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January 1, 2013! Happy New Year!

January 1st, 2013 — 9:07am

Happy New Year!

I’m still sick, believe it or not. Getting better every day, but very slowly.

This seems like as good a time as any to suggest some apps for your iPhone or iPad. (If you got one for Christmas, congratulations! You’ll love it.) I try a lot of apps, if they get good reviews and are free or only cost a buck, but very few are worth mentioning.

Here are some current favorites, with links to iTunes:

Spaceteam. Maybe it’s a little bit premature to call this a “current favorite” since it’s brand-new to me, but I installed it last night and found it to be extremely fun and totally different from anything I’ve ever played. It’s free. You need 2 to 4 players, each with his own i-device. Dan and I played a couple times and then Henry and I played together; we’ll probably try a three-player session today. I am ITCHING to play again so I hope my family wakes up soon :)

Ski Safari. Not your typical “go fast and collect coins” game! Give it a few plays and you will see its charm. I’m crazy about it!

Dan gave me a wonderful pressure-sensitive Pogo Connect stylus for Christmas because I love to draw on my iPad. My two favorite drawing apps are “Paper by FiftyThree” and “Sketch Club”.

Paper is simple and sleek. I like it for doodling and quick sketches when I don’t want to fiddle around with too many choices.

Sketch Club is a more traditional drawing app with layers, many tools, importing etc., plus a great online community with daily challenges and tons of helpful tutorials.

ÃœberDoodle — Spirograph-esque, and you can make your own gears and rings!

Letterpress — strategic word game. I LOVE it and have been playing for months. Start a game with me. I’m KaraShallenberg on Game Center.

CRUX crosswords. I’ve tried most of the crossword apps, and this is by far the best. I’ve been using it almost daily since April 2011. You can connect your NYTimes account and play the NYTimes puzzles in this lovely app, or choose from a variety of free puzzle sources.

That’s enough for now. Have fun!

7 comments » | Blog, Reviews

November 10, 2012: Letterpress

November 10th, 2012 — 4:07pm

Letterpress. If you have an i-device and are a fan of word games and/or strategy games, you’re got to try Letterpress. (Free download. If you want to play more than two games concurrently, you can pay $.99 for the full game via IAP.)

Gameplay is simple: You have a grid of 25 letter tiles. Your color is blue; your opponent’s is red. (There are other color themes but they are, er, too linuxy for me.) You take turns creating words using any of the letters on the board; letters don’t have to be adjacent. You get one point for every letter that you use. When you submit your word, the letter tiles you used are painted your color.

But wait, there’s more. A white (unused) letter gets you a point, and so does using a letter that is painted in your opponent’s color, and in both cases the letters are changed to your color. Using your opponent’s letter not only gives you a point, it also subtracts one from his score. You get nothing for using one of your “own” letters.

But! Surround one of your letters on all four sides with other letters of your color and it turns a darker blue. A darkened letter gives your opponent no points, if he uses it, and does not change to his color! It is critically important to capture as many letters as you can.

The game ends when every white letter has been used. High score wins. I often get carried away, play a really cool word that colors all the tiles, and lose because I have the lower score :)

Not only is the game extremely fun to play, but the interface is a joy. Clean and uncluttered, with tasteful animations and sound effects that beg you to get your fingers in there and start rearranging letters.

The only drawback is that the game relies on GameCenter. You match up with your opponent via GameCenter and there’s no “rematch” button, so after every game you have to go back to nasty GameCenter to start the next match. And when GameCenter is having ISSUES, Letterpress won’t load. Oh well. Nobody’s perfect.

Oh hey, here’s a good detailed review with screenshots and stuff:

If you try it, start a game with me! (KaraShallenberg on GameCenter)

Comment » | Blog, Reviews

Oct. 21: The British History Podcast

October 21st, 2012 — 9:34am

I found the most wonderful podcast recently: The British History Podcast. Here’s the iTunes link:

And here’s the website:

Click the “get involved” link to find the forum.

I don’t remember how I discovered it, but when I did, I started listening from the beginning and after only a few episodes I was hooked on Jamie’s intimate, casual, lively style, and bought a membership to support him — $5/month via Amazon and TOTALLY worth it, not only for the membership extras (a special section on the forum, show transcripts, and extra members-only podcast episodes) but for the good feeling of being able to help a guy make a living doing something he really loves. He’s an attorney by training, but when he became unemployed he started this history podcast because he loves British history. His enthusiasm is what makes this podcast so very special.

