Archive for September, 2010

10 Apps for Readers on the Go

Sep 23rd, 2010

No one needs convincing about the explosion of apps in the wake of the iPhone; as of September 2010, there are more than 250,000 third-party apps available, and the App Store has clocked more than 6.5 billion downloads. But it’s not all Angry Birds, sex positions, and auto-tune programs. There are plenty of apps for avid readers, as well, whether you’re a news junkie tied to your smart phone or a book lover looking for an easier way to read on a morning commute. The apps on this list also make for great mobile reading on the iPad, even if you’re offline. Plus they’re mostly free, or at least cheap. Why wait?

  1. Instapaper: There’s a reason that The Sound of Young America podcast host Jesse Thorn calls Instapaper “possibly the best app in the world.” While you’re browsing the web, you can save articles and stories to read later to your Instapaper account, which updates when you fire up the app and downloads the text files to your phone. Then you’re set to read, and you can access the articles even when you’re offline, which makes the app great if you’re on a plane or just in an area with bad reception. As with many apps, there are two versions available, one for free with basic features and one for $4.99 that allows for greater storage and organization. Whichever you choose, you’ll be happy.
  2. Kindle: The Amazon e-reader is one of the most popular on the market, but you can also use a version of it on your phone with this solid app. The interface is simple, and the connection to the Amazon store is remarkably streamlined. It’s a great way to use your phone (or iPad) as a portable e-reader if you don’t want to shell out for the Amazon device. Free.
  3. iBooks: Launched in mid-2010, iBooks is Apple’s proprietary e-reader for iPhones and iPads, with a built-in bookstore featuring a variety of free and for-pay titles. The app was the company’s way of playing catch-up with competing e-readers, and it’s predictably slick and enjoyable. You can view your books on a virtual shelf and easily keep track of what’s unread. Free.
  4. Local Books: Sometimes being a reader on the go means not knowing where to get your literary fix, and that’s where the Local Books app comes in. The simple app uses your current location to find nearby bookstores, libraries, and book-related events, which makes it a handy tool for exploring new parts of town or after moving to a new place. It includes maps and contact info (submitted by users) for a wide array of locations, and it also lets you tag your favorite spots. A bookstore fan’s dream. Free.
  5. Classics: A great archive of classic titles offered for free makes this app worth it’s $2.99 one-time cost. Some users have complained about a lack of regular updates, but the app remains a fantastic way to get your hands on a collection of vintage titles. What’s not to like?
  6. Nook: Not one to be left out of the party, Barnes & Noble has developed apps tied to its Nook e-reader for a variety of outlets, including iPhones and iPads, PC, Android, and more. Like the Kindle app, it’s free, though the cost of individual titles can vary. Why get this in addition to the others? Because not all titles are available across all platforms, and barring a miraculous deal that makes the process uniform, the easiest way to currently keep up with digital books is to use a variety of e-readers, often from a central device like your phone. Upside: Nook lets you share digital titles with other users.
  7. Borders: Rounding out the major bookstores, Borders offers an e-reader app that lets users browse store titles, download titles to read offline, and make an impressive array of tweaks to the font and layout of the digital books. Again, it’s a free app, with book prices varying based on popularity, so it’s a good idea to get this app in case Borders stocks a digital title you can’t find anywhere else.
  8. Stanza: Stanza is great for downloading and reading standard digital books, but it’s really handy for storing and reading your own files, particularly PDFs. If you’ve ever found yourself wishing there was an easier way to transfer and browse documents on your phone without going back into your e-mail program, you’ll love Stanza. Free.
  9. The New York Times: The Gray Lady has put out arguably the best news app to date, and it’s a lifesaver for mobile readers who want to stay connected. You can organize stories by timeliness and category, save favorites to read later, and share stories via Twitter, e-mail, or text message. Easy to use, quick to update, and pretty much the only news app you’ll need. Free.
  10. Comics: Equally usable on the iPhone and iPad (though you’ll probably enjoy it more on a bigger screen), Comics lets you read comic books from a variety of publishers, including Marvel, Image, and Top Cow. Pushing the envelope with tech to get comics online and into e-reading devices is one of the more exciting things happening in the publishing world right now, and apps like this one let you take advantage of things you didn’t even know your phone could do. Free.

