Thursday, January 28, 2010

Will Boomers Like the New Apple iPAD?

Before I draw a conclusion about whether or not boomers will like the new Apple iPAD, let me tell you that I haven’t had a chance to play with the device, yet. However, all indications are that baby boomers will like it. The device was introduced Wednesday and if you missed the hoopla surrounding the release, then you don’t watch much news or read the newspaper. My local newspaper featured a story about it on the front page, and I live in New Jersey, not Silicon Valley!





At first glance, it seems that Apple got this mostly right. The device is much more than an e-book reader. It can be used to surf the web, view videos, play games etc. Yet it's easy and intuitive to use. It is also very thin and light weight, a feature boomers will love when they throw the device into their carry-on bag. And, yes, I think we will like reading on this device. The keyboard is the same virtual keyboard that comes with the iPhone, but bigger. The jury is still out as to whether boomers will enjoy the experience of typing on this keyboard.


The price may put some people off, but the entry level iPAD which lists for $499 is comparable in price to the Kindle DX.  The Kindle DX lists for $489. The Kindle is a dedicated book reader with wireless 3G communications bundled into the price. The iPAD is a multi-faceted device. The entry level device comes with WiFi (you can use it at hotspots and in your home if you have a wireless network) but not 3G. If you want 3G it will cost you a monthly fee, and you’ll have to upgrade to a pricier model. Models range in price up to a whopping $829.



You know through previous posts that I had some issues with the Kindle DX which I thought wasn’t easy to use at all, especially in an academic setting. On paper it looks as though iPAD developers took some of the criticisms to heart. In his announcement, Steve Jobs said that Apple is clearly “standing on the shoulders” of Amazon, and Apple does owe a debt of gratitude to Amazon for establishing this category of device.

One of my problems with the Kindle was ease of navigation. You couldn’t just easily flip through pages to go back to something you read earlier. If you are using the iPAD to read a book, you can flick through the pages (forward and back) using your finger and easily flip to the table of contents. Apparently, like the Kindle, you can change the size of the typeface, an important feature for boomers who want devices that are easy on our eyes.


This quote is from Apple: “The iBooks app is a great, new way to read and buy books. Just download the app for free from the App Store, and you’ll be able to buy everything from classics to bestsellers from the built-in iBookstore. Once you’ve bought a book, it’s displayed on your Bookshelf. To read it, all you have to do is tap on it and it opens up. The high-resolution, LED-backlit screen displays everything in sharp, rich, color, so it’s very easy to read, even in low light.” That last part is good for Boomers too!

Rob Pegoraro in his Fast Forward blog on the WashingtonPost.com says “The iBooks store won't come near the inventory of Amazon's Kindle Store, but the iPad's screen offers a level of detail impossible on the e-ink screens of the Kindle, Barnes and Noble's Nook and other e-readers. A copy of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's "True Compass" opened on a prototype iPad looked strikingly like a paper edition, featuring black-and-white and color photos, finely drawn text and no wait to turn an onscreen page."

One feature that Boomers like on the Kindle seems to be lacking on the iPAD. Kindle’s Whispersync technology keeps your books all on the same page, whether you are reading on your iPhone, Kindle, or PC. I didn’t see any mention of this feature in the material Apple sent out.

Publishers will like that the e-reader part of the iPAD uses books published in the e-pub format, which is an industry standard format. The Kindle uses a proprietary format to Amazon, and books downloaded to the Kindle can only be used on the Kindle or on Kindle Reader software.


Stay tuned for more information on the iPAD. One good thing about the device is that it will be available in Apple retail stores to look at a play with before you buy. You can’t do that with a Kindle.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dictate to your iPhone, Boomers --It really works

Have you tried programs that let you dictate to your computer? I think a lot of boomers have given up on these because they tried the earliest generation of software that just didn't work well. I've tried to use these programs from time to time over the last 15 years or so.  Most of the time, they just didn't work the way I expected them to. The user had to train the software to accept his or her voice, and that was a very time consuming process. Even when I spent the hours needed to train the software, the programs were spotty at best. I spent quite a few dollars on these software programs only to abandon them shortly after I bought them.


