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Zoodles kid browser

There’s a market for kid-friendly online browsing. Children watch their parents on computers and want to get in on the fun from an early age, even if they don’t quite know how. Although there are a number of kid computers (VTech, Fisher-Price, etc.), these low-end devices don’t offer the same breadth of options available on the Internet. Kids don’t want one brand of entertainment; they want many. Enter software-based solutions. Earlier in the year I talked about Kidthing, which showed up at CES. Now I’ve had a chance to play with Zoodles as well. Here’s my take on the kid-friendly browser launched last April.

What it Does
Go to Zoodles.com, and you can download the application (Adobe Air, Mac or PC) for free. Zoodles will ask you a few questions about your child to establish content parameters, and will then load the program on your computer with a Zoodles desktop icon. (Yes, you can set up profiles for multiple children.) Launch the application and you open up your child’s “toybox.” The toybox has big friendly picture buttons linking to different games, and big arrows on the right and left so you can scroll through multiple screens. The games listed come from all over the Web, with sites represented ranging from Scholastic to Playhouse Disney. More content is added on a regular basis.

The Good
The biggest benefit to Zoodles is that it aggregates a tremendous number of age-appropriate games in one place. Unlike Kidthing, all of the content is free, and I haven’t found any games that require a separate download. There’s also the advantage that the browser mixes non-branded games with commercial characters that kids (for better or worse) already know. Nothing beats the appeal of Dora or Kai-lan.

Safety-wise, Zoodles only allows kids to click through on approved URLs. That means that if there’s an ad placed next to a game, your child won’t be able to click on it and move over to another site.

A premium membership to Zoodles ($5.95/month or less) also adds in a parental dashboard feature. Although I’d be hard-pressed to sign up for another monthly subscription service, the dashboard offers a tremendous amount of control over the application. You can look at reports on what your child has played, block specific sites, games, or shows, and even promote certain skill sets (have certain types of games show up more often) that you want your child to work on. Subjects include language and literacy, life skills, math, science, and social science.

The Bad
There’s very little negative to say about Zoodles. I found it ran a bit slowly, but whether that’s the application or my netbook is hard to say. I spoke to CEO and co-founder Mark Williamson, and he suggested that part of the goal of Zoodles is to get kids able to play by themselves on a computer without constantly needing help or supervision. Sounds good, but I still found there were plenty of places where it was possible to get stuck without parental intervention. Again, this isn’t really the fault of Zoodles. Some games just don’t make it clear what to do next, or make it difficult to start over.

The Verdict
I will definitely keep using Zoodles with my almost-4-year-old. Like being on the kids’ computers at our local library, Zoodles makes it easy to find games that my daughter likes and learns from. If online safety is a big concern for you (the FCC has a new report out on the issue), Zoodles is also a great alternative to relying on filtering software. Older kids need a different solution, but for children aged 3 to 8, the free Zoodles app is the way to  go.

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When I first purchased my Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, several years ago, I dabbled with an earlier stand-alone version of Evernote. It presented a never-ending scratch-pad of sorts that I could write on with the tablet’s stylus. It was nice, even useful, but it didn’t supplant OneNote as my primary note-keeping software, until recently. The new cloud-based Evernote blows both the old Evernote and OneNote out of the water.

Evernote Benefits

  • It’s free. Free accounts permit up to 40 Megabytes of new notes to be added / synced per month. I haven’t come close to using my monthly capacity in the two months I’ve used it (I have used, perhaps 1/4 of that).
  • More than Text Notes: With the free version you can keep text, photo, audio clip and handwritten notes (in my case, written with a stylus on my tablet laptop). You can also import PDF files into notes in the free version.
  • imageMultiplatform Syncing: These notes are continuously synced, accessible and editable across my three primary PCs (Thinkpad tablet, Dell XPS desktop and my iMac) and my iPhone.
  • Accessible from the Cloud: I can access and edit these notes through my Evernote account in the cloud.
  • Notes Backed Up: By virtue of its syncing across multiple platforms and a copy of all notes residing in the cloud, my notes are continuously backed-up across my systems and off-site.
  • e8fbda733b7f1ac3f333410a6e35dfe3Tagging & Search: You can tag notes, structure the tags in a hierarchy (if you like – see the picture of part of my tag hierarchy on the right) and sort them how you chose. Or don’t. Instead, you can rely on its formidable search engine to find your notes. Either way, notes I wrote years ago (imported from OneNote) are as easy to find as notes I wrote yesterday.
  • Indexes Text in Images: Surprisingly, Evernote can index text in images. If I take a picture of a bottle of wine, a business card, a plane ticket, or even hand written notes on my tablet, it will scan and index that text. That text then becomes searchable when looking for the note containing the image at a later date.
  • Clip From Anywhere: Evernote adds toolbar icons in Firefox and IE that allow you to clip webpage contents, text, columns or images into a note. You can clip entire pages or just a few paragraphs. Additionally, pressing Print-Screen on a PC (Control-Command-C on the iMac ) fires up a screen ‘Clipper’ app that can grab a screen shot of any running app or the entire desktop (or portion thereof). You can cut and paste from any app on an iPhone into the Evernote app.

