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Your Digital Kids

The Truth About 3D TV

Soon, you might be sitting down in front of a 3D movie that flashes a warning about the known risks involved in watching. For now, what we don’t know about watching movies and TV shows in 3D could fill a 2D book!

This week, I spent some fun time with Panasonic’s new line of 3D TVs. Resplendent in its 3D glory was the 50- and 55-inch VIERA VT25 Full HD 3D Plasma. It was a crowd pleaser, but it also made me all too aware about how little we know about optimal 3D viewing. Start asking a few questions about the effect of 3D viewing on our bodies and brains, and you discover how little anyone knows—especially when it concerns the bodies and brains belonging to children. Read more »

Look Ma! No Controller: Microsoft’s Natal Genius

Natal uses "you" as an input device.

Natal uses "you" as an input device.

You’ve probably heard about Project Natal by now. It’s Microsoft’s “secret” project that lets you use your body as the input device for the Xbox Live. No controllers, no wires, no headgear or gloves. If you liked using Nintendo Wii’s controller to play games you’ll love the freedom and increased capability of using your body.

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Samsung’s New Netbook: Made With Sloppy Travelers in Mind

No offense, sloppy travelers. I’m one, too. That’s why I’m particularly enamored of Samsung’s latest netbook, the NB30 (available on Amazon and other online outlets like Tiger Direct). Without sacrificing style, it’s ruggedized to protect against life’s little goofs: spills, drops, and smacks.

Samsung NB30

Samsung NB30

It’s not hard to notice the grooved hard plastic case that can survive a day in a woman’s handbag without being keyed or scratched. There’s a fall sensor (better known to mobile apps users as an accelerometer) that moves the heads away from the hard disk, making recovery from a drop (up to 30 inches) survivable. A lightweight keyboard seal lets the netbook take spills and drips in stride.

The operative word is lightweight ruggedness. This is not a netbook to take with you to the coal mines but, for life’s little coal mines, starting at $370, it’s a great second machine in the household or travel companion for slobs like me. Good video review from Laptop Magazine.

The Soul of the New Machines: Apple, Google, and Blackberry RIM

Like many of you, I’m struggling with my next smartphone move (one look at my phone would have you roaring with laughter about my indecision).  After dissecting feature by feature, I go into a phone feature haze.  So, instead, I decided to “grok” the souls of each machine.

From my perch I see Blackberry’s

First Generation SmartPhone Grows OOOOLLLLDD

First Generation Smartphone Grows OOOOLLLLDD

interest waning; its major strengths are pushed email and a wide variety of phones with keyboards.  If you’d rather type than touch it’s the way to go.

Apple’s iPhone has matured as a fabulous media/entertainment device.  Apple’s own website touts iTunes, HD video capabilities, and millions of apps on its own list of accomplishments.  Yes, it also searches the Internet and well, but… Read more »

Why Google Needs a Student Version

Google needs to have a student version of its popular search software.  It’s not because of pornography. It’s not because of meeting weirdos online.  It’s simply a matter of being able to concentrate on things that kids need to concentrate on without any distractions.

The classic example is Ethan Allen.  Enter the term into Search and you’re out furniture shopping.


But all kids really want to know about Ethan Allen is that he was some great Revolutionary War figure from Vermont.

Wading through a cluster of furniture ads is confusing and takes away from the task at hand.  Other examples: Long John Silver, Madagascar (the movie or the place?)

If Google doesn’t want to create a student version they could simply make it one of the options–like Images, News, or Buzz.  A Student option would tailor searches more to academic terms and less towards advertising.

When the homework’s done you can just click back to regular ‘ole commercially funded Google.  School and homework should be given the importance of having a specific search engine optimized for learning not consuming.

Whaddaya say Goggle?  Introduce a study mode or run the risk of slim pickings for the next generation’s workforce.


Should Google Be Doing More to Keep Us Safe?

I don’t know about you, but from my vantage point the signs of some virus/malware/bad guy troubles are everywhere. The first whiff came from a note sent by Avast!, a free (for basic protection) anti-virus program with a large user base.

The company cautioned that malware gangs have become adept users of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO is the science/art of trying to get certain listings to appear higher up on search results pages than others.  Since most people tend to click on one of the top of the list search terms, the higher your ranking on the page, the more likely it is you’ll be discovered.  Quicker discovery leads to increased traffic to your page. Read more »

Toy Fair Where Grownups Get to Play First

Toy Fair, an industry trade show in NYC this week, is one of my favorite annual visits, because it’s a chance to be a big kid in a candy shop full of toys that the public has not yet seen.

This year’s show feels a little recession strapped in that the toy manufacturers are packing volumes of value into their packages and not designing big expensive toys.