Now, I'm happy to report, a little FREE software application for the iPhone called Dragon Dictation has changed my mind. Yes, it isn't perfect. You do have to edit the finished product some. However, it is a really USEFUL program, and that's what you really want. Best of all, you don't have to spend any time at all training the software. It recognizes your voice, no matter who you are and what your accent.


A boomer friend of mine who is a professional SAT tutor says this app has saved her hours of time. She can now dictate emails to her students confirming appointments and answering questions, rather than worrying about searching for letters on a keyboard. When I tried it, I was simply amazed!


This program is perfect for baby boomers. We didn't grow up with texting so we're not used to using our thumbs to type. Some of us --especially the men --never elected to take typing in high school. Now, all the children in our junior high have to take "Keyboarding," which is a typing class on the computer.  Many boomers I know are reluctant users of keyboards, especially small ones. Here is a program that lets you by-pass the keyboard for the most part. As my son would say, "Sweet!"



Here is the very simple opening page of this app:





You tap the red bull's-eye and continue talking. When you tap the DONE button, the dictation will show up on your phone.





As you can see by the screen shots, the program doesn't get all the words in the sentence right, but it is very easy to edit.

Finally you have the option to copy the message onto your clipboard so you can paste it into another application, email the message, or text it.





I can imagine a number of different uses for this program: make your shopping list on the fly, complete a time sheet, dictate a text message to your kids, send yourself an email to remind you of something etc. I think this is an excellent tool for Boomers and I know I'll be using it.


Here are some other opinions of Dragon Dictation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Do you like Audio Books? Many Boomers do.

I'm not a big fan of audio books, but I used to be. When my kids were young, we'd put on classic books to entertain us during long car rides. Now I prefer shorter formats. In particular, I like to listen to NPR's Selected Shorts Podcasts. This PRI (Public Radio International) program features actors reading short stories, and I find it riveting.  I signed up for Selected Shorts Podcasts in the iTunes store and download these stories for free.




I have several baby boomer friends that use audio books while they commute to and from work. They'd be lost without them. Some of these friends check out audio book CDs from the library, but many get their books online and download them to an MP3 Player or iPhone.

Now many libraries offer an option, through a company called Overdrive, for patrons to "check out" and download audio books from their public library's web site. I'm sure many boomers who have grown away from using libraries were unaware of this new service.

An  article at Babyboomer-magazine.com in 2009 discusses why boomers like their audio books so much. The author, who isn't named, suggests audiobookstoreportal.com as a good place to go to find audio books. According to that website, once you pay for your book,  "you'll be taken to a page to download your new audio content. Once the files have been downloaded to your computer you can listen to them whenever you want, transfer them to a portable player (yes you can get your audio book to your iPod!), or burn them to CD to enjoy on a conventional home stereo or in-car audio system."
I decided to investigate Audiobookstoreportal.com's website to see how it works. The one thing I noticed right away was that audio books vary widely in price. Take a look at the website, and you'll see one book for $1.50 and another for $29.99. While you can download many of the books as MP3s directly to your computer and then load them onto your MP3 player, it appears that the way to get these audio books onto an iPOD is to download them to your computer, burn them to a CD, then upload the CD to iTunes. After all that, you can transfer the audio books to your iPhone. One advantage that Audiobookstoreportal.com has over its more famous competition Audible.com, is that the pricing structure is straight-forward. You pay the price listed, with no membership fee.


Audible.com is probably the best known website to look for and purchase audio books for download. It is similar to Audiobookportal.com in that users also have to download the items to their computers, and then transfer them to a CD for upload to iTunes. Audible also makes users download a software program to facilitate the processes. One of my objections to Audible is that the service uses a complicated system of payment. You are enrolled in their website for a price ($7.99 for 3 months with an introductory offer, and then $14.99/month). For that amount, you get one audio book a month and discounts if you want to buy more.  If you are sure you are going to listen to that many audio books, by all means use Audible! It'll save you some money. However, it could be a bad deal if you are just an occasional listener.


