Dr. Seuss iPhone Apps

Dr. Seuss is one of my all time favorite children’s book authors. I loved the books as a kid, and as an adult, I still love reading the books to my kids. So it should probably come as no surprise that the Dr. Seuss iPhone apps totally thrill me and my kids.

The Cat In the Hat

Love this book. For some reason, I feel like this book relates to my life on so many levels. From the thing one and thing two ransacking the house (=cough= Zach and Rachel =cough=) to suddenly finding yourself in a mess that is “so deep and so tall” you can not pick it up, there is no way at all… except a cat with a magical room cleaning machine never seems to show up at my doorstep. Hmmm… This eBook has it all. The ability to have it read to you or read it yourself. Little animations, little interactions, even a little background sound, music and effects. (There’s settings to turn those off too if you don’t like them) This is the way an eBook should be done.

The Cat in the Hat: $3.99* (NOTE!! See below about a special price on this app for March 2, 2010 only!!)

Dr. Seuss’s ABC

I have to admit – reading this book myself isn’t as much fun as reading The Cat in the Hat – but having the eBook read TO YOU it is actually alot more fun. Somehow the reader on the eBook does a much better job. (Maybe it’s also because I seem to get tongue tied reading this book long before I’m even halfway in) LOL! Either way – this book is great. Sound effects, interaction. If you leave the book in the middle, it will even remember where you left off and give you the option of starting there when you start the book/app again.

Dr. Seuss’s ABC: $3.99* (NOTE!! See below about a special price on this app for March 2, 2010 only!!)

Dr. Seuss Camera – The Cat in the Hat Edition

Ok, this is a lot of fun. My kids LOVE playing with the camera on the phone, so this is a no brainer. You can pick out a “frame” and then take a picture or use one from your photo library or camera roll – usually putting someone’s face inside a cartoon – and then save it, email it. You can add “stickers” to it, etc. My only comment here is that the icons on the bottom are a little ambigous and took a little getting used to understand what they did. But exploring and playing with the app was so much fun, we didn’t mind.

Dr. Seuss Camera – The Cat in the Hat Edition: $2.99* (NOTE!! See below about a special price on this app for March 2, 2010 only!!)

NOTE!: So now here’s something really cool: Oceanhouse Media (the developer of these apps) is celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday and NEA’s Read Across America Day by dropping all Dr. Seuss iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps to $0.99 each for one day only, Tuesday, March 2, 2010. Definitely recommend you scoop these up tomorrow while they’re on sale. That’s a great deal!! You can read more about that here

Click here to learn more, see demos and see more Dr. Seuss apps

*prices at time of this writing.

iPhone Book Apps from PicPocket Books

P has taken a number of picture books and brought them into digital media. Here is a selection of books from this publisher:

My Friend Isabelle ($1.99*) is a story about two friends, one of which has Downs Syndrome. It compares how they are alike and how they are different and helps teach tolerance and acceptance.

In Racers ($0.99*) kids talk about formula race cars and trucks and would be perfect for a kid who is fascinated by fast cars. Pictures of kids with funny expressions accompany the colorful pictures.

Sleeping Beauty ($1.99*) is the classic fairy tale with beautiful watercolor illustrations that go along with the story. A page is read and then the illustrations are displayed.

Round Is A Mooncake ($2.99*) has the most interactivity in the series of books. The story goes through various shapes a little girl finds in her world. Many of the shapes are Asian oriented. Throughout the story are a few animals that when you touch them, they make noise.

In all the books, you have the ability to pause, skip ahead or go back, but beyond that the interactivity in the books is limited. They are basically animations that play on their own without requiring the reader to take part in the story. In some respects, this may be a good thing. If you have a kid that likes to have a story read to them without their needing to constantly click “next” to see the next page, then these would definitely work out well. However, in that case, I almost wish they were simple animations/videos, rather than an app. With an application, if you don’t interact with it, the screen will dim and the phone will auto-lock. (Yes you can adjust the length of time before it does this in the settings, however, for battery preservation I keep this to 1 minute and wouldn’t really want to change it, especially when the kids are playing with the phone as they have a tendency to not manually turn it off when they’re done using it. Perhaps relying on that 1 minute auto-lock). To make these more useful as an application, however, would be to make use of the interactivity available with this medium. Websites sometimes fall prey to this as well – “brochureware” is typically the type of site that has just been given the most minimal interactivity and is otherwise an exact duplicate of printed material or lives instead of printed material. There’s nothing wrong with “brochureware” type websites or applications. They certainly have their place – but they do miss the opportunity to become something even more engaging when passing up the interactivity features that could really help capture their audience.

*price(s) at time of this writing.

Update: Just wanted to include this response by the publisher:

I wanted to let you know that we are adding animations to some titles that are currently in production. The animations are subtle, like snow falling or stars twinkling, because we publish previously published books rather than made-for-iPhone stories – so the artwork is already drawn, and we strive to remain faithful to the original book. Our intent is to encourage curiosity by adding elements of interactive discovery to each title which the hot spots and subtle animations provide. We are consciously NOT creating video games, but hope that PicPocket Books can offer a gentle alternative to games for parents who want to offer their children mobile digital books.

We are also going to be introducing a new feature in our next releases wherein the page turns are controlled by a simple swipe of the finger. That way, if a child wants to just flip through and see the pictures of the book without waiting for all the words, they can do that easily.

Healthcare Confusion

Sam’s company recently switched up their health insurance offerings. Previously, we’ve stuck with the same plan or something similar for the last 5+ years. It was pretty straightforward, easy to understand. I was never happy with the insurance company itself, though. They seemed to reject claims on a regular basis without cause, you’d call them up and then they’d “realize their mistake” and pay for the claim. For the number of times this happened, I really became suspicious that they were just hoping you’d give up and pay the claim yourself rather than following up with them every single time. Sometimes it became tempting to do so, but I just couldn’t on principle – figuring that’s probably exactly what they wanted.

