Zumba Fitness Rush – Week 1

So this week I skipped the gym and stayed home and used Zumba Fitness Rush on the Xbox Kinnect. So far so good. Overall I’m very happy with it. I’m not sure if it’s really better than doing the exercise with just the DVD (I don’t have the DVD set) but I did burn a fair amount of calories. They actually tell you how many you’ve burned and they’re pretty accurate. The first time I did the “class” I wore my Heart Rate monitor so I could compare it with what it was saying, and it was dead on – scary enough. Although – my daughter joined me for PART of the class – and then disappeared – and it said she burned the same amount of calories – but maybe it’s just taking the average for the class.

Either way – I got a good fun workout at home. I was plenty tired and sweaty at the end of the hour – and I didn’t have to get into any fist fights with people to make room. So I would call this a success.

I do wish it would give more feedback during a *class* on how to improve. Some of the steps in the class vary more than they do in a regular in-person class – or they’re just a little difficult to follow. As well, some of those steps don’t have a “tutorial” mode on them so the only way I’ll figure them out is doing the same class a few times. I also wish they had a clock on there. More than once I’ve wondered how much more time to the class I had left. Again, though, I’m really happy with this “game” and plan on using it from now on as my main exercise plan.

Coolest Geek Toy (that my daughter is loving right now)

OSnap Circuits line. Basically they’re these pieces that very easily snap together, and you build various electronic devices. A fan, (that also doubles as a flying saucer with the right set up), an alarm, a music box, a light switch, etc. etc. It makes building circuit boards as easily as playing with Lego’s. They have a little booklet with easy to follow diagrams showing you how to build the various projects. There are symbols on the pieces that show you how it would look on a “grown up” diagram. As well, the booklet explains what is happening with what you’re building – so it’s teaching you as well. My daughter cruised through the first set she got for her birthday (something like 100 projects). So we ran out and got an add-on set that had 300. For a kid that normally has a fairly short attention span, she is playing with this toy way more than I expected.

If you are looking for a really cool science type toy – this one is a great idea. The site says it’s good for kids aged 8 and up – but it is simple enough I think kids a little bit younger than that could even do it.

Click here to see the larger Snap Circuits SC-300 set on Amazon.com (you’ll notice it has 5 stars and something like 469 reviews. I’m not the only one that thinks this is the coolest toy ever) 😉

Here’s a video of her playing with one of her circuit projects:

10 Cool Games and Tools for the iPhone

I haven’t done a big roundup of iPhone apps I’ve been playing with / using for a while – I’m still buying apps like its nobody’s business. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

A while ago, I reviewed a few apps that I got to help me tune my daughter’s Cello. They were pretty good – but not perfect. What I really needed was something that could show me when we were *close* to the right note, how far off we were, were we sharp or flat… because honestly, when it’s really close, it’s really hard to tell. I first started looking at devices that did this and they were really pricey – then I found this app. It’s currently priced at $3.99 and worth every penny!! Just play a note and it shows you where you on a dial how close you are – watch the dial as you tune the instrument. (Works when you sing too!) It’s just awesome. Very simple and does a great job!

Cleartune – Chromatic Tuner: $3.99*


Next up, Trivial Pursuit. I’ve never been really good with trivia, but the game is still fun. I can’t remember what inspired me to buy this, maybe it was on sale… either way, I downloaded it. The iPhone version of the board game is pretty fun. I like that you can change some of the settings if you want to play a variation on the game (ie. how many wedges are required, where you earn wedges – how hard your opponent is :) if there should be a time limit to answer). If you don’t like waiting to see how your computer opponent does, you can speed through his play. Now here’s the cool part – you can play with someone else. There’s two ways to do that: “pass n’ play” (obvious how that goes) – or “Wi Fi Multiplayer” – so if someone on your WiFi network has the game too, you can play against each other. That feature in games, I’ve gotten a little addicted to, I have to say.

