published Friday, July 8th, 2011

The strip: News and notes for guys

THINGS I WISH MY KIDS WOULD ASK ME

By Adam Dachis

Lifehacker.com

(MCT)

StudyBlue is a neat webapp that lets you create digital flash cards directly from notes you take in class or anywhere else. You can also take the cards you create just about anywhere with mobile apps for iPhone and Android.

StudyBlue (http://www.studyblue.com/) is free, but it seems you have to go to school to use it. If your college hasn’t been added to their list of schools you’ll have to wait a bit for it to be approved. This seems to be to your benefit because StudyBlue lets you add specific classes, but it’s kind of annoying as you have to wait a day if your school isn’t on the list. Nonetheless, once you’re in you can start taking notes and making flash cards from those notes. If you’re an Evernote user, StudyBlue now integrates with Evernote so you can keep your notes there and just sync them when you’re ready to make your flash cards. StudyBlue also tracks correct and incorrect answers when you’re studying with your cards to help you better learn the stuff you don’t know.

If you’re studying for finals and need some help you can take anywhere, StudyBlue is a great (and free) option.



By Billy O’Keefe

McClatchy Newspapers

“Battleheart”

For: iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad (universal app)

From: Mika Mobile

iTunes Store rating: 9+ (infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence)

Price: $3

As games that blend genres and take advantage of platform strengths go, it rarely gets better than this. On paper, “Battleheart” reads like a role-playing game: You assemble a party of characters with different strengths, upgrade those strengths by accruing experience and gold in battle, and use that gold to buy, sell and upgrade weapons, armor and other items with special attributes. But where most RPGs lean heavily on story, “Battleheart” all but skips it. Instead, the battles — which the game distributes across selectable levels almost like an arcade game — are the end as well as the means. That’s fine, too, because where most RPGs use a battle system that’s turn-based and menu-driven, “Battleheart” opts instead for a frantic, hands-on system that plays like a real-time strategy game on caffeine. Players control up to four characters at once, and commanding them is as simple as drawing a path for them, pointing them at specific enemies to attack, and occasionally tapping an icon to activate a spell. The simple controls — which nicely complement the game’s clean, ultra-cartoony look — prove a perfect fit once “Battleheart’s” introductory levels quickly give way to some seriously chaotic skirmishes. Things get crowded to a fault sometimes, especially on the smaller iPhone screen, but it’s an acceptable side effect of “Battleheart’s” refusal to compromise its thirst for chaos.



Download of the day: HazeOver fades inactive windows so you can focus on the task at hand

By Whitson Gordon

Lifehacker.com

Mac OS X: If you have a billion windows open right now, all vying for your attention, HazeOver will help you stay focused by dimming them, helping you focus only on the active window.

While it isn’t for everyone, being able to focus solely on the frontmost window can be a nice productivity helper. All the other windows, no matter how much they are crying for you to visit them, just seem a little less important when they’re faded out. You can choose how dim background windows become with HazeOver, and even enable it and disable it with a quick checkbox. We’d love it if it had a few more features—like the ability to ignore certain programs—but overall, it works rather well, and the fading animation is some nice eye candy to boot.

If you’d rather not have an app fade your windows automatically, previously mentioned Afloat will let you manually change a window’s transparency that you don’t want calling attention to itself. And, of course, if you’re a Windows user, you can do something similar with a simple AutoHotkey script.

HazeOver is a $0.99 download for Mac OS X from the Mac App Store.



App of the week: The Do it (Tomorrow) app (Android and iOS)

By Debra D. Bass

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

(MCT)

The Do it (Tomorrow) app adds whimsy to the traditional do-what-you-should-have-done-yesterday type lists. It doesn’t necessarily condone or celebrate procrastinating, but it doesn’t make you feel guilty about it. The simple, attractive app has only two calendar dates: today and tomorrow (the actual dates are also shown). You can enter a task onto the calendar of either day. Type it in, and the app renders it in a legible script. It even makes the sound effect of a writer scribbling on paper. You cross things off your list by poking it with your finger to either draw a line through it or delete it immediately. You can transfer things from today to tomorrow or vice versa with one finger stroke. And whatever you don’t finish today, guess what, it’s automatically on the list for tomorrow. No pressure, no worry, no fuss. It’s the way a to-do list should be done. There are two versions for iPhone. The free version is the same as the $1.99 version, except that the paid version will sync with your online e-mail calendar and there are advanced editing options.

