unity), it's definitely worth letting your little ones check it out.  Just keep in mind that it won't last long.


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Education is Everywhere

>> Friday, March 20, 2015

When I was growing up, there were a very few educational programs, and even then it was hard to justify the dollars spent. Of course, I wasn't the one spending money at that time, either, so what do I know?  Only that the educational apps I had access to were pretty much: Type Attack! annnd... well, I'm sure there must have been others.  I know there was Mavis Bacon Teaches Typing, but we never had that one.  I suppose the Oregon Trail counts as some kind of educational entry, but that's really pushing the limit.

Nowadays, kids are blessed with apps aplenty, and just as watching shows can be done anywhere, at any time, these are mobile and online, or social and offline, or any combination thereof. I'm glad my kids are growing up with such blessings.

I'll start posting new articles about various apps that I love - and that my kids love - for teaching them language, math, reading, and all sorts of skills.  My wife and I have children that cover a range of ages, so there's a lot to cover!

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Gleeo Time Tracker

>> Tuesday, March 05, 2013

This is an Android app that I use daily; Gleeo Time Tracker which fairly obviously is used for tracking time worked on jobs/projects/etc.  The interface is at first a little awkward, but is really great once you get used to it.  Other users of the app seem to feel the same, saying that it's nearly perfect but could use a few tweakings like the addition of pie charts or fewer taps to get to the reporting.  I'm fine with the current status of those particular features, but what I would like to see is buttons that are just slightly larger so that I don't accidentally tap on things I don't intend to.  I'm speaking about the buttons at the outer edges of the screens. It's not a big deal, though.

The features are discovered bit by bit as you use it more; quick categorization of the tasks on different projects is great.  Custom colors are very nice, although perhaps there could be greater contrast in them. I love the flexible exporting feature and use that a lot. Actually, you could easily create your own pie charts by doing that, come to think of it.

Does any one use other time reporting software that should be noted?  I'll take a look if so!

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How much does it cost to wash your hands?

>> Saturday, March 19, 2011

As much as I appreciate the concern for the public to maintain cleanliness, seeing printouts and plaques like this just makes me shudder - and it should do that to you, too. In the same way that we don't think about how many plastic bottles the world goes through every time we crack open a new Evian, we don't consider how much society pays for little (oft-ignored!) messages like this.

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Business Expense Tracking with Android (um, for free)

>> Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I just tested / established a convenient way for tracking business expenses and keeping receipts digitally. For free. There's a for-pay option for Android which is even easier called ProOnGo, but you'd have to pay $5 per month (or more) for a useable plan on it.

Anyway, this is what's needed:

Sign up for an account at www.xpenser.com - this is free for now and will eventually have pro features for pay.
Install PixelPipe Uploader (not just the Picasa one) on your phone. Then set up a pipe to email r@xpenser.com and make sure the email's coming from you, not PixelPipe. (this is all specified when defining the pipe) If this is all you're going to use Pixelpipe for, then you can set this pipe as default - but I wouldn't, because PixelPipe can be used for sooooo much more.
Finally, when you get a receipt, take a picture of it with your regular phone camera. Pixelpipe will pop up, and you set the title to "{category} {price} {notes}" and send.

Pretty slick.

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Net Neutrality: MORE regulation?

>> Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Al Franken, Senator from MinnesotaImage via Wikipedia
A good idea, such as freedom of speech, is not made better when codified into legalese. We already have in existence the established right to net neutrality in our First Amendment. When you consider the already-proven, criminal ineptitude of government agencies such as the FDA (see: Monsanto, aspartame, hydrogenation, et al), or ICC*, one should seriously consider the act of giving specified powers of regulation to agencies that quite likely will be influenced by major ISPs, once passed.

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Voting Stickers

>> Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I usually have these ready to go first thing in the morning and normally I just print them out and distribute them around the office, but here are my collected / best of / since 2006 alternate voting stickers.  NEW this year is the Facebook Vote version! Please reply if you have any suggestions for new stickers :) 









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