You’ll see some reviews complain of it crashing, and I’ve seen the problem too. It does seem to come and go, though. I’m hoping they do make it more stable – but it’s something to be aware of.

Trivial Pursuit: $4.99*


When we were on vacation, I saw my nieces playing Monopoly on their iTouch and iPhones, so not to be out-done, I had to download it as well. The iPhone version of the game is more fun than the original board game, I think. While sometimes it doesn’t always work, you can speed through the computer’s turn by clicking a button on the game screen. You also have a few options to change the game to play a variation that suits you.

I won the first game I played on it, and have not won another game since. (And I’ve been playing a lot recently). Heh. I haven’t changed the difficulty but sometimes it sure does seem like it has the dice are stacked against me! LOL! It’s still fun to play. Since I’m on a multiplayer kick with these games, I was psyched to see it also can do multiplayer: either pass n’ play – or for wireless it has WiFi or Bluetooth. However, when I initially tried the wireless options, they didn’t seem to work. Bluetooth would only seem to work if you were hooking up with ONE player (maybe that’s something that’s unique to Bluetooth technology? – that it won’t connect with more than one device…? Not sure)

Monopoly: $2.99*


This is another one of those games I thoroughly suck at but it’s fun to play anyway. In fact, if you want to know how bad I am, since this game also has a WiFi multiplayer option, I played this game against my 13 year old niece when we were on vacation. She kicked my butt. LOL! Yeah, definitely gave her a little ego boost I think. After that, she kept asking to play me again. LOL!

Ok, a few things I really like with this game: if you’re really stuck you have the option to use a “Best Word” feature. You only get a limited number, so it’s best to save them for when you really need them – like at the end when all you have left in your hand is a “Q” tile. 😉 (Did you know “Qi” is supposedly a word – and it’s worth a fair amount of points for a two letter word) 😉 So that brings me to my wish for this game. I think it would be great if it had a dictionary feature with it. Some words I’d really like to look up and see “Hey, exactly WHAT is a ‘Qi’!!!” or I’d like to play a word, or rather, what I think is a word – but I don’t know if it’s just something I’ve made up. Yes, you can try to play it and it will simply tell you it’s not a word, but I’d like to know. Maybe there’s something close that I was thinking of. I mean, hey, if you get a “Best Word” feature that will figure out the best use of your tiles – why not give me a few shots with a dictionary…?

Scrabble: $2.99*


Ahhh.. Chuzzle. This is a really weird game. But I have a soft spot for games that have cute little creatures in them. Fuzzballs with eyeballs – what’s not to love. At one time, I actually bought this game for my PC (back when I had a PC) – that was a few years ago now. The game is pretty simple to play, but the strategy gets a little tricky as time goes on. It’s a bit like Bejeweled except with more fur. You slide a row or column of Chuzzles to line up 3 or more Chuzzles of the same color/pattern (doesn’t have to be in a row – as long as they are adjacent to each other). The tricky part comes when you get a “locked” Chuzzle (which will lock the row and column that Chuzzle is on) or a Super Chuzzle which is one chuzzle 4x the size of a normal one. Until you match up the color of those Chuzzles, they stay on your board making your game challenging. :)

If you get this game, and haven’t played it before – here’s a cute “easter eggs” – try tapping the same Chuzzle over and over and over again and see what happens. :)

So here’s my one complaint about the game: MAJOR battery eater. Like BIG TIME. If you ever feel like draining your battery, play this game. I’m not sure what they did with the game, but it must use up a ton of resources. (Maybe it’s all that groovy music it plays in the background) 😉

Chuzzle: $4.99*


This is another game I saw my nieces playing with and then quickly downloaded myself. Reminiscent of the TV game show – this one is a lot of fun (and much more fun than yelling at the TV trying to get them to hear your answers in tv-land) 😉 There’s a few different ways to play: “TV Show Game” style, Multiplayer (yay!), Toss-Up Game (They show you letters and you have to figure out the puzzle before it shows you all of them), and Speed-Up Game. (You spin the wheel once to determine the point value of each letter guessed, then you just take turns guessing a letter in the puzzle, until someone solves the whole puzzle)

Wheel of Fortune Platinum: $1.99*


I’m a sucker for time management games like this one: Turbo Subs. In this game you need to serve customers a variety of different food types, some that require preparation first, others that don’t.  As per is usual in games like this, customers have a limited time before they get angry and leave your store.