With this free app for iPhones and Android devices, you can scan product barcodes to find the best price on everything from handbags to TVs to wines, at local retailers and on the web. You can also find coupons and shipping deals. Once you find the best deal, you can buy it online or get driving directions to the store.



downloadable game of week

By Billy O’Keefe

McClatchy-Tribune

(MCT)

“Zombie Smash HD”

For: iPad

From: Gamedoctors

iTunes Store Rating: 9+ (infrequent/mild profanity or crude humor, infrequent/mild horror/fear themes, infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence)

———

To look at a screenshot of “Zombie Smash HD” might be to presume it’s yet another tower defense game in which you must defend your house against yet another onslaught of zombies. But “Smash” spares itself from the rehash tag by letting you go very literally hands on with that defense. As zombies encroach on the house, you can use your fingers to pick them up, lob them backward, fling them across the screen and, true to the title, smash them into the ground. Various weapons and pickups — construction wrecking balls, meteor showers, a coach’s whistle that stops everyone in their tracks — are available for a temporary assist, but to succeed at “Smash” is to be quick with the hands and master the art of using multiple fingers to fling multiple zombies simultaneously. In the later stages, it’s far more an action than strategy game. “Smash” includes a 31-day campaign mode, a shorter bonus campaign with remixed rules, an endless mode and a sandbox mode, and it dangles Game Center leaderboards and achievements for extra motivation. But it’s the colorful cartoony presentation that really makes the whole thing sing. Gamedoctors itself describes “Smash” as a survival comedy game, and between the goofy zombie designs and the slapstick that erupts when pickups and your fingers work in tandem, it’s an apt description.



By Mark W. Smith

Detroit Free Press

App of the week: ReelDirector for video editing

By Mark W. Smith

Detroit Free Press

(MCT)

App: ReelDirector

Cost: $1.99

System: Apple iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

What it does: This app allows users to edit video on the fly and upload it directly to sites like YouTube. Clips can be spliced together with transitions and audio and text can be added over the top of the project. Videos can also be e-mailed once complete.



Download of the day: Switch is a smart multi-user browser for iPads

By Kevin Purdy

Lifehacker.com

(MCT)

iPad only: The iPad is a device destined to be handed over to friends and passed among family members, but there are no user accounts or variable browser settings. Enter Switch, a clever browser that allows user accounts and anonymous guest browsing. At its core, Switch sets up password-protected user accounts for a browser that show up whenever Switch is started up, or when returning from a screen lock. That alone makes it worth the price for many, but Switch has a few other tricks up its sleeve. Most helpful to iPad owners, who have a seeming obligation to show the device to their tablet-less friends, is a guest mode that doesn’t mess with settings and wipes away history, cookies and passwords whenever the guest is done. Switch also offers multiple logins and passwords for individual sites, so those with multiple Twitter accounts, commenter logins or other site credentials can switch between them at will. Switch is $4.99 in the iTunes Market, and is for iPads only. If you’re far from the only one who touches their own iPad every week, it seems like a must-buy.



This week’s site: Master Lock Vault (www.masterlockvault.com)

By Michelle Chan

McClatchy-Tribune

(MCT)

The age of information tempts us to reveal everything on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, but there are some things we all want to keep private. Those things are usually passwords. Master Lock Vault is a free application that can be used on your computer and smartphone. It stores passwords in an organized way so that you can access all the information easily, but securely. Users can quickly create their login and password and can even set up a personal image to use in addition to their password and security question. The application is easy to use and navigate. Master Lock Vault uses the highest level of website security available (a 256-bit encrypted connection) and can be easily added to your phone by visiting www.masterlockvault.com.



Doc translator

By Ronnie Gill

Newsday

If you receive a document you can’t open because you don’t have the software it was created with, here’s a website that will convert it for you or where you can upload documents and e-mail, Tweet or send Facebook links to others to open them.