Evernote is the latest of several cloud-based service that I have been experimenting with. See my prior posts on Google Apps Gmail with IMAP, xmarks (formerly Foxmarks) and Dropbox.

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twitter-xbox

For more than a decade manufacturers have been trying to bring the Internet to the television. And while many ventures have been quite meaningful (online gaming, video streaming), most text-based content has been out of place. In most cases, it’s just not suitable for the 10′ lean-back, couch-based experience. Not only can it be hard to read (and type), somehow it also seems to be lacking intimacy. But that hasn’t stopped both Verizon FiOS TV and the Xbox 360 from bringing Twitter and Facebook to their platforms. While I’m all over Twitter (and struggle with Facebook), I just don’t have much use for this. Am I alone?

comcast-mydvr-3

Multichannel received word this spring that Comcast intended to bring remote web DVR scheduling to customers in 2009. And if www.comcast.com/mydvr is any indication, they’re nearly ready to pull the trigger. Not only does this “MyDVR” service appear to support Comcast’s stock (Motorola) DVR hardware, a variant may also launch for Comcast-issued TiVo units. I was tipped by Joe F. (thanks!), who found himself unable to link his account and reports that Comcast support couldn’t assist. So, it appears that the site isn’t quite ready for prime time. But it’s safe to say we’ve reached the point where one should expect the convenience of online scheduling as a standard DVR feature (see: Verizon FiOS TV, DirecTV, TiVo, DISH, AT&T, Moxi).

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sunday-night-football

The pro football season is nearly upon us. Although I’ve yet to research my fantasy draft strategy, the NFL marches on. They’ve announced free Sunday Night game web streaming, in conjunction with NBC and utilizing Silverlight. Additionally, the RedZone Channel will be inaugurated on both Comcast and DISH Network.

Sunday night streaming doesn’t do much for me – I like my football from the couch. And regardless of where I travel in the US, I assume they receive NBC. But the RedZone Channel appeals, bringing some of DirecTV’s formerly exclusive football goodness to other providers for a small fee. (The typical Sports packages seem to run 5 or 6 bucks a month.) Here’s an excerpt from the NFL’s marketing spiel, if you’re not familiar with this concept, ideal for those of us with self diagnosed ADD:

Every touchdown. Every game. Live in HD. NFL RedZone will jump from game to game to bring you key moments from around the league — live as they happen on the field in HD. That’s not all NFL RedZone delivers. See fantasy stats, near live and extended highlights and more.

Never thought I’d miss Comcast, but as a new resident of Northern Virginia I’ve inherited Cox Communications. Not only do they have difficulty supporting CableCARDs with tuning adapters, they haven’t yet struck a deal with the NFL to offer this channel. And speaking of television services, although TiVo isn’t offering a fantasy football widget this year it looks like Verizon FiOS TV is.

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A periodic roundup of relevant news… from our friends at Last100:

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First ‘powered by Chumby’ device to be a digital picture frame, Internet-connected TVs to follow
Chumby, along with an unnamed device maker, thinks it can help re-invent the digital picture frame category displaying content from photo sites Flickr and Photobucket, along with access to Facebook and Twitter social networks, and presenting Internet radio and weather forecasts.

Blockbuster VOD service to land on Motorola handsets sometime in the future
Future being the operative word here as we don’t yet know when or on what phones, although it’s likely that the service will utilize Blockbuster’s recent partnership with Sonic Solutions, owners of the video download store CinemaNow, whose technology is already compatible with a range of mobile devices.

Sony PlayStation video store coming to the UK, France, Germany and Spain this November
While Sony will get there in the end — the company was already playing catchup in the games console delivered online video space even in the U.S. — the hold up has likely been the usual issue of content licensing. Striking deals in one territory doesn’t guarantee speedy success in another.

VidZone, Sony PS3’s on-demand music video service, is a hit with… record labels
I was so underwhelmed with VidZone, the PlayStation 3’s on-demand music video service, that I couldn’t bring myself to review it. However, it seems that I’m in the minority, if the company behind VidZone is to be believed.

Download the complete Pirate Bay torrent index, if you dare
I personally wouldn’t go anywhere near this. Try justifying the complete Pirate Bay torrent index sitting on your hard drive — all 21 GB of it — and well I wish you good luck.

I have recently been experimenting with various cloud-based services. Among the best are EverNote, Google Apps Gmail with iMap, xmarks (formerly Foxmarks) and, now, Dropbox.

Dropbox works within my cloud-computing rules. Namely: (i) the service uses the cloud but my key files are never left only on the cloud – I am never left at Dropbox’s mercy; (ii) files are securely encrypted as they are synced between computers and as they reside on the Dropbox services; and  (iii)I am not locked into their service. I can leave it at any time.

After signing up, you download and install the Dropbox applet onto the computers you wish to sync. You tell it where you want the drop-box folder on each PC. From then on, anything you put into any of those folders, and any edit you make to any of those files, is instantaneously synced to the other systems.

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