There came a point last year when Jamie either had to go back to work as an attorney (yuck!) or get enough subscriptions to allow him to continue to work on the podcast full-time. So glad he achieved his goal.

I should tell you that Jamie is not professorial in his delivery and he works from his own notes, not a script, so there’s a fun, improvisatory feeling to his recordings and the occasional stumble or mispronunciation. However, the content is, as far as I can tell, carefully-researched and accurate, and Jamie has a way of synthesizing and explaining that really clicks with my brain.

If you want a Teaching Company lecture series, go buy one. That’s not what this is. But if you want to hear a friendly fellow sharing his passion for history in a memorable, enjoyable way, give this podcast a try. And buy a membership if you love it as much as I do :)

New episodes come out on Mondays, barring unforseen circumstances. Last week we had a wonderful episode about Anglo-Saxon healthcare with a companion members-only episode about the development of western science. Great stuff! I can hardly wait for the new episode tomorrow.

Homeschoolers: This is a great resource. I would have let Henry listen to this podcast at any age and he likes it now at 17 even though he’s not quite as fanatical about British history as I am; however, there is the occasional mild curse word when Jamie gets all worked up about something and of course there are some unsavory historical events mentioned. Jamie doesn’t dwell on the gory details, but squeamish parents might wish to pre-screen.

4 comments » | Blog, Homeschooling, Reviews

fun day!

October 3rd, 2010 — 11:39pm

It’s Kathy’s birthday – Happy birthday, Kath!

This was a very nice day. I woke up a bit before 8, and did some recording right away before the world got noisy, and then Elli and I watched the last two episodes of Mad men Season three, and had a long chat about books and all sorts of things. Then when Dan got up he drove me to Common Threads in Encinitas, where I discovered that my Donated Award (for my best-of-division, prize-winning mittens) was $50 store credit! And the shop owners admired my mittens very much :)

I chose 8 skeins of Lang Jawoll sock yarn, which is very fine but hard-wearing yarn, 75% wool and 25% nylon/acrylic (and comes with a spool of matching nylon reinforcement thread for toes and heels). It’ll become three pairs of work-socks for Dan, and one lovely deep red pair for me.


And then I realized I was very hungry, and I saw Roxy across the street — so we had such a nice lunch. I had the Avocado Sandwich, which was lightly-toasted 7-grain bread with sprouts, tomato, red onion, and avocado. It must have been three inches thick, and so nice and fresh! It was exactly what I was wanting. And then I had a cone of Niederfrank’s ice cream.

After we got home, we went over to Chloe’s to hang out and play with the cat, and then eventually we all came back over here for Mad Men.

Oh! And I discovered a GREAT iPhone game! “Trainyard Express” is free, unique, polished, and really really fun. Give it a try! I love their web integration. It’s simple to upload your solutions to their website, and it’s fun to view the solutions of other users.
Here is my user page:
Give it a try!

Comment » | Blog, Reviews

More Star Trek

May 12th, 2009 — 10:55am

Sorry about writing another Star Trek-related post but I can’t stop thinking about how much gosh darn fun that movie was. Henry and I are hoping to see it again on Friday, and if Dan wants to see it on Saturday I’ll go again! Perhaps on the second viewing I’ll be able to avoid weeping at the opening sequence. Probably not :)

Forgot to mention that McCoy looked strangely familiar… someone said something yesterday about someone from LotR being in Star Trek and I suddenly put all the pieces together — he was Eomer! My god, he made a good McCoy.

James Lileks wrote an excellent review yesterday:

Some choice excerpts:

Chekov: Can we bring back Wesley Crusher and not make you hate him? Yes We Can! A very endearing take on a character who was, let’s admit, a Beatle-Commie. Or maybe a Monkee-Commie. Chekov was always the guy who waved his hands at what he saw on the console and couldn’t figure it out, and that was the end of it, keptin; this Chevok looks at the readouts and figures it out, his mind racing ahead of itself. (Note to starship designers: for GOD’S SAKE, figure out a way to transfer transporter control to the bridge. TRUST ME. It will come up again.)