I love the graphics in this game – I think there’s something about cute little food icons – I’m not sure what it is. One problem I did experience with the game that I see in the reviews on iTures that others have reported as well, is that sometimes the game is not as responsive as I would like. You click on an item, but it doesn’t register that you did. Otherwise, this is a fun game.

Turbo Subs: $1.99*


(This one also has a free version in case you want to try before you buy)

Uno is a classic card game – and on the iPhone it’s just as much fun. Once again, the multiplayer options here a great feature. Now that the kids have their own iPhones (our old ones that no longer have phone access) we can all play together and no one has to clean up. There’s a couple of extra features in the card game – if you put down a “0” – everyone switches cards. If you put down a “7” – you pick someone to swap cards with. There’s a “jump-in” feature where if you have the same color and number as a card that was just put down you can jump in and put down your copy of it (only one person can do it – so you have to be quick) – then the rotation picks up with the person that would normally come after you. If you don’t like these extras, you can turn them on or off in the options panel.

UNO: $4.99*


(There is also a free version so you can try the game out – but as I recall, the free game is extremely limited)

In Fruit Ninja – the object of the game is to slash up some fruit. As you play the game you’re given different swords to play with – for example one we won makes various color streaks when you slash the fruit. There’s two different ways to play. “Zen” you play against the clock and just try to slash fruit and get as many points as possible. In the regular game you can’t miss any fruit. 3 misses and the game is over. Also – occasionally a bomb will pop up. Don’t slash the bomb – otherwise the game is instantly over. (I kinda wish they’d let you hit a few bombs before ending the game – but I guess that’s the way the kiwi crumbles.) 😉 This is a really cute game – once again, I think maybe it’s just the cute food icons that reeled me in. Either way – still fun to play.

Fruit Ninja: $0.99*


So, as I showed with a few pictures from vacation, I kind of let things go diet-wise. Well, ok, I REALLY let things go diet-wise. I gained way more weight than I had prepared to. This isn’t an option now – I’m not going back to the way things were before, so like before, we’re counting calories. This time I’m trying something new. I found this app online – you create a (free) account on their site: Daily Burn, and then you can use this app to help track your calories. There is a free version of the app where you can enter your calories in – but this one, called Food Scanner, takes it a step further: you can actually hold the barcode up to your phone and it will scan it and show you matching products – and enter all the details from the label for you. No need to search or do custom entries yourself. (Yes, I’m lazy – that’s how I gained this weight back, thankyouverymuch) You can still search for foods (in case it’s something that doesn’t have a label (ie fruit, vegetables, meat, etc.) or if it doesn’t find a match, you can enter the label in manually. Favorite the foods you use the most so you can add them easily later on. Everything you enter is synced back to your account online.

With these types of calories counters, the service is only as good as their database – so it’s nice that they seem to have just about all the foods I tend to eat.

FoodScanner: $0.99 (currently on sale!!)


Ok, I said 10, but you made it this far down in the post so here’s a bonus freebie app. It’s a good one too! I’m trying to do something a little different exercise wise this time too – with the nice weather, and now that my daughter is big enough – she and I have been biking around town. We’ll go biking for an hour or more – leisurely, but still it’s exercise! When I came home the other night, Sam asked me how many miles did we bike – I had no idea. I tracked a path on Google maps and discovered we biked almost 8 miles. Probably not as much as serious bikers, but I was still pretty impressed. I thought there must be an app that will help track you as you go – and of course – as they say: “There’s an app for that” – the one I’m going to start playing around with is: RunKeeper (Free). You sign up on their website, and when you’re ready to start running or biking or whatever, turn on the app and tell it start tracking you. When you’re done you can upload your path and time, with all sorts of stats to the website and share it on Twitter or Facebook.