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10 Autobiographical Comic Books You Should Read

Sep 19th, 2010

The 1980s saw an explosion in the popularity of graphic novels, especially in the use of the term itself to apply to anything other than your typical superhero comic. And while purists can (and do, vociferously) debate the relevance and meaning of the phrase, there’s no doubt that the spread of graphic novels has allowed for the telling of nuanced and personal tales that used to be almost nonexistent in comics. The lengthy comic books on this list are sharply observed autobiographical works that blend humor and heartbreak with unique artistic skill, turning each book into a special experience. Comic books let the authors slide between literal representations of their lives and surreal, emotion-driven images that evoke everything from love to longing, and these books are true works of art.

  1. American Splendor, Harvey Pekar (Illustrated by Robert Crumb, Gary Dumm, Frank Stack): Now collected in several volumes, American Splendor is the story of Harvey Pekar, an eternally worried and pessimistic guy from Cleveland. The series began in 1976, and it was ahead of its time for being so blunt and enjoyably ordinary. The novel Our Cancer Year dealt with Pekar’s battle with lymphoma. The work is an autiobiography constructed as it was lived. Pekar died in July 2010 from prostate cancer, leaving behind an impressive and influential body of work.
  2. Maus, Art Spiegelman: This dazzling biographical fable won Art Spiegelman a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992. The two-volume narrative tells the story of Art’s father, Vladek, a Polish Jew, before and after World War II. The true-life account depicts Jews as mice and Germans as cats, amplifying the relationship between hunter and prey and lending a fantastical but haunting element to the story. The book also explores the author’s own relationship with his father. One of the best historical comics ever written.
  3. Blankets, Craig Thompson: Craig Thompson uses often painfully honest emotions in his work — the animal-populated Good-bye, Chunky Rice is a great story about life changes — but the autobiographical Blankets is downright searing. Thompson talks about his upbringing in a conservative Christian home, his awkward adolescence, and the first time he fell in love. The powerful work won Harvey and Eisner Awards and established Thompson as a major name.
  4. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi: Marjane Satrapi was just a child during the Iranian Revolution, and her acclaimed memoir reveals what it was like to be a young girl in a country rife with danger and upheaval. In addition to being a funny, bittersweet memoir (the narrative covers her teen years and early adulthood), it’s also a straightforward primer on the country’s history.
  5. Stitches, David Small: This heartbreaking memoir can be read quickly, which almost helps balance the amount of pain and torment David Small describes going through. David’s father, a radiologist, overexposed the young man to radiation, leading to throat cancer that led to the removal of one David’s vocal chords. His ugly childhood led to his discovery of art and a decision to run away. A strong, harrowing autobiography.
  6. A Contract With God, Will Eisner: One of the early graphic novels, Will Eisner’s A Contract With God is a series of four stories in which Eisner draws on his own childhood in the Bronx of the 1930s. Renowned for creating the crime-fighter The Spirit, Eisner’s mature autobiography investigates man’s relationship with God, and it remains an impressive read for the way Eisner depicts the struggles of humanity.
  7. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel: Alison Bechdel’s book is subtitled “A Family Tragicomic,” which should tell you plenty. The book deals with Bechdel’s rough coming-of-age in which her burgeoning sexuality was overshadowed by her closeted gay father, and how her coming out and his death remain emotionally linked. The award-winning book is so honest in its approach to issues like gender, sexuality, and dysfunctional families that some schools have protested having it on library shelves. It’s a work of immense talent, and Bechdel’s recreation of her childhood is a thing to behold.
  8. Smile, Raina Telgemeier: Although aimed at the preteens whose ages match those of the young central character, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile is a great read for adults who’ve made it through puberty and have the scars to prove it. As a young girl, Telgemeier suffered a bad injury that required large amounts of dental surgery and corrective gear, which earned her the predictable scorn of other kids at school. Her inspiring, humorous look at adversity started out as a webcomic.
  9. Kampung Boy, Lat: Lat’s simple, enjoyable comic book details his life growing up in a small Malaysian village and going through rites of passage like movies, shaving, and more. His Muslim upbringing makes this a good book to pair with Persepolis, but it’s a work that stands well on its own. The 1979 book was followed by two sequels: Town Boy and Kampung Boy: Yesterday and Today.
  10. Epileptic, David B.: The art and comics of David B. have influenced many others in the comic book field, and Epileptic makes it easy to see why. His older brother is diagnosed with grand mal epilepsy, and this touching book follows David’s home life as his family deals with his brother’s illness and David learns to become an artist. The art is a heady blend of impressionism and reality, and the life story is unforgettable. One of the best out there.

