ARISE out of the ashes and onto your smartphone

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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? Or in this case, look for inspiration from the ARISE Foundation Positivity Cards, available in both the iTunes App Store and the Android Market.
This app supplies the user with plenty of positive messages when the going gets tough. With messages like “You Are So Appreciated” and “Look for the Good in All,” the mobile positivity cards offer the user quotes from notable persons of interest as well as nuggets of wisdom used by the ARISE Foundation.
Perfect for those days where you may feel the world is against you, rest assured this pocket of positivity has your back.

The idea of the positivity cards didn’t come over night. In fact, the cards have been distributed over several years, starting out as a “gotcha” for those caught in the act of doing something good.

“People were amazed they were being complemented for something like giving directions to the supermarket,” says ARISE founder Edmund Benson. Benson, of North Palm Beach, FL, and his wife Susan founded ARISE back in 1986.
As time went on, people shared the desire to send the positivity cards to friends and relatives. Mr. Benson then came up with an idea to create an app to enable the giver to send the cards to their desired recipient.

Like the positivity cards, Benson and his wife came up with various curricula to tackle different needs.

“Someone came to us a long time ago asking for something to be used in a Head Start [program],” says Benson. “Their curricula tackles various topics and ages, from Pre-K to homeless adults, each teaching needed life skills to help those in need comply with society’s demands.”

With a Master’s Degree in Education, Benson’s wife has worked alongside her spouse since the foundation’s inception. “We are worker bees. We were brought together to do this work,” says Mrs. Benson.
In addition to life skill training, the Bensons have tackled ‘self-care’ topics such as abstinence. Part of what Benson describes as health care is self care. “Too much of the wrong things and not enough of the good things isn’t good for you,” notes Mr. Benson.

Next on their agenda is to add to their bullying curriculum to include how to handle cyber-bullying.
“We feel we have been directed step-by-step, lesson-by-lesson,” says Mr. Benson.
As a high school drop out, Benson was self-described as “lucky” that drugs and crime hadn’t yet permeated the culture when he decided to join the Massachusetts State Guard during World War II at the age of 14. He then went on to join the U.S. Merchant Marine and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Later, he pursued a successful career as owner of a rental furniture chain. After living in Boston, Massachusetts and Austin, Texas, the couple moved to South Florida.

“I was fortunate to retire at an early age to do this work,” adds Benson.

As a first step to writing the ARISE curricula, Benson went behind bars to interview offenders and ask which of their life choices could have changed to prevent a life of incarceration.

Within the last 15 years, the ARISE Foundation’s focus has been on teens and and to teach groups life skills, going as far to train juvenile detention guards to help those incarcerated learn the curriculum. This includes what society expects of them and how to avoid repeating their mistakes.
Those that implement the curricula of ARISE include juvenile justice systems, school systems, churches, Boys and Girls clubs as well as the Salvation Army.
Even former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenagger has heard of ARISE. The foundation’s website has a testimonial form the former Governor stating, “I am going to tell the world about ARISE’s fantastic program.”

The free ARISE Positivity Cards app is now available. For more information about the ARISE Foundation, including their full online catalog of products, visit their website at http://at-riskyouth.org/

Also, coming soon, a Spanish version of the app. Stay tuned.

Three Standout Apps from Spinlight Studio

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Here are three unique and entertaining apps from Spinlight Studio!

Swapsies for iPad*

Cost: $.99 on iTunes

Screenshots for Swapsies for iPad, from SpinlightStudio.com/apps

Who doesn’t love to play dress up? Swapsies for iPad brings it to your favorite tablet, without the mess of costumes thrown about the house! (As a mom, this is a winner to me!)

Your preschooler will stretch their imagination with this app. They can create a costume from a selection of occupations. With each completed costume, a sound plays that is associated with the selected occupation. For example, when the child selects clothing for a rancher, a music note icon will appear next to the costume name. Once pressed, the icon will play a horse nay to show that a rancher works with horses.