There is a “Pro” version of RunKeeper that costs $9.99, but I don’t see a side by side comparison that would show features that would make purchasing it worth the money. And the fact of the matter is that the free version does everything I need.

Updated to add: You can check out my runkeeper page here and see my activities.

*Price at time of this writing.

How I’d Use an iPad

When it became clear that the iPad was going to be the new product launched in January by Apple, my first reaction wasn’t excitement. But at the same time, it took me over a year before I got the whole iPhone thing. Obviously, we know how that worked out seeing how I have a huge selection of posts on this blog reviewing iPhone apps. I know they say that necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes it seems like Apple has managed to reverse that equation. They seem to be really good at inventing a product that solves a problem I never even knew I had.

So the iPad – I was extremely surprised at the price – I had originally been thinking like most others, that a product like that would have been closer to the $1000 range. That would have completely put it out of the range of my even thinking about buying it (which was why I wasn’t terribly interested in it to start). But since the “entry” price into an iPad is much lower than I expected, suddenly I start to wonder, Would I buy one? What and how would I use it? Do I need one?

And here comes in the problem that I never knew existed. When we watch TV, I almost always have my iPhone with me because I check email compulsively. When I need to respond, a quick reply it’s fine, but when a longer response is needed, I need to head over to the computer. I also like to be able to look up things online sometimes while we’re watching. Maybe it’s because there’s an actor we see that I’m trying to remember what other shows have we seen them in. Or there’s a product or website that’s talked about and I want to immediately check it out or bookmark it. Or I could just be multi-tasking. Browsing the web, reading blogs, playing on twitter, while also watching TV. Or even away from the TV, just around the house, I’ll have my phone with me to look things up online, check the hours of a store, or make notes about what I need to do the next day, etc. The iPhone can work for some of this, but it’s not the most convenient because of its size. The laptop is just a little overkill for this, but does do the job. However, something in between is probably even better. Enter an iPad.

It makes me wonder if they specifically announce these products before they’re actually available so that people can spend the next few months doing exactly what I did. Putting the pieces together and realizing that actually a product like that would in fact be pretty useful and cool.

I’m not saying that I’m going to run out on day one and buy one. But I have to admit, that while I didn’t before, I do see one in my future at some point. The issue with Flash does bother me. (One of the other things I like doing while multi-tasking is playing games on Facebook – most of which are run via Flash) I also kind of wish the iPad had a camera. (I’ve had the same complaint about the iTouch and that is the main reason why I haven’t bought one for my daughter. I’m still kind of hoping the will eventually, and when they do, THEN I’ll buy it. But I’m not interested in investing the money in an iTouch when I think at some point they will add a camera) I am glad to see they made the 3G an OPTION. Being that I am the biggest home-body, I would probably get the 3G model but not sign up for the plan right away until I saw how and where I was actually using it. If I used it, as I expect to, mostly at home where wifi was available – then I don’t really need that 3G as much as I thought. (But I’d still probably get it with the capability in case that ever changed…)

As for the name – yeah, even I got a chuckle out of it, but I think in general people will get over the silly side of the name and move on. It’s not like the word “pad” is only used for one meaning. Certainly, as names go, iPod is probably more silly. So I don’t think this will really have any long term negative effects on the product itself.

I once made an abstract painting and titled it “The Universe is Expanding”

... because I can’t think of anything more abstract than the fact that the universe is expanding – and the fact that even though it’s expanding – it doesn’t have any boundaries. How can something that can’t be measured get bigger?

My father sent me another link to make my brain explode: Where is the center of the universe. And if the question alone doesn’t make your head spin, then the answer surely will (as do most answers relating to anything about the universe) – at least for me anyway. The answer is of course, there is no center.

(Although at least one of my kids might dispute this theory and insist that, no, there is in fact a center… and if you’re looking at them, then you’re looking right at it)