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10 Ways to Use Skype in Online Classes

Sep 13th, 2010

Online classes can simulate a traditional college lecture, an interactive class discussion and hands-on training with the help of Skype, a software application that enables users to make video and voice calls online. Skype adds a whole other dimension to the online classroom, by allowing students to talk face-to-face with their professors and classmates for free. To make video calls for classroom discussions, videoconferencing and live lectures, online students will need to have access to a computer, download Skype and have a microphone and webcam. Here are 10 ways to use Skype in online classes and take virtual learning to another level of fun.

  • Videoconferencing
    Videoconferencing for class has never been easier than with Skype. Online classes can use Skype for videoconferencing with fellow classmates, students at different campuses and students from around the world to discuss class and worldly topics and project ideas. Video conferences also provide a forum for live lectures, discussions or demonstrations that online students can easily sit in on.
  • Tutoring
    Sometimes it’s just easier to explain something face-to-face, which is why Skype is perfect for tutoring and clarifying information. Online professors can use Skype to tutor students and explain lessons through video chats.
  • Live Lectures
    Skype brings the online classroom to life with live video lectures that can be viewed from the comfort of your home. Skype allows online students to put a face to their professor’s name and get a taste of a traditional college lecture.
  • Guest Lectures
    With Skype, online classes can interact with guest speakers and experts from around the world. The video chat forum provides an effective and convenient way for guest speakers to visit with classes online and share insightful information that would otherwise be impossible to arrange.
  • Global Projects
    Online students can participate in global projects by collaborating with students from other online classes or international schools. Whether it’s an environmental, business or art project, online students can work together to share ideas and resources via Skype.
  • Student Presentations
    Skype makes it possible for online students to give presentations, such as teaching a mock lesson plan for an education program, or demonstrating how to fix a flat tire in an automotive certificate program. This gives students the chance to show their professors what they’ve learned and demonstrate their hands-on skills. Teachers can critique and grade students on their video presentations, as well as give their own presentations.
  • Classroom Discussions
    Skype makes classroom discussions an interactive experience for all involved. Skype audio conferences
    can host up to 25 people at a time, which is about the size of an average online classroom. Classes with more than 25 students could split up into smaller discussion groups. Online teachers can have Q&A sessions with their students and hold each student accountable for their contribution to the discussion.
  • Announcements
    Online professors can use Skype to make class announcements, such as online class meetings, changes to the exam schedule and opportunities for extra credit. Here, students can ask questions and clarify any information that is not clear online.
  • Oral Examinations
    Professors can conduct oral examinations using Skype. Oral exams test the student’s knowledge by his or her response, articulation and ability to think quickly. Oral exams are a viable alternative to online tests, especially for foreign language and speech classes.
  • Virtual Fieldtrips
    Online students can go on a fieldtrip wherever the camera takes them. Online professors can coordinate a virtual field trip that relates to their class, such as touring a zoo for a zoology class, visiting a law firm for a paralegal class or overseeing a live surgery for a nursing class.

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10 Pointers for Online Dating Safety

Sep 7th, 2010

If you are tired of going out and seeing and dating the same people or are having problems dating, sometimes online dating can be the way to go. While online dating has had it’s fair share of negative attention, it can also be a positive and enlightening experience. Whether you are new to online dating or a pro, helpful tips can always come in handy and the safety pointers below should help to ensure that your online dating experience is a good one, and most importantly, a safe one:

  • Do your research
  • Picking and signing up for a dating site should require some research. Many online dating sites out there are general and offer matches depending on hobbies and interests and others offer matches for a particular group type. For example, some sites are for Christian dating, some for certain ethnicities, etc., so it is good to take the time to find about more about a site before you sign up and create a profile.

  • Trust your Instincts
  • Your instincts are usually right and you are feeling them for a reason. If after a couple of internet chats, emails, and even phone calls, you feel something is not right- it’s probably because it isn’t. Your instinct can usually help you decide whether it is a good idea to move forward with this person, cut contact with them, or slow things down to give you a better opportunity to make a decision about the person. Always trust your gut- it is the best tool you have.