In any case, that plan is not even being offered anymore. The two choices we were given were another plan similar to what we had – but with a higher premium (and a smaller selection of doctors to chose from!) or one of these “Health Savings Account” (HSA). My first instinct was to turn down the HSA. I just couldn’t imagine how that could ever be better than the standard plan we were used to going with. But his company gave two key incentives: they gave you a credit in the HSA and the premium was quite a bit cheaper than the other plan. As well, the selection of doctors from the HSA was much wider.

So I figured, the best thing to do would be to run the numbers. First we calculated out how much it would cost if we went to the doctor’s 10x a year and then 20x a year. And in both cases the HSA was less expensive. So then I downloaded our actual claims for the past year. Figuring that we would probably be about the same. Meticulously combed through each claim and sorted them for how we would have been charged if we had been under each of the new plans. Again, the HSA ended up being cheaper. In truth – the difference between the two almost always equaled the delta of lower premium and that HSA credit the company gives. If it wasn’t for that – the two plans would have been almost neck in neck.

But it’s crazy how confusing this all is. I wonder how many people spend that many days agonizing over the decision, and then actually creating a spreadsheet of claims from the previous year – recalculating the charge on each one based on what would be charged under the new plans just to see what the difference would have been.

I really hate how difficult that needs to be, and even more than that, I hate that in this country employers are the ones that decide on the fate of your health care. I doubt his company has our family’s health interest in mind when they make these decisions. They’re going to do what makes the most business sense. It doesn’t belong in their hands.

Spaghetti Squash, You FAKE!

Maybe it’s not really Spaghetti Squash’s fault. We don’t normally give ourselves our own name. But to whoever gave Spaghetti Squash it’s name has misled an army of dieters.

I dare you to go on a diet forum and make a post that says something like “I know I could do a better job sticking to my diet if I could just eat more pasta!” You will, I can almost guarantee it, bring out some well-meaning but misinformed person who will happily give you this golden piece of advice “Have you tried Spaghetti Squash!” 😀

I have desperately tried to embrace Spaghetti Squash, and I have desperately tried to fool myself into believing that it could replace spaghetti, and coming to the cold hard conclusion that no matter how hard I try – Spaghetti Squash is as far from it’s pasta namesake as green beans is from chocolate. Really. When someone pipes in and says “Have you tried Spaghetti Squash?!” I feel like responding “No. I haven’t eaten poop yet either, but I’m pretty sure it’s not spaghetti either!” (No, I don’t say that but I think it really loud)

Maybe it’s my fault too. I’m such a horrible cook. If I could make delicious homemade healthy dinners, deiting and healthy living would be so much easier. Instead, I grab a recipe for Spaghetti Squash off the internet. And I dress up the VEGETABLE (It IS a vegetable. Vegetable != Pasta!!!! M’kay?) like it’s a drag queen pasta dish, and it tastes simply awful.

So my final conclusion. Spaghetti Squash: You only vaguely resemble spaghetti in shape, but you are nothing like the goodness that is carb-filled pasta. You don’t taste like spaghetti. You don’t smell like spaghetti. If you cook just a minute too long you become a mushy mess and then you don’t even come close to looking like spaghetti. YOU, my fine veggie friend, are an imposter of the worst kind. You make people think they can eat a spaghetti dish that has next to no calories. You fill my dinner with dreams and promises and then you don’t deliver. You are a charlatan. A fraud!!

I dare any of you to come up with a recipe using spaghetti squash that 1) I can make without screwing up, 2) I can make quickly because not only do I suck at cooking, I hate doing it too, so the sooner I’m out of the kitchen and into the dinning room the better, and 3) that doesn’t taste like poo. I dare you. Because I know it can’t be done. HA!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince: Movie Review

I had the pleasure and honor of seeing the latest Harry Potter movie the day before it was released thanks to DigiCert. They sell SSL certificates. If you’re a web developer that handles that end of things, you should definitely check them out!

Before I tell you about the movie, I have to state up front that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I’ve seen every movie, most of them a few times. It would be hard to disappoint me. However, I am also coming from the standpoint that I have not read any of the books. (I know I really should). So with that said, here’s what I thought of the movie (no spoilers I promise!)

I definitely liked the movie – in fact I liked it a lot. I’m not sure if I could categorize it as my favorite in the series, but I still enjoyed it. In all the movies, there always felt like there were parts of the story that had been left out of the movie. This has been more and more noticeable as the series has gone on. The Half Blood Prince is probably the one where I noticed it the most. At the same time, I’m coming in to the movie, knowing that it’s based off a book, one that I have not read – and I sort of accept the fact that there will be far more in the book than they could ever squeeze into the movie. I was able to follow the story along just fine without the missing pieces, and if I wanted to know more about some of the details that appeared to be left out, I should pick up a copy of the book and read it. I’m not sure everyone in the world would be able to accept that. It’s possible that maybe you do have to be a Harry Potter fan in order to accept that.

As in the books (or so I’m told), the story gets darker and darker with each in the series. There are some scenes that would be scary and hard to accept for a younger audience. Depending on the kid, 11 or 12 is probably the youngest I would bring to the movie. (Take that with a grain of salt. My (almost) 9 year old is very skittish about movies – so I’m basing it on the fact that I probably wouldn’t bring her to see the movie unless she were a few years older. Another kid her same age might do just fine.)

I love the world that J.K.Rowling created – so any invitation to visit it and see the characters again is a treat. If you’re not a Harry Potter fan, but have liked the movies in the past, I think you’ll still enjoy this one. If you are a Harry Potter fan, this movie won’t disappoint.