Jul 30, 2016

Why You Should Ditch Candy Crush And Play Pokemon GO With Your Kids

All the kids are doing it! Literally. So why aren’t you? Oh, you’re not a kid, but a mature, responsible parent and don’t have time for the latest mindless craze, you say. My advice is to ditch the Candy Crush and Words with Friends, and instead engage with your children, or even grandchildren, in a surprisingly rewarding way with Pokemon GO.

You don’t have to understand who Ash and his crazy anime pets are to get started. Just look outside your window at the neighborhood kids who have suddenly taken up walking and biking the last few weeks to know something big is going on.

Pokemon GO is basically a combination of a Scavenger Hunt and a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. First you must collect your rocks, papers and scissors in the form of Pokemon. Hundred of animals can be found on the map based game, but the trick is that you actually have to move around to collect them. All you need is a fully charged smartphone and a young person aged 7-27 and you are ready to go. If you have a bike and live near a park, school, church or downtown area then even better.  Many places that would be identified as landmarks on a map (statue, sign, fountain, etc) are PokeStops in the game, and a hotbed of activity.

The reason you, the parent, should be playing this game is to bond with the Pokemon GO obsessed kids and young adults in your life. As any parent knows, it gets harder to find common ground with teenagers. Moody, video game obsessed kids don’t always have much to say.

Now Pokemon GO is our common ground and a language we both understand. This is an opportunity to share an afternoon or evening (when a Ghastly might be around) getting fresh air and exercise with them.

“Your Mom plays Pokemon...? Cool” was the response my son got when I informed the after sports carload of 14 year old boys that I had caught a Rhyhorn as I waited for them. The boys were all fascinated that I have a Ekans spawner in my kitchen (that’s Snake spelled backwards for you noobs) and they all came over to catch one themselves.

My pre-teen is a little easier to engage, yet this game gives us a new way to interact. “Hey Mom, there’s a Lure down the street!” he says, and we both hop on our bikes and spend the next hour putting kilometers on our Egg Incubators, collecting balls at PokeStops and checking out the local Gyms. All while catching Pokemon along the way. We’ve done that three times today and only came home when it got dark. Parenting note to self, we need lights on the bikes. And phone holders too.

Most of the fun of the game is finding and catching the Pokemon. For a special treat, I took my family out to lunch in downtown Mountain View, CA which is the heart of Silicon Valley. Within a hour our batteries were all dead and we had dozens of new and evolved Pokemon. Plus we were witness to a phenomenon. Hundreds of people roaming downtown with their phones out. They were waiting in line for gelato and iced tea. Businesses had signs out front with brag lists of which Pokemon had been caught inside their stores. Restaurants were advertising their WiFi networks, but warning that there is lag today. There were near Black Friday type crowds trying to Catch ‘em all!

Pikachu (God bless you), is the ultimate prize and when one appears in your vicinity it is perfectly okay to yell “Pikachu in da house!” Then watch as everyone scrambles for their phones and attempts to catch the little yellow creature, that is always smiling. My favorite Pokemon has always been Jigglypuff. Who can resist a cute, pink puffy warrior  who sings his opponent to sleep with a beautiful lullaby? “Jigglypuff, jigglypuff”. Feminine, yet strong. Killing them with kindness, literally. On man, I gotta catch myself a Jifflypuff!

My 21 year niece attends college nearby, and usually turns down our invitations to meetup.

Me: Would u like to join us for dinner and Pokemon hunting in Palo Alto tomorrow evening?
Niece: Sure, that sounds like fun! :)

Cha-ching! Pokemon aren’t the only thing I’m catching with this game. Suddenly the young people in my life have time for me.

The app Pokemon GO itself, is a terrible app. Expect it to crash and hang on a regular basis. Get ready to reboot your phone multiple times, and curse the developers. Also it will drain your battery and possibly install malware.  But, the kids don’t mind so neither should you. A few tips I’ve learned from my 11 yr old: put your phone in battery saving mode, turn down the screen brightness and turn off AG (Augmented Reality, but you knew that already, right?). Augmented Reality is one of the unique aspects of Pokemon GO, but also a major battery drain.

The game is free and has in-app purchases. In my experience Pokemon GO is guaranteed to get you hours of interactive and one-on-one quality time with the young people in your life. Time with my boys: priceless.

May 5, 2016

HTC Vive Review - The VR Room

If you 've always dreamed of joining Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the Holodeck, the HTC Vive is your chance! Our Vive arrived last week, after ordering it back in February, and was met with excitement from the whole family. We cleared out our mostly unused office and declared it "The VR Room", and it is now the most popular room int the house.

We needed a new amp'ed up PC that we custom built, and decided on a pair of light stands to hold the light boxes. These are a great deal at Amazon for only $22. This was a big investment, about $3400 total

I can't wait to start reviewing our favorite Vive games! So far the most popular are classic arcade style shooters, and everything in Valve's Lab (Secret Room, Robot Repair, Longbow, Xortex, etc).

Favorite VR games so far:
Budget Cuts
The teens have loved the Budget Cuts demo. They navigate their way around an office space, avoiding killer robots, while trying to locate their resume. The Call of Duty expert in our household knew exactly what do to and never missed a knife throw. I've found myself crawling on the floor and attempting to lean on virtual walls (oops!) in this engrossing game. Can't wait to see the full game!

Job Simulator (included in our pre-order)
The 11 yr old loves this! He can't get enough of "eating donuts", making copies of donuts, then eating more donuts. He can play this for hours, but the grown ups don't really see the point of this game. My son says the point "is to mess around with stuff." Enough said.