To help your child identify with the app character, boys and girls can select various hairstyles, hair colors, and skin tones.

Our Verdict: My son enjoys this app very much, his favorite costume being the astronaut! Your child will appreciate this app! Definitely a must for your child.

TallyTots for iPad*

Cost: $2.99 on iTunes

TallyTots screenshots, from SpinlightStudio.com/apps.

This app is an arcade of numbers! With numbers ranging from 1 to 20, each tab shows your preschooler how to count to the selected number and features an activity highlighting the number.

Your child will be entertained for sure with this app! Activities range from counting coins to playing with a racetrack. In addition to teaching your child to count, this app also can show your child how to save money with a piggy bank, making a sandwich, and cleaning up toys!

Our Verdict: Out of the apps featured, this is my son’s personal favorite — and mine too!

AlphaTots for iPad

Cost:$2.99 on iTunes

AlphaTots is based on the same concept of TallyTots: multiple activities that coincide with the selected letter tabs.

AlphaTots screenshots, from SpinlightStudio.com/apps.

This app is a great way to drive home basic phonics to your preschooler. It will even introduce early spelling. With activities such as instrument playing and digging in a sandbox, learning the alphabet will click with your child!

Our Verdict: Get it! My son loves singing the alphabet song and has learned to spell a couple of words from it. Well worth the money!

* – The iPad Baby received redemption codes from the developer for review purposes.

My Top 5 Apps for iOS (January)

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My current top 5 apps for ipad/iphone

5) Friendly for iPad (Free)
Without a doubt, I am addicted to Facebook. This app feeds the addiction. From my ipad, I am able to upload photos(AWESOME!) and chat with friends without reaching for my iphone. Freaking. Awesome.

4) Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue ($4.99)
JD loves this app with a passion. Whenever there is a shortage of wifi, he turns on this. It’s an interactive storybook that takes the reader on an exciting adventure with Thomas, Percy and Sir Topham Hat. Extra activities include coloring pages, games and a music video.

3) HSCB Study Bible ($9.99)
It’s a study bible for the iPad. Enough said! For those that are tired of carrying around a heavy bible to church, this is a must. It’s a universal app – pay once and use it on all of your iOS devices! Very cost effective :)

2) Netflix (Free, with membership)
When we first received as a gift one Christmas, I didn’t realize how much it would be put to use. My son is obsessed with Thomas & Friends and Veggie Tales. Guess what? Netflix has a full selection of streaming selections from these titles! No trips to the library or to Blockbuster required to rent my son’s favorites and it helps trips to the grocery store be pleasant with a toddler.

1) Weight Watchers Mobile app for iPhone and Kitchen Companion for iPad (Free, with program membership)
I have always had a weight problem. Needless to say, with little self-control, these apps have taught me how to eat and lose the weight. So far, I’ve lost 30 lbs. Not bad for an app :)