Uhuru: Oh my. Ditch Ms. Nichol’s velvety star-stenographer routine, dress her up fine – these boots were made for establishing a subspace channel, and that’s not all they’ll do – and give her a hint of romance that really turned canon upside down and said HA HA to the purists. Loved her.

Bottom line: Loved it. Loved it, loved it. O I loved it….The opening was just a big shovel of chocolate for the fans – been a while since you saw something with NCC on the hull fire phasers and get hit with torpedoes and generally blow the hell up, eh? Here. On the house. And it’s emotional, too – thus was Odysseus born!

It wrapped up fast, which was welcome. I hate movies that drag the final cataclysm on and on, but when this was done, it was done. Then it was one final piece of chocolate for the fans – Pike, in a wheelchair! Yes! – before curtain call. All the characters in place, everyone stepping into the shades of their predecessors, staring into a bright new future that you can be damned sure will have a sequel, possibly going up against Iron Man 3 or maybe an X-Men Origins tale, but, really, Cyclops? Who the hell cares about him? Jerk.

Then the voice over; then the theme, and it’s like they emptied an entire can of Reddi-Whip on the entire cake. You’re ten again, and you can’t possibly be happier.

Oh yes, yes it was. Actually, it was like being 7, and watching Star Trek re-runs with my big brother in 1976, and then taking a walk down our dirt road and pretending we were an away party. (California foothills have the same terrain as most class-M planets, oddly enough.)

And it was like being 11 and planning my life so I could sit in front of our tiny B&W tv all weekend for a Star Trek marathon, watching every single episode through the snowy reception.

And it was like sitting with my little sister in front of the TV every afternoon, waiting for Star Trek to come on at 3:30, and hoping it wouldn’t be “The Enemy Within” again. (Why did it seem like they played “The Enemy Within” twice a week?)

One more thing: MINISKIRTS! No more creepy clingy stretch polyester bootcut jumpsuit monstrosities!


2 comments » | Blog, Reviews

Kung Fu and Star Trek!!!

May 10th, 2009 — 10:56am

Yesterday was Henry’s Kung Fu tournament! There are oh, six or eight branches of his school and the tournament includes everyone, so there are always hundreds of competitors. Henry was in the 13-and-up division this year. He did great and I could tell he was trying his very best. He’s improved so much over the last year or so, it’s amazing. No medals this year, but he was in a close competition for third place in sparring, and had to spar with his good friend for the medal. The friend won but was super-gracious about it, very sweet and encouraging. We were there from 9:30 in the morning tilI after 3, and then Henry went home with his dad for the weekend. I’m very proud of that boy!

Forgot good camera, so here’s a crappy iPhone shot. Henry’s there, somewhere. Go to the flickr page for a hint.


After I got home Dan and I ate tons of Mexican food and then lay around in a coma for a while, and then we went up to the movie theater to see if we could get in to the 5:15 showing of Star Trek. To our surprise there was plenty of parking and we were able to walk right in to a nearly empty theater and get our favorite seats! So that’s the time to see a wildly popular movie, I guess.

That theater has changed hands again and is now a Reading Theater, whatever that means. The commercials seemed better than average and less annoying than usual. They no longer play those stupid trivia questions, thank goodness. There was a pleasant enough car commercial where the car drove around in paint and made a big modern painting, there was a nice ad with a drummer kid to tell us that LG was helping put music back into schools, and there was one of those nice Honda Insight commercials where the people and cars keep appearing from behind each other.

The preview for the movie with Jack Black and Michael Cera made me laugh!

Ok, on to STAR TREK! I don’t want to give any spoilers here so I won’t say much, but I loved it and so did Dan. In my opinion The Original Series, as they call it, is the real Star Trek, and everything else that came after, Next Gen, Voyager, etc., is just… something else that’s kinda Star Trekky. I know most people will disagree, but there you go. Star Trek means Kirk and Spock and the gang, and unlikely coincidences and fistfights and crazy aliens with a grudge and adventure, without a lot of soul-searching or tedious alien mysticism. Yeah, Klingons, I’m talking to you.

Anyway, the new movie really felt like Star Trek, like a big bold exciting brand-new genuine Star Trek episode. The casting was great. Chris Pine made a believable Kirk. He didn’t imitate Shatner’s, um, Shatnerness, but there were just a few lines here and there which he delivered with the faintest Shatneresquitude that made me smile. Zachary Quinto was a wonderful Spock. I really found myself thinking of him as Spock, not “young Spock” or “new Spock” or whatever. Karl Urban as McCoy was very strong, and everyone else was just fine. Simon Pegg was a darling Scotty.