1 Go to docdroid.net. In the browse window, search for the document that you want to convert or wish to send. Supported formats include PDF, DOCX, DOC, ODT, PAGES, RTF, OTT, XLS, XLSX, TXT, PPT, PPTX and ODP formats.

2 Once your document is uploaded, you can click the View button to see it, set a password for viewing and downloading and have an e-mail sent to yourself that will allow you to modify or delete your document.

3 Use the eMail, Tweet or Facebook buttons to share your document. Multiple file upload is available. If you don’t delete the document yourself, it will be automatically deleted after 60 days without views.



App of the week: Good Housekeepinghome (iOS)

By Amy Bertrand

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

(MCT)

Good HousekeepingHome is a free app has lots to love. It’s divided into four easy searches: stain busters, do-it-all cleaning, home decor gallery and news and tips. All are valuable, but my favorite is the home decor gallery, where you could spend hours looking at photos of amazing bathrooms, dining rooms, outdoor spaces and more, all with a touch of a finger. And the app includes a fully searchable and browsable directory of the more than 5,000 products that have earned the Good Housekeeping Seal and the Green Good Housekeeping Seal. Available in the iTunes app store.



App review: Sign Me Out helps you track unauthorized access to your Gmail and Facebook accounts

By Adam Dachis

Lifehacker.com

(MCT)

Sign Me Out is a helpful iOS app that’ll let you remotely check up on your Gmail and Facebook accounts to see if you’re signed in from any other locations. If you are, you can click a big red sign me out button to disconnect a potentially unauthorized user.

Any account you add to Sign Me Out will give you a count of any activity you might want to be aware of. Tapping an account will bring up more information and allow you to sign out anyone currently logged in to that account by simply pushing a button.

Yes, you can do this in the browser, but the point of Sign Me Out is that you can do it quickly and easily from wherever you are.

If you buy the $1 full version of the app, you can add is many accounts as you want. If you just want to give it a try or only need to use one account, the free lite version will work just fine for you. Both are available right now in the iTunes App Store.

Sign Me Out has a lite version that is free, and a $1 cost for the full version, at http://itunes.apple.com/pk/app/sign-me-out-lite/id405861369?mt8



Newsday

(MCT)

What happens when you want a digital book only available in a file type your e-book reader doesn’t understand? Here’s a website where you can convert files to other popular e-book formats for free without downloading any software.

  1. Go to online-convert.com. This site not only converts e-book formats, it is also a free audio, video, image and document converter. Under “Ebook converter,” select the format you want your e-book file converted to. The file size limit is 100 megabytes.

  2. Browse your computer and select the file to be converted. You can also select optional settings, such as the target device the file will be read on. Click “Convert file.”

  3. The completed file can be downloaded directly to your computer or e-mailed to you. Links are valid for 10 downloads within 24 hours. The site also provides QR codes, or two dimensional bar codes, which contain direct download links to the converted file for a phone.



POP PICKS

READ: “Alone in the Classroom,” by Elizabeth Hay

Hay’s follow-up to the Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning “Late Nights on Air,” has the author conjuring up a story that is multi-generational in arc and that hop-scotches across geography. It’s a stirring, majestic tale that is ultimately about small towns in Canada and the many layered secrets that they harbor. This is a richly textured bon-bon of a read, and it’s often hard to put down because of its dense layers. Hay has another chance at the Giller with this wonderfully delightful concoction. Zachary Houle



Pop Picks: The hottest trends from the pop-o-sphere

(NOT INCLUDED IN YOUR MCT NEWS SERVICE SUBSCRIPTION. To subscribe to What’s Next, see purchase information below.)