Montessorium brings the classroom to the iGeneration of iPad users

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Bobby George recalls his epiphany.
“The moment Steve Jobs revealed the iPad, it was as if a new world of possibilities opened up before our senses,” says George.
George and his wife, June, are creators of Montessorium, a company devoted to increasing awareness about the Montessori approach to education through the iPad.
Though the roots of the business first sprang in the classrooms of their Sioux Falls, South Dakota school, Baan Dek Montessori, it was Apple who truly allowed them to branch out to the entire igeneration.
“One day, after school, the four of us just decided this would be an incredible fun and worthwhile project to pursue,” says George. The “four of them” refers to Stefan Hartwig, Angela Hartwig, as well as George’s wife June and himself. “Angela and Stefan, with a background in technology, are responsible for the aesthetics and usability of our projects. For years, they were interested in creating something for children, and this was the perfect opportunity.”
The “something” has lead to two ipad applications practicing the research of Italian educator Dr. Maria Montessori:
“Intro to Numbers”, currently available in the iTunes App Store, and another on the verge of release.
Released in July, “Intro to Numbers” has received plenty of buzz among the iPad faithful, including being featured in the “New & Noteworthy” category in the App Store.
In “Intro to Numbers”, the objective is for children to not only learn the basics of math, but to understand and read numbers 0-9.
Montessorium’s next project, “Intro to Letters” is due for release sometime near mid-August.
According to company’s website, “Intro to Letters” will be a recreation of the sandpaper letters montessori activity which allows children to familiarize themselves with individual letters, building muscle memory.
To address the physical relation of Montessori and the handheld qualities of the iPad, George said, “While we do not advocate the replacement of the classroom, we are extremely impressed with how tactile, interactive and sensorial the Apple devices are! We have come a long way from the old days of television and one way forms of learning and communication.”
And just how do the apps truly harness the Montessori approach? George says, “our aspirations have only ever been set extremely high. We want to introduce an entirely new generation to the Montessori approach to education: to make Montessori a viable option for every single family on the planet. How best to accomplish this? Introduce Montessori to the world of apps, to place the Montessori method and materials at the simple tap of a child’s fingertips. Our goal is not to replace the Montessori classroom, however, but to jumpstart a healthy and productive conversation on education, further exploring the various ways in which we learn. The next continuum in educations starts now.”
For parents who educated ‘the old-fashioned’ way of public education, Montessorium offers advice to introducing your family to the Montessori Method.
“Our best advice is to search for your local Montessori school, make an appointment and visit the classroom. A wealth of information will be provided and help orient you towards your next step. From there, we would recommend researching the Association Montessori Internationale (www.montessori-ami.org) and the American Montessori Society (www.amshq.org), to learn more about accreditation and what an authentic Montessori experience has to offer your family. Both websites contain useful information on how to implement Montessori techniques at home, offering practical examples. For those interested to read about Montessori, we highly recommend Trevor Eissler’s fantastic book, “Montessori Madness: A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori.”
Both Montessorium’s apps are compatible with the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. The apps are available in the Apple iTunes Store for $4.99 each.
For more information, visit Montessorium’s website at http://www.montessorium.com.

Duck, Duck, Goose…eh, Moose! A sit-down with the team behind the quirky, creative childrens’ apps

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Duck Duck Moose

From left to right, Nicci Gabriel, Caroline Hu Flexer and Michael Flexer

I’m sure you have heard of the saying that good things come in threes. I’d like to apply that saying to a quirky and creative company behind some of the most popular children’s apps in Apple’s iTunes store.

The titles behind the apps are themes from nursery rhymes, Baa Baa Black Sheep, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, Old MacDonald, and Wheels on the Bus. However, one app that Duck Duck Moose created takes inspiration from something different — a school of fish. Their app Fish School, is directed towards introducing letters, colors, shapes, numbers and matching towards the preschool set of youngsters.

I recently had a chance to exchange emails with Caroline Hu Flexer, co-founder of Duck Duck Moose, to find out more about their design firm of iPhone/iPad apps.