  • Don’t give out too much too soon
  • It’s very important to limit the amount of information you give someone before you know and trust them. Giving out simple information such as your full name or telephone number are easy ways for people to figure out how to track you down, figure out where you work, or even where you live. Your home phone number alone is enough to find an address- so guard this personal information until you are comfortable sharing it.

  • Only agree to meet when you feel its time
  • Eventually, after sharing conversations over the internet, exchanging emails, and eventually telephone conversations, you both might start talking about meeting in person. Ease into it and only meet in person when you feel completely comfortable and trusting of the other person- if you have to be talked and convinced into it- you are probably not ready.

  • Be smart about the first meeting
  • Do not allow your date to pick you up at your house- take your own car or get your own transportation. It is too soon and you probably don’t know enough about the person yet for them to know where you live, as it could be potentially dangerous to you. Be sure to carry a functioning cell phone with you at all times, and if, for any reason, you begin to feel uncomfortable- leave immediately.

  • Meet in a public place
  • After deciding that you are ready to meet, choose a public place for your date, such as a restaurant, lounge, cafe or place where there are plenty of other people around. Do not agree to meet in secluded areas such as parks or inside their home. Always let a friend, family member, or someone you trust know where you are going, with whom, and around what time to expect a phone call from you letting them know you are okay.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Try to avoid drinking alcohol on your date, it can impair your judgement and lower your inhibitions. Drinking too much alcohol can make you miss signs that are red flags and affect the judgments you are making on the actions of your date, which could in turn, put you in a dangerous situation. If you do have a drink, remain alert, watch it carefully and never, even for a minute, leave it unattended.

  • Do not leave your belongings behind
  • Leaving your wallet or purse unattended is a quick and easy way for your date to go through your stuff and find out more about you or steal personal information or items. One quick look at a drivers license could allow them to jot down your address before you return. Always take your belongings with you to the bathroom, to step out to use the phone, or any other time you get up from the area you are in.

  • Don’t assume you are safe
  • Even if the date is going very well and you are feeling very comfortable around your date, do not let your guard down. Just because they have told you they are sweet, caring, religious, honorable, etc. doesn’t necessarily mean it is true so always proceed with caution. You never know the real intentions of someone once they think they have your trust until you’ve been on enough dates to trust the person more.

  • Be aware at the end of the night
  • At the end of the date, you might know whether you want to pursue another date or not . Be clear about your intentions, and if you turn down another date be sure that the person does not become angry and does not watch you or follow you home. Be cautious with a date who is overly aggressive and demanding. Only agree to other dates if you feel comfortable doing so and you don’t give in to anything that you have to be coerced or forced into.

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    10 Unrealistic Uses of the Internet in Movies

    Sep 1st, 2010

    Hollywood is usually several years behind culture, but the disconnect between the way we actually use technology and the way it’s portrayed in movies is just laughable. The upcoming The Social Network looks to be the first movie to get it right, and that’s because it’s based on a nonfiction best-seller. Most of the time, Internet use in movies is ridiculously out of touch, hard to understand, and just plain wrong. For those who’ve ever wanted to shout at the screen when a computer appears, this list is for you.