I also took a look at the iTunes store, to see what their audio book selection looked like. Here is a page from the iTunes store. These books are downloaded directly to your iTunes account and then to your iPOD or iPhone when you sync with the computer. They are usually expensive options that cost about the same amount as a hard back book.




Of course the public library is the least expensive way to give audio books a try. If you want to use your public library's Overdrive program, you may have to download some software from the library's website. After that, you will have access to your audio book for a predefined "lending period." You may prefer this if you are able to complete listening to books in a timely fashion. It certainly is the least expensive way to try out audio books!


So, fellow boomers, I'd like to know if you are listening to audio books and if you are, do you find them difficult to find, download or use? Please feel free to comment. Thanks.

 







Monday, January 18, 2010

The Controversy Over Technology on the Dashboard

I love my GPS and I know many other boomers who can't live without theirs. I've figured out how to put in the address I want to go to and how to turn it off when the voice gets too annoying. While my GPS system isn't accurate all of the time, it is usually reliable, and I do rely on it.

I also have a Bluetooth interface in my car that lets me dial my cell phone by saying "Call Randy's Phone" or by finding a contact in an imported phone book which appears on a screen on my dashboard. My car has trouble recognizing my voice commands sometimes, and then I turn to my imported phone book.  When I have to use the imported phone book, however, I pull over. I cannot select a name from many names while I am driving. It's just too distracting. Which brings me to the topic of this blog entry: the controversy over technology on the dashboard.

I've been reading all the news from both the Detroit Auto Show and the Consumer Electronics Show (which took place in early January) and especially the New York Times article that covered the pros and cons of putting more technology in a car's dashboard.

The debate seems to focus on the advantages of technology versus the danger of distracted driving. Another boomer, Fran Jones, put in her two cents on this matter on her blog Boomers and Beyond. Fran appears to be very much against this trend and for many good reasons! While she doesn't blame the makers of this equipment she says, "People, lacking the common sense to admit that hurtling around in a few tons of steel requires paying attention while you hurtle, are going to kill people with these new toys."

I was especially disturbed by the New York Times description of the Audi system, which lets you pull up a great deal of information as you drive. "Heading to Madison Square Garden for a basketball game? Pop down the touch pad, finger-scribble the word “Knicks” and get a Wikipedia entry on the arena, photos and reviews of nearby restaurants, and animations of the ways to get there," the article says.  I see how trying to read all this info while en route could be devastatingly distracting.

As far as I can tell, boomer drivers are just as guilty as all other drivers who drive with distractions. I still have friends who think it is OK to talk on a hand-held cell phone while driving, fiddle endlessly with their radios or eat in the car. However, I  don't think that many boomers would particularly want to Tweet (post messages on Twitter) or text, for example, while driving, just because it's not part of their culture. Yet at least one dashboard manufacturer is working on a way to let people Tweet using their voices while driving.

Unlike Fran, I think that the makers of devices for the dashboard and the car companies have a responsibility to make the technology they put into cars safe for ALL drivers. Manufacturers should be looking at the interfaces between drivers and their gadgets and make them as simple as possible. Here is one area where the needs of boomers intersect with the needs of the rest of the generations. We all want our cool technology, and we want to be able to work with it without swerving off the road or hurting someone else.

Ford seems to be getting the idea right. They previewed the My Ford Touch Connected Car at the Consumer Electronics Show and their Ford Sync technology which uses a better than average voice command system, consistently gets good reviews from car enthusiasts and technology geeks.

Ford's own research (if you can trust it) says that voice activated commands are less distracting than touch commands. Unfortunately, according to Jared Newman in PC World, there will be three tiers for the interface, so some car buyers will still get inferior, and more distracting, technology.