The iPad Baby: How was Duck Duck Moose formed?
Hu Flexer: Duck Duck Moose (http://duckduckmoosedesign.com), was started by three friends, Caroline Hu Flexer, Nicci Gabriel, and Michael Flexer.  When Caroline and Michael got their iPhones in 2008, we noticed how our then-two-year-old was captivated by the iPhone and quickly learned to use it.  Using the touch screen and drop-dead simple interface design, our daughter could find the camera, take photos, then flip through the photos she had taken.  We liked the idea of having high-quality, educational apps on our phones to entertain our children when we were stuck waiting at a doctor’s office or restaurant.  As a mom, I was always carrying around a heavy bag full of toys and crayons to entertain my children.  I thought it would be great to have educational apps on my phone since I always have it with me.  To create children’s apps, we knew that we would need an outstanding designer and illustrator, and Michael immediately thought of Nicci, whom he had worked with at two previous startups.
We launched our first iPhone app, Wheels on the Bus, in January 2009.  We now have 5 titles: Wheels on the Bus, Old MacDonald, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Baa Baa Black Sheep and Fish School.  Three of them have HD versions for the iPad: Wheels on the Bus, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Fish School.
The iPad Baby: As creators of Duck Duck Moose, what sort of background do the three of you have?
Hu Flexer: *I have a background in design and business.  I previously worked as a Product Manager at Intuit and at IDEO.  Nicci has more than 10 years of diverse design experience and has won several awards for her designs.  She was most recently the Creative Lead at Sharpcast.  Michael has 20 years of experience as a software engineer at several startups, including Siebel Systems, Gain Technology, Sharpcast, SkyData, and C3.
Michael and I were also trained as classical musicians, and we produce the music in our apps ourselves.  We’ve recorded the music in famous concert halls as well as in our basement with Michael’s piano trio, the St. Michael Trio.

Clockwise: Screenshots of "Its Itsy Spider", "Wheels on the Bus", and "Fish School"

The iPad Baby: How does Duck Duck Moose approach the development of apps?
Hu Flexer: We have a very collaborative, open-ended design process in which the three of us all contribute throughout.  This is our process: Observe children. Brainstorm. Prototype. Build. Test with children. Learn. Refine. Repeat all steps again. And again. And again.  The key elements of our approach are:
“Observing: Looking at the world through a child’s eyes” – We observe children’s play patterns, and watch what they do and what they love.  This is our source of inspiration.  We notice that children like to play peek-a-boo, collect things like eggs, and blow and pop bubbles, for example.
“Brainstorming: No ideas are too wild” – The three of us bring very different perspectives to the table (from varied backgrounds in design, engineering, music, business and children), but we have a very open way of working together.  We defer all judgment and encourage wild ideas.  We don’t just brainstorm once.  We are continually brainstorming for new ideas and new refinements as we start an app, do the first sketches, build it on the iPhone, add the music and sounds, and test with children.  At every step of the way, there are opportunities for creativity and looking at the app from a new angle.
“Iterative development: It’s all the little things that create the magic.” – After brainstorming, creating wireframes and illustrations, building the app, adding music and sound effects, and testing with children, we will repeat this process several times, developing in an iterative fashion up until finally submitting an app to Apple.  Because there are only three of us, we are able to continue to iterate until the end, and some of our best ideas often come at the end.  We make sure that every pixel, interaction and sound effect is coordinated and resonates with children.
The iPad Baby: What are some of the challenges you experience as developers in the development of new content?
Hu Flexer: It is challenging to be one out of 250,000 apps on the App Store.  It is a very competitive environment with more and more companies entering the space.  As a small company of three, we do not have a large marketing or PR budget.  We’ve taken a grassroots approach to PR and social networking, are learning as we go.

The iPad Baby: Who are the voices in the applications?
Hu Flexer: Brennan Pursell, Karen Frankenstein, and Jennifer Evans Beatty are the singers (http://duckduckmoosedesign.com/our-story/credits)  in our applications.  Brennan Pursell is a childhood friend of Michael’s and a History Professor at DeSales University.  He sang Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald in English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German, and also recorded Itsy Bitsy Spider.  Karen Frankenstein is my cousin and a soprano soloist at Staatsoper Hannover, and recorded Wheels on the Bus. Jennifer Evans Beatty is our daughter’s preschool teacher at Bing Nursery School at Stanford University.  She was the voice in Baa Baa Black Sheep and Fish School.
We used our four-year-old daughter’s voice for the Wheels on the Bus “Gibberish” track, the egg counting in Fish School, and other sound effects in Itsy Bitsy Spider and Old MacDonald.  We also used our nine-year-old neighbor’s voice for some of the sound effects in Itsy Bitsy Spider and Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Screenshot from "Baa Baa Black Sheep"

The iPad Baby: When making apps, who do you test each program on?
Hu Flexer: Children and their parents.  Since our apps are for such young children, we have to design for and test with both children and their parents since they are often playing together.  This is sometimes a challenging task since adults and children have very different approaches to technology.  We also test with educators and other technology and design advisors.