    1. The Net: Released in 1995, when Hollywood was just starting to figure out the Internet was a real thing, The Net boasts bizarre tech and nonsensical moments that could only happen in a movie. Websites work in bizarre ways that could only be possible in movies, and as is typical of big-screen stories of the Internet, none of the screens or software remotely resemble anything that real people use. It was funny in its day and is adorably out of date now. Intended to be a scary story about identity theft, the only person this movie will scare is your grandmother.
    2. Independence Day: It’s hard to pick the most improbable part of a movie where Bill Pullman plays a fighter pilot who becomes president, but the Internet and computer use sticks out like a sore thumb. Jeff Goldblum is the scientist who figures out that the aliens are using Earth’s satellites as a relay system to coordinate their takeover, which eventually leads him to posit that a computer virus uploaded to the mothership will destroy them. Good idea, terrible execution. You can’t get PCs and Macs to play nice, and they’re both made by humans; what are the odds you’re going to be able to transmit a computer virus to a machine created by an alien species? Yet it worked, for reasons that only make sense in summer blockbusters.
    3. Misssion: Impossible: Brian DePalma’s Misssion: Impossible is a rock-solid caper movie, but it’s also got some of the most nonsensical uses of the Internet in movie history. As expected, none of the computer interfaces look like their real-world counterparts, and to make matters more confusing, the e-mail program seems to exist in a weird area between cartoon and wish-fulfillment. Tom Cruise’s character at one point just starts sending out e-mails at random to an address he’s not even sure will work, and he does so through a loopy program that doesn’t act at all like a simple e-mail tool like, say, Gmail. Would it have been so bad for Cruise to actually have to track down an e-mail address?
    4. The Lawnmower Man: Bearing so little resemblance to the Stephen King story of the same name that the author successfully sued to have his name taken off the film, The Lawnmower Man is another wacky entry in the early-1990s group of films that made wild speculations about online technology that were almost entirely baseless. Jeff Fahey plays a gardener with a learning disability who becomes smarter through a combination of drugs and virtual reality, and he eventually acquires telekinetic powers and the ability to turn himself into pure energy and travel via phone lines. I wish that were possible: rush hour would be a thing of the past.
    5. Swordfish: Hugh Jackman stars in this weak thriller as a hacker recruited by a master criminal. But rather than actually sit at a computer and try to work, he often sits on a throne before half a dozen monitors spitting out pretty but useless information. It’s part of Hollywood’s tactic to make computer programming look sexy and adventurous, when the job really involves a lot of repetitive typing that’s not much fun to watch (or do). Why does he have six or seven screens? What can possibly be accomplished?
    6. Feardotcom: This brain-dead thriller from 2002 involves a series of murders, and (eight-year-old spoiler) the Internet is ultimately the killer. Seriously. Cops investigate strange deaths and find out that the victims all visited a site called Feardotcom that showed voyeuristic scenes of torture that literally scared the viewers to death. After a series of twists I won’t go into, it’s revealed that the ghost of a murdered girl set up the site to get revenge on those who passively watched her murder, killing them within 48 hours of being exposed to the site. On one hand, props to the ghost for learning basic coding skills. On the other, you have to be kidding me.
    7. Hackers: The people responsible for Hackers likely meant well, but this 1995 thriller bears about as much resemblance to real hackers as paper airplanes do to 747s. The interfaces of the hackers’ computers are increasingly fantastical, and the very notion of hackers is treated with the lack of subtlety you’ve come to expect from big-budget Hollywood movies. The Internet is portrayed as a mystical place, and the film relies on cheap animation to cover the fact that nothing on screen is exciting or real.
    8. Virtuosity: This 1995 movie offers a twist on the man-in-the-machine story: this time, an evil computer program downloads into an android body and goes on a real-world killing spree. The movie’s about as dumb as that sentence makes it sound, and it’s also hilariously off about everything technological, from the way the chaarcters use the Internet and virtual reality to fight crime to the outlandish designs and ideas. If the Internet ever makes it possible for programs to (a) become psychotic and (b) download into robot bodies, we’re going to have problems.
    9. Tron: Sure, it’s a cult classic that pioneered CGI effects, and it’s getting a sequel this Christmas, 28 years after the original hit theaters. But come on: aside from the (awesome) light cycle races, Tron offers one of the more ludicrous uses of the Internet in film history, drawn from a time when people knew that computers were capable of doing something but they weren’t sure what that something was. Jeff Bridges’ character is zapped by his machine and broken down and transformed into bits of information re-created inside the system, where he and other programs battle the Master Control Program for freedom. A fun ride, but a quaint look at just how fanciful the Internet can be in movies.
    10. Weird Science: Easily the least realistic use of the Internet in movies, hands down. It’s not just the online interface that’s surreal, choked with flying cartoons and equations and basically looking like a reject from Tron. It’s the idea that the Internet, some copper wiring, and a Barbie doll can create a living, breathing woman. Sure, the film’s intended to be a kind of sci-fi fantasy, but still, that level of mad scientist wouldn’t have been possible without people thinking the Internet is some scary and unfathomable space, instead of just a group of computers crunching numbers together. You can program your machine until the cows come home; it will not turn into Kelly LeBrock.

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