Voice activation, however, doesn't address one of the problems for many of us boomers: how to remember all the commands we should use to make this technology work. Will the voice activated systems be flexible enough for our boomer memories? This remains to be seen.
 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Part 2 --Online Community Gaming for Boomers--My first Guest Blogger Barbara Katz

Here is Part II of Barbara Katz's step-by step-directions about how to play games like Scrabble with family and friends. She picks up her discussion by telling you how to sign on at pogo.com. 


How do I begin?


1. First, as with all sites, go via the web to www.pogo.com to the site portal. 




http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_eMVuPP1In9k/S04wnPiOfkI/AAAAAAAAC2U/z0x_Uc2WZ-A/s1600-h/pogo screenshot1.JPG




You then register at the top of the screen for free. You do not have to become a member to play many, many games. (Membership, called Club Pogo, is something you can read about and consider at a later date. Its main attractions are the obliteration of annoying pop-up ads during games, double cash prizes, an even greater selection of games, and private club rooms. While I have never won a prize, there's always the hope of next time!)




2. Click on "Register" at the top of the screen. (The entire procedure is basic to most sites.)
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3. A new screen will prompt you to fill in the following:
Your Gamer ID: Pick an anonymous "game-name” that may say something (but not too much) about you (e.g. dancingqueen402). If the name you want is already “taken” just change it slightly or come up with another that you think is original enough to be available. Remember, millions of people have chosen names before you!
Proceed with the rest of the fields on the registration page to:
Create a password and fill out a few common details.
Take a moment to read the Terms and conditions, and agree to abide. Click continue.
4. You’re done! Next, you will receive the following message onscreen:




Hi, (e.g. dancingqueen402)!
You’re signed up and ready to play games on Pogo.com™. We’ve even given you 10,000 tokens to help you get started!
When you're done exploring the site, be sure to check out these great Pogo.com games:
  • Poppit!™
  • First Class Solitaire
  • YAHTZEE Party
Have fun! And be sure to tell your friends!





There you go! You are a gamer! Playtime has begun!
Imagine going into a casino resort area. First you pick which resort hotel, then which game room, then which table, then which seat. Online gaming is quite similar.
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To get started looking around at your new playrooms, click “Start Playing” (as above). Always start at the top of the screen and look around. You will be guided to all types of free games, as well as games by type (card, board, puzzle, word, sports, arcade, etc). Just play around and check out all the drop-down menus to see what you'd like to play.
Try a Simple Start
I advise keeping it simple at first and focus on yourself, even though you may be joining a room with others inside. It is easier to grasp a little solitary play before trying to understand the whole site and explain it all to your friends and family with whom you'd like to play eventually. 
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_eMVuPP1In9k/S040UBRergI/AAAAAAAAC2o/mb7sfaDyuzo/s1600-h/pogo screenshot4.JPG
Why not pick out a solitaire card game with which you are already familiar, just for practice? You will also see that you can choose to play within a set of rooms by your age range, via tabs above the lists of rooms for each particular game. The advantage: this usually provides age-appropriate game chat, which I have learned to appreciate! Pick a room that has some people in it, so that you can see how game-side chat works.
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_eMVuPP1In9k/S040yKj-YvI/AAAAAAAAC2s/DkgY0afT31E/s1600-h/pogo screenshot5.JPG
To review:
After you pick the game title, pick the age range, then click on a room. (In some games, you then pick a seat or table. Don’t worry about that right now.) It is that simple. The room will open up and the game board will be visible. (As with other sites, if you have a pop-up blocker you may have to hold down the control and shift keys to disable your pop-up blocker and allow the game board to open. Otherwise the game takes a few seconds to begin.)  When your board appears, you will see your game-name (ID) on the right in a column of game-names, signifying the others in the room with you.
Fear not, there are instructions and help screens throughout the site and in each individual game.
Go ahead- play!
You can check out the rules and change the skill level. Start enjoying yourself in your chosen first game. Was that easy or what?
Chat:
If you want to, while you play, you can chat with other game players in the same room. Some may choose to chat, others may not. Give chat a try. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years just chatting here and there in the rooms. And if you have the desire, sometimes you have the perverse pleasure of being a fly on the wall viewing some interesting conversations without adding to them- LOL! 