The iPad Baby: Is there a specific target age that you develop games for?
Hu Flexer: Our apps are primarily for preschool and early elementary school-aged children (1-7 years old).

The iPad Baby: Why did you select to make games for the iOS devices?
Hu Flexer: We started with the iPhone because we saw how our two year old was captivated by the device.  It was the first touch screen with a simple design and user interface that was accessible even to the youngest children.  Apple’s App Store made it possible for even small developers to create apps and distribute them to users all over the world.

The iPad Baby: With other platforms available, like Windows/Mac, Android and Windows Mobile OS, what does iOS have that is attractive for you as developers?
Hu Flexer: Several things about iOS are attractive to us, including:
Great touch screen devices with intuitive interfaces that are accessible for young children
A limited number of devices and screen resolutions to design for and test on.  This is critical since we are a small team of three.
A centralized AppStore that handles the distribution and a lot of the promotion.
A large installed customer base who is interested in well-designed, high-quality apps.

The iPad Baby: What plans do you have in the near future?
Hu Flexer: We have more musical and educational apps in development for young children.  We currently have more ideas than we have bandwidth to implement.

For more information on any of the discussed apps or Duck Duck Moose, go to http://www.duckduckmoosedesign.com.

*DISCLAIMER: The previous interview was conducted via email format during July 27-29, 2010. In some instances, Ms. Hu Flexer’s words were changed to first-person language, versus third-party language that was received in the original emails. No other content was changed.

The punches are flying between Fring and Skype

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The fighting words have been flying between VoiP clients Fring and Skype over the past few days. In what Fring has described in their company blog as well as in an email to its users, “we are very disappointed that Skype, who once championed the cause of openness is now trying to muzzle competition, even at the expense of its own users.”

The gloves don’t come off there. In an email to Skype earlier tonight, Chaim Haas, Senior Vice President of Technology & Emerging Media at Kaplow PR said that  Fring chose to remove Skype functionality of their own accord.

In an official statement, Skype added, “We [Skype] have been in discussions with Fring regarding our belief that Fring is breaching our API Terms of Use and End User License Agreement. Skype is disappointed that an amicable resolution was not possible. There is no truth to Fring’s claims that Skype blocked them, it was their decision and choice to withdraw Skype functionality. Skype will rigorously protect its brand and reputation and those companies that do not comply with our terms will be subject to enforcement.”

Skype did not comment when asked if and when the software communication magnet had plans on bringing video calling to a specific phone operating system such as iOS or Android. However, a Skype spokesman did say the following:

“It’s clear to us at Skype that the next generation of innovation involving video calling will not be bound to the computer and that mobile video calling will become increasingly important to our customers in the coming year. We’re seeing a proliferation of video calling shared between all kinds of connected devices. It’s on computers, TVs, and it is starting to come to mobile devices too, such as Skype video calling (over 3G) on the Nokia N900. We envision a world where video plays a larger role in the way we communicate. We’re betting big on video, and we intend to set the bar on mobile video calling.”

To top that off, Apple will hold a press conference tomorrow at 10 a.m. PST to address the latest complaints about the iPhone 4.

Its just starting…

Do the Hulu! Hulu comes to the iPhone – @ a cost…

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After dozens of rumors about Hulu coming to the iPhone, its finally happened. The biggest surprise came when they announced a monthly service fee to watch it on portable devices such as the iPhone, iPad, and PS3. The service fee will be $9.99 a month. From there, viewers will be able to watch their favorite shows, both current and past, search and browse for shows and video clips. Movies will also become available. A feature that users will sure to love, episodes and clips will pick up where left off in the event of a phone call on the iPhone or having to switch between applications. How nice, especially in the event of waiting in the doctor’s office! Viewers will be able to enjoy up to 720p HD resolution with multi bit rate support for viewing. The hulu+ app is free in the iTunes app store.