There was a time when plush animals costing thousands were plentiful on the floor.  Today’s show was a bit more austere but amazingly creative, which goes to show you that having less can sometimes be more.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Lego: Lego introduced a new breed of  board games at Toy Fair. Your job is to build the game out of Legos (and decide the rules of engagement) before you play.  It’s a brilliant idea–a twist on the family board game, capturing the love of Legos. What a mashup!  The digerati are awaiting Lego Universe, the company’s huge online world. Most of the games, like Pyramid (pictured here), are priced between $10 and $20.  At the high end, Creationary costs $24. leog-pyramid1

Mattel: Mattel’s star of the show was a dog collar aptly named Puppy Tweets. Once the collar is placed on the pup, he can send a tweet (or is it a woof directly to Twitter).  The USB collar uses Bluetooth to communicate with Twitter so proximity is important. For $30 it’s pure unadulterated fun–a mashup of pets/gadgets and social media. You can follow your dog and have them make other doggie friends on Twitter. puppy-tweets

E-readers: I wondered when the first e-readers for kids would appear and they have. Systems like Leapfrog’s Tag Reader have been serving the function of e-readers for a long time. Fisher Price announced a super-duper 5-in-1 product called the iXL. It’s a 3- to 6-year-old’s rendering of My First iPod, combining a photo album, e-reader, notebook, game machine, and music player into one crash-proof device.  Price: $80.


TRAKR: One much buzzed about fave on the show floor was Wild Planet’s new Sky Video TRAKR.  At the upper end of the price range ($129), this packed-with-technology gizmo is a toy that looks like a tank/robot.  You control it with a gameplayer-like remote control that has a small LCD VGA-quality screen, joystick, and buttons.  Using simple downloadable programs or even creating your own programs, the TRAKR transmits color video and audio and data.  It can memorize a path to your kitchen or be trained to scare the pants of your mom when she enters your room.  It’ll even have night vision just to make things interesting.

Talkatoo: Of course some of the coolest products are found in the recesses of the Javits Center, usually start-up companies with some very passionate owners.  For instance, there’s talkatoo–a small, colorful pendant that allows for a 30-second voice recording.   For $16 bucks, you can carry your kids’ voices everywhere with you.

TV Hat: Now here’s one that’ll have you laughing and shaking your head in amazement. But no one will be able to see you because you’ll be under the TV Hat.  This sub-$30 hat (or visor) has a tiny pouch for you to insert your iPhone or other video player. Underneath the hood, a prism brings the image into focus and built-in earphones create your own private studio.  As long as you’re comfortable looking like a cross between a Klu-Klux Klan’er and a HAZMAT worker, you will fall in love with the TV Hat–a poor man’s solution to TV glasses.  (Imagine each kid in your car wearing tvhat-1these in the back seat! You might get pulled over for kidnapping!)  Of course it made the worst of show list over at, but it’ll either be the next pet rock or not.

Geocaching: For the family that likes finding its way together, GeoMates Jr. from Apisshere is an entry-level $70 GPS.  It’s filled with 25,000 geocache locations from all over the country. Geocaches are markers or hidden boxes or anything you want that you place somewhere and mark its coordinates on a GPS map.

My Ami: Finally there’s My Ami–created by a mom after giving her kid an iPod and watching it tossed from the shopping cart one too many times. My Ami is a bear that conveniently holds the iPod or iTouch securely and out of harm’s way.  There’s the suction cup version for strollers or car seats and the clamp-on for shopping carts. Advocates of less screen-time for little ones will go apoplectic over this one, but hey, for many moms, it’s whatever it takes to get you through the day.

New Computer Engineer Barbie Gives New Meaning to Geek Chic

She wears a shirtdress decorated with zeros and ones over a pair of tight, shiny black pants. She’s got a Bluetooth headset in her ear, those smart-girl looking glasses, and a pretty pink laptop.

She’s Computer Engineer Barbie and she sprang to life via the popular vote of consumers all over the world. They voted on what Barbie’s next career should be for the “I Can” Barbie Series.

Never mind that’s career  #125 on the Barbie chart.  But, to add to Barbie’s cred, Mattel worked with the Society of Woman Engineers and the National Academy of Engineers to make sure their creation was emblematic. (Easy to imagine a bunch of female engineers dressing up Barbie isn’t it?)

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Facebook: The Six-Year-Old With a Messy Room

Facebook turned six this week and so did my relationship with it.  Initially, at its creation, I was a voyeur on my kids’ sites because I didn’t have the requisite college .edu address to access to the site.

Soon after, when it expanded to include high school students, it dropped the .edu address requirement. It wasn’t too hard for me to backdate my life and get myself a high school account. Today, everyone over 13 can have a Facebook account.

But, as the constituency grew, so did the capabilities and complexities.

Here’s an original Facebook page from 2004.  Notice the pervasive college feel.


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Tech’s Early Zealots Are Singing a Different Tune: Has Age Made Them Wiser or Just Older?

Maybe you haven’t noticed that we’ve become the nation with the collective attention span of a tsetse fly. Or that we’re a nation utterly convinced that the more things you can do at the same time the more gifted you are.

The signs of the impending wreckage are everywhere. In London, they’ve padded certain phone poles to stop overly focused texters from walking into them. In the U.S., approximately 40% of automobile accidents (one occurs every 13 seconds) are based on inattentiveness, with cellphone distractions being the primary cause. Facebook makes it way too easy to fritter away the day trading repartees with kindergarten buddies, leaving you wondering where the day went. Our kids are more comfortable texting it than saying it. The latest study from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds our kids spend more than 50 hours of screen time each week. Not 50 serial hours though; they just multitask screen time better than the rest of us. (The homework/iPod/Facebook/texting/TV combo is fave.) Read more »