Tilt Brush  ($29, included in our pre-order).
My personal favorite is Google's Tilt Brush, which basically puts you in right in the middle of a paint program. After goofing around at first, I built a beautiful room hat is really relaxing to create in. The creatives in your household will love Tilt Brush.

Other favorites are Audio Shield, Space Pirate Trainer and Elite Dangerous.

I'll do a more complete review of each game and include videos soon.

Nov 17, 2015

The Best Google Docs Fonts for Christmas

If you aren't using Google Docs for all your document needs, you should be! This year I am designing my Christmas Cards with Google Docs and it's super easy. To do this you will need a some pretty new fonts to dress it all up. Here are my suggestions of beautiful Christmas fonts for Google Docs:

Berkshire Swash
Bigelow Rules
Delius Swash Caps
Emily’s Candy
Fontdiner Swanky
Henny Penny
Mountains of Christmas
Vast Shadow

To install additional font in Google Docs, click on the FONT BOX from inside any document. At the bottom of the list click MORE FONTS. From here you can choose from all the available fonts. They will be added to all your documents, not just the current document.

Below is a video how-to on installing new fonts in Google Docs.   

Apr 6, 2015

Dressing Up Your Google Docs

While document sharing is by far Google Docs' best feature, I need to make my documents "pretty" sometimes too. I use Google Docs to make flyers, newsletters, party invitations, thank you notes, etc. Admittedly Google Docs doesn't always make this easy, but with research I have made some beautiful documents.

A few great fonts to add to your Google Docs:
Alex Brush
Sonsie One
Spicy Rice

How to add new fonts:
In an open Doc, click inside the FONT field in the top left of your screen. A list of your currently installed font will appear, but at the bottom of the list you will see:

F+ More fonts...

Click [F+ More Fonts] to see a list of all available fonts. Simply click the new fonts you want, you can install several at once. Click the OK button once you are done. You can also unselect installed fonts to remove them from your list. Go ahead, scroll through the whole list and add anything that looks fun or useful!

What is your favorite font to use with Google Docs?

Apr 3, 2015

Open Table Free Reservations

If you like to eat out, you need Open Table! It is an extremely simple reservation system that lets you pick available table times at over 32,000 restaurants.  "It's Uber for restaurants" as one reviewer describes it best. I find it works great when you know the exact resturant you want to book. Enter the number of diners in your party and the time you want to reserve. If that time is not available, it will return with alternative times to choose from. It is super simple, free and sends you a reminder when the date/time gets near.

I find Open Table easier to use than a phone call to the restaurant, since it is so quick. Log in with your Google Account from your Android device for quickest access. You cannot book two restaurants at the same time, in case you are ever need to do that.

You will also find restaurant reviews, specials and private dining options (for large party planning or special occasions). Menus and photos are sometimes available directly on Open Table, while other times there is a link the individual website. In all, it makes for a reliable open stop shopping for dining.

Recently Open Table has also added the ability to pay for your restaurant tab directly from the app, but I haven't tried that yet. When you are away from your mobile device, their website www.opentable.com is also a great tool.

Get Open Table for Android HERE

Apr 1, 2015

Sky Force 2014

Sky Force 2014 is another family favorite in our household. Truth be told, the Husband enjoys this one more than the kids. It is a first classic arcade style game that is very well made and gets great reviews for a reason. The app is FREE, but has in-app purchases that are not required (but you will be tempted!). It has seven different levels with three difficulty options. You can level up and earn upgrades to your shields, guns, missiles, lasers, mega-bomb, etc. Save the civilians and get even more!

Sky Force 2014 is appropriate for children of all ages, and adjusting the difficulty level lets it be fun for them too. You use your finger to guide your plane, as the level continues it gets progressively more difficult. Big Boss battles finish off most levels, that are tough but doable.

Want more? Even though Sky Force is compatible with most Android devices (all sizes of phones and tablets) it is also available the Nexus Player, which allows multiplayer game play! It looks gorgeous on our big screen TV and paired with ASUS controller feels like an good Xbox game.


Mar 30, 2015

G Watch by LG

While all the buzz is about the new Apple Watch, I've been wearing my G Watch by LG since Christmas (thanks to the Husband). I get asked about it all the time, especially when volunteering with children. They are always up on the latest gadgets!

I'm not a gadget person, but I see watches as a natural extension for technology. Many people already wear or grew up wearing a watch. Many are willing to spend a lot of money on watches as jewelry, as a show of wealth or just for fun. The watch doesn't get in the way, it's just there. I don't have to get it out of my pocket or purse. The G Watch doesn't buzz or ring, it lightly vibrates when it wants my attention, and I like that. It's polite.

There are many apps that interact with a large offering of Android watches, (Check out Google's Android Wear page for all the options) but I keep it pretty simple. The commands I use most often are:

"Ok Google..."
  • "Navigate to..." Trader Joe's, Target, Anne's Home, you name it - I prefer this for navigating instead of looking at my phone while driving.
  • "Text..." Any of my contacts - It's best for quick texts, because I find it misunderstands me more than my phone's voice commands. So I save it for "Text Anne... On my way", "Running late", etc. 
  • "Set alarm for..." 1 hour, 6:45am, Tomorrow at 8pm - this is the quickest way to set a reminder and I use it often.
I also like how I can quickly see my incoming texts and emails, without really interrupting what I'm doing. However, it is not the place to read through existing or old messages. Here is a comprehensive video from Phandroid on a few things you can do with your Android Wearable:

You can purchase the G Watch right now on Amazon for $159, compared to the reported $549 price of the Apple Watch.