If at any time another player is annoying (called a flamer, when done on purpose), you can block him without stopping the rest of your chat. There is no need to confront him, which is often what a flamer is looking for!



Return to Play
You have now played a game you like. You can keep playing, or go back to the home page and try other games, or sign off until next time. You can come back anytime day or night, to the same room in the same game, or any other if you'd like. Sometimes a room fills up, particularly if a group of “friends” plays together all the time. Just choose another room. When you are done, just sign off.




A Bit More Advanced (i.e. Things to Deal with Later)




Your Optional Profile and Statistics
As described above, on the right side of the game board, you’ll see faces and “game-names.” See yours there? Right click on it and you can create a profile about yourself, regarding only basic personal details of your real life. I caution you to skip it or keep it simple, as this is a public domain and anonymity goes a long way towards protecting your privacy. When you right click, you’ll also see an option to check you game statistics. Since you don’t have any yet before playing, do that sometime in the future.




Making friends
If you plan to play with friends and family, add their game-names to your friends list. You’ll see a tab on the home page for it. After chatting up someone new for a day, a week, or longer that you would like to play or chat with again, right click on that person’s name while playing and add them to your friends list. Etiquette requires that you ask them first. Usually it will be mutual and you will both set up the “friendship.” Next time you come into the room, the chat section will tell you in red if your friend is there already! There is also a menu on the friends tab to see where your friends are anytime you come online, if they are at play. It’s a great way to find a game partner. 



Setting up Favorite Games
On your homepage it's easy to indicate the games that become your favorites. There’s a tab that says edit favorites. It makes it easy to return to frequently played games again when you start your next session. 


Finally, Playing with friends and family

 
You can tell anyone you know what game you are going to play, when, and in what age-range and room, and they can join you if there is space available. That holds true for games without small tables. There is usually space for dozens of people, so your whole family and all your friends could even get together at once! Just send them an IM or email with the details. Those who know your player ID can just check the Friends List to find you. 




Setting up Scrabble to play with friends and family only!




Scrabble is an example of a game that only allows a certain number of seats at a table (4) and works a bit differently from other games. Let’s say you feel ready to go play Scrabble with members of the family. Let them know in advance so that you can schedule a game. Forward them this blog for good measure.


Once again, choose game, age range, room, but instead of the game appearing here, you'll find and option for tables. You'll need to find an empty available table and the easiest way to do that is to click to arrange the tables by availability. Once you find an available table, click on PLAY.  You will then be asked to set up preferences for your table. Remember to select "PRIVATE" so you can allow only your friends or family to join when they come online. You can set up all kinds of parameters for game play in a pop-up screen. You might choose to play with or without hints or dictionary, longer or shorter turn length, etc. These options can be changed for future games if your table rules need adjusting.




It's time to recontact the other members of your party, to tell them the game (Scrabble), the age range, the room number or name (Temporary Room 143 or Disabled Angels, for example) and table number. There is one more crucial piece of information to pass along for shared, planned game play: a password.  The person initiating the game sets it. The password will need to be input by each player trying to sit down at the table or they will not be able to get in the game. This keeps others from joining your game. Include all this information in your text, email, IM or actually call your family to begin your game in few minutes. Have fun! There is always lots of online help from both pogo and other players, so no worries!



There's much more, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy to find out about playing more games, playing against computers, for badges, league play, special events, and more about membership. The information here should be enough to get you started and well on your way. Have a great time and I'll see you on pogo! I can’t wait to share the fun!
Barbara R. Katz


Barbara R. Katz spent decades of her career consulting with businesses in computer training, communication technology, and business services.  Previously a writer in the publishing industry and for newsletters and special publications, she spends a great deal of time on various types of websites aside from gaming, including sales and marketing, research and social networking.