Toy Story 3 Read-Along for iPad – What will happen to Andy’s toys?

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In the third installment of Toy Story from Pixar and Walt Disney, devoted movie goers will find out what happens to Woody and Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the toy box when Andy leaves home for college and adulthood.

Warning… for those who have not seen the movie yet, this app does give away key details in the plot.
The graphics in this app are gorgeous. Disney brings to life the magic of the movie to the small screen if the iPad. This app is a must for children of any age – readers and non-readers alike.

As with the other Toy Story Read-Along books for the iPad, this edition brings the characters to life with sound clips, featuring the voice talents of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and the rest of the TS3 cast. The app features two reading modes in which allow you and your child to follow along as the story is read aloud or to read at an individual pace. There is also a younger reading mode to simplify page turns. (Perfect for my two-year-old, JD!)
In the event a parent can not be around for story time, there is also an option for an adult to record their voice to narrate the story.
Also with the TS3 Read-Along, a free 30 day trial of DisneyDigitalBooks.com is included for parents to try out. This is an effort for Disney to expand their products to parents beyond the offerings on the iPad. Does Disney anticipate a toddler typing on a keyboard in addition to handling an iPad? oh well..
Since this is the first TS film to come out in 3D, there is an option to view the book in 3D. Just like in the theaters, 3d glasses are required and are available for free at Disney Stores around the country. For locations, click here.
To add to the fun, there are also puzzles, coloring pages, music and games to play in the app after the story is over.

The price for Toy Story 3 Read-Along is $8.99 and is available in the iTunes store.

Help your student excel in math

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I had an interesting conversation with my sister-in-law (SIL for short) yesterday. After expressing how hard the math curriculum has been for her son CL, I remembered an app in which drills students on their math skills. Regardless of where your child is at in their math skills, KosmicMath by SlothMedia, LLC, offers different tools for students, parents and even educators.
Rae, my SIL. is an excellent mom. After graduating at the top of her class in high school and in college, it was ‘eye-opening’ to hear her expressing frustration about how her son is learning third grade mathematics. After hearing that, I told her about KosmicMath.
Mind you, I have not purchased any of the other units available on iTunes. The only version that is installed on our iPad and iPhone is the LITE version, in which offers a skill drill in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. JD has played around with it, and loves the artwork in the app.
I became intrigued with KosmicMath’s platform and began to find out more information about it from SlothMedia’s website. According to the page devoted to KosmicMath, it says the following:

KosmicMath is a space exploration game that reinforces mathematical scope and sequence requirements covering preschool through 4th grade. Players are urged to demonstrate mastery over basic mathematical operations as they travel through the solar system collecting alien trophies and visiting NASA web sites. Players will be mesmerized by the stunning graphics and audio-making KosmicMath fun while educational. Mission logs showing player performance and proficiency are charted on a web portal.”

In the iTunes store, searching for KosmicMath, three products are available. The first, the Lite edition, which was discussed earlier is free. The second, Family, is available for $7.99. This version is described as a version liscensed for up to five players with five grade levels, pre-k through grade 4.
The Education version is designed for classroom and educator usage, allowing for teachers to monitor player response. According to the app describtion in iTunes, the Education version is
“Player performance data is stored locally and synchronized into a central data repository via WiFi/cellular networks, if enabled. Players, educators and parents may view and analyze mission or drill data stored on the KosmicMath Web Portal to track achievements and quickly identify problem areas. Access to the KosmicMath Web Portal is included in the KosmicMath license for 12 months.”
Tempting to try it. Go for it Rae!