Sets, music, costuming — all great and deliciously Star Trekky. The Enterprise uniforms even seemed slightly ill-fitting. :)

It’s not perfect — there were some odd moments, and a definite “WTF?” when two crew members do something inexplicable on the transporter pad… but oh well, I can live with that.

Trying not to give anything away, here, but because someone fiddles with the past, some big things happen that are, hmm, things we know didn’t happen. Dan and I were both expecting them to fix the things by the end of the film, but they didn’t, and Dan pointed out that the filmmakers have very cleverly created a new version of reality in which they can, we hope, make more movies without having to worry about conflicting with Star Trek history and what “really happened” because the future has now been irrevocably altered. If you see what I mean. Time travel makes my head asplode.

All in all, an extremely enjoyable movie that I might even want to (*gasp*) go see AGAIN!

2 comments » | Blog, Reviews

iPhone app review: Flower Garden

April 27th, 2009 — 1:23pm

Flower Garden, $2.99 at the App Store

Developer website:

I’ve had my iPhone for about 6 weeks now, and I’m finally getting around to reviewing some software. There are a number of great apps that I use every day so it was a bit hard to choose which to review first, but Flower Garden is so pretty and fun that it wins the coveted first-iPhone-app-review-on-kayray’s-blog award!!

Flower Garden is a garden simulation app. It’s not the kind of thing you’ll play for an hour at a time, but you’ll find yourself checking your garden several times a day, especially when you unlock some of the more difficult-to-grow seeds. The graphics are very pretty and the outdoor sound effects, birdsong and a gentle breeze, are soothing. I feel happy every time I look at my Flower Garden.

My main Flower Garden page:


When you play for the first time you have twelve empty flowerpots and a small selection of seed packets. Tap a seed packet, tap the “plant” icon, and you’ll have a pot of seeds ready to care for. Water them as often as necessary to keep the slider in the green zone and your seeds will grow into lovely flowers. If you accidentally over-water and the slider goes into the yellow zone, the app plays a sad sound and your flowers droop a bit. Let them get too dry and the slider drops down into the red zone, the flowers droop even more, and the dirt looks dry. There will also be an alert icon on your main garden page to let you know you’d better water them. But don’t worry — your flowers won’t die! Just take better care of them and they’ll regain their health.

My seed packets, with some still remaining to unlock:


A packet of Sunflower seeds:


A pot of Tulips:


When you’ve got full-grown flowers you can cut them, assemble a pretty bouquet, and email it to someone special. Cut flowers go straight to the bouquet page. From there, you can remove any flowers that don’t suit the bouquet, rearrange them by shaking your phone, rotate horizontally with a finger-swipe, and even rotate them vertically with a two-finger swipe. You can zoom in and out and move the bouquet up and down. Choose from a small number of different-colored backgrounds; the developer says a color-picker is coming soon, which I’m happy about, since I need a mild yellow background my tulip bouquets. Tap the tag, which is draggable, and enter the recipient’s email address (or choose from your Contacts list) and a brief message. The email interface is perfect — you stay within the app instead of getting kicked out into your email program, and you’ll enter your own return address so your recipient knows it’s not spam. An emailed bouquet looks like this: Mail - Re: Flowers For You -

Over time you will unlock more and more seed packets. Eventually you will see a little padlock at the bottom of the seed packet page, which lets you enter an unlock code for super-special flowers. Try entering “snappytouch” or “theappera” or “theportablegamer” or “touchofgaming” or “iphonegamesnetwork” or “fingergaming” or “appcraver”, and let me know if you figure out any others. :) May 2011: Note: you no longer need to enter unlock codes. All of these flowers are in the Bonus Seed Pack.

Many thanks to Noel of SnappyTouch for this charming iPhone pastime, and thanks to Chris Hughes for recommending it to me!

Flower Garden on Facebook (check here for more unlock codes)

(By the way — any review you see here will most likely be positive. I’d rather write nice things about fun and useful iPhone apps than gripe about the bad ones.)

22 comments » | Blog, Reviews, Tech

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