Monday, January 11, 2010

Online Community Gaming for Boomers--My first Guest Blogger Barbara Katz--Part One

I'm back from vacation, rested and relaxed, and I'm eager to begin writing this blog again.

This holiday season I received an email from a boomer family member, Barbara Katz, who said that she played Scrabble online with her family every week. I was intrigued, since this is an area of Boomer life I hadn't considered. Could online gaming enhance Boomers' lives? She thought so! So I asked her to write a blog entry for me about how to use the online site she favors, Pogo.com. I had gone to the site and was very confused by it. Barbara agreed to make it simple for me and for other Boomers to understand.

Here is Part One of her guest blog and her biography.

Barbara R. Katz spent decades of her career consulting with businesses in computer training, communication technology, and business services.  A writer for newsletters and special publications, she spends a great deal of time on various types of websites aside from gaming, including marketing, research and social networking.


How Boomers Resurrect Family and Friend Game Play with a FREE New Social Network Made Just for Fun!


Our whole family will play Scrabble together next Sunday night. The interesting thing is that some of us will be in different states. Mom is in PA; I'm in South Jersey; my brother is in Florida, and my daughter is in Mays Landing, NJ. But Sunday, we have a date, a virtual location and the game is on!


I remember a simpler time when a radio, a television and a phone were the only technology in the house. Back then, we played board games and cards at home with our family and friends. That was entertainment and we loved it. There was always something to play and usually someone to play with. Our games gave us something active to do together as we entertained ourselves in our homes after school, work, homework, chores, and a home-cooked meal eaten as a family were completed. That sounds pretty much like ancient times to me now.



As we Boomers began our own families, we shared these games with our own children. Well, for a while, anyway. Soon, everyone headed in different directions as their schedules got busier. At about the same time, the personal computer entered the home. We each vied for time using the shared PC until each member of the family "needed” their own computer for work, study, play and communication. Suddenly, there was no gathering around the dinner table or card table to share in anything together on so many nights. 



We were each alone in our own worlds. Isolation grew and relationships grew more distant. In-person communication dwindled, as did shared activities.We were too busy for fun.



Now the tide is turning to play together again-because of the PC!



Today, there are great, easy ways to engage in playtime together, even if we are in different places and life stages. We can now take those personal computers and turn things around. You can have family game time and friend game time no matter where your family and friends live.

There is a whole new companionable FUN world a few keystrokes away; a world of online games, where you can chat with your family and friends, right in the game room! You can once again be actively involved in play and talk together. It’s wonderful and I’ll bet you are going to love it!


Dealing with Isolation Just Got a Whole Lot Easier


Oftentimes, isolation is a problem in our world as we age and our households shrink. When your family and friends (or YOU) have moved away or are not available on the same schedule, you can also play games safely with strangers. You can maintain anonymity, have fun, and even make new friends on-line, playing together whenever you choose.


Also, when you want time for some private solace, and downtime is what you crave, you can also play solitaire (or many other games).





Does any of this sound good to you?





It is easy to do all this, and here is the road map. 



I’ve posed some questions below to help you get started.





Where do I go? There are many online game sites. My favorite place is in the land of pogo. An experienced game site, pogo has so many games to play and ways in which to do so. There are always tens-to-hundreds of thousands of people worldwide playing on pogo.com at any given time! Imagine that if you can! Surely, you will always be able to find someone with whom to chat and play. And if you can’t, you can play against the pogo computer!



As your guest blogger this week, a pogo "regular" and a member who dates back several years with the site, I'll give you the KISS (keep it simple s-----) basics to enter and traverse the site. Don’t be daunted. You’ll be at play and having fun in no time. And while you are having fun, you can also win points, cash, and prizes. How cool is that?



"Stay tuned" for Part II of Barbara's Guest Blog! She'll give you step by step instructions about how to use Pogo's web site and will demystify playing games online.