PopMatters.com

(MCT)



READ: “In the Garden of Beasts,” by Erik Larsen

Drawing on a huge range of diaries, letters, memoirs and official documents, Larson dismisses stereotypes in favor of rounded, human characters, no matter their political persuasion. It’s tempting to view this as a cautionary tale for the divided, reactionary world in which we live today, but to do so would be a disservice. Larson’s book is not polemical. Rather, the nuances of personal and political thought are products of the strange milieu of 1933 Berlin, and from this point of view, Larson pens an intimate portrait of a frugal man at the center of some of humankind’s most vast and vulgar excess. — Lewis Huxley



Pop Picks: The hottest trends from the pop-o-sphere



WATCH: “Super 8” (FILM)

“Super 8” is a movie of many marvelous surprises. It mixes period authenticity with postmodern techniques to thrill, enthrall and engage. This is not just an experience carved out of major special effects or solid set-piece moments. It’s a look back at people and places that time has turned to comedy, the fodder for a dozen reality TV riffs and repackaged and remarketed emotions. — Bill Gibron

READ: “State of Wonder,” by Ann Patchett

At 353 pages, “State of Wonder” does what the best books do, taking up several threads and weaving them into a complex tapestry. Patchett touches on the ways Westerners infantilize “primitive” cultures, the financial and moral implications of medical breakthroughs, and the sometimes-surprising pockets of courage we find at life’s critical junctures. Love, loss and grief inform every page. — Diane Leach

PLAY: “Dead or Alive: Dimensions” (Tecmo Koei)

Most genres still seem to be figuring out what 3D can do to enhance the overall experience, but in the fighting genre it’s pretty simple; put the fighter in the foreground and the level in the background, thereby enhancing the overall feel of depth while also putting the focal point on the two characters on screen. Early adopters looking for a game to showcase the power of the 3DS will be pleased with what “Dead or Alive: Dimensions” has to offer. — Eric Kravcik



Pop Picks: The hottest trends from the pop-o-sphere

(NOT INCLUDED IN YOUR MCT NEWS SERVICE SUBSCRIPTION. To subscribe to What’s Next, see purchase information below.) (EDITORS: Credit story to PopMatters.com, not McClatchy-Tribune or McClatchy Newspapers)

PopMatters.com

(MCT)

ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Dan Boeckner of Handsome Furs

Dan Boeckner is a rock god. If that sounds a little cheesy, a little ’80s rock charts, that’s part of the point. Boeckner wields both of his primary instruments — an abused guitar and that beautiful, strong, unhinged voice of his — with an enthusiasm and charisma that at once paradoxically recall the arena titans and punk heroes of the early ’70s and ’80s. On stage, Boeckner bounds about in sleeveless T’s, all tattoos and swagger, having a damn good time and making sure you do, too. They don’t make them like this, anymore. — Corey Beasley

LISTEN: Shabazz Palaces — “Black Up” (CD)

“Black Up” is an album of disparate parts — smooth jazz sounds cut into sharp bursts, Ishmael Butler’s intricate flow over stuttering sonic landscapes, spacey beats clustered up by buzzing sounds — but Digable Planets’ Butler somehow wrangles them all together into an impressive and deeply satisfying whole. This album has brilliant sound, and it’s as arresting to listen to as it is to puzzle over. If it’s a hip-hop album — and that’s a big “if” — then it’s the finest one yet this year. — Matthew Fiander

WATCH: “Spectacle with Elvis Costello: Season Two” (DVD)

Touring with his “Spectacular Spinning Songbook” shtick — complete with a Vanna White-vamping hostess, a go-go dancer and a great helping of audience participation while doing audience-roaming encores in a gold lame jacket, Costello seems to have shamelessly embraced his Inner Cheese, the cheddar the better. There are three shows here that anyone who even faintly likes popular music would salvage from a fire. The best puts Richard Thompson (a bit of a blowhard who’s at least earned it), on stage with the ever-incredible Allen Toussaint, the ever-effacing Nick Lowe (who seems alarmed at his pal Costello’s descent into show biz), and the ever-enduring Levon Helm, who smiles and waves and drums like a fiend, but who, following his throat cancer, could no longer sing himself, at least in a setting like this one. — Terry Lawson

READ: “Bat Girl 22” (Comics)

Twenty-two issues ago, many didn’t think the Stephanie Brown character would do Batgirl justice, nor were there any expectations for this title to succeed. However, it’s been the surprise of the Bat-family of titles, delivering wit, action and an overall enjoyable story. Issue 22 is great fun, much as the series has been. As he’s done for “Smallville,” series writer Bryan Q. Miller crafts very good banter, which is a hallmark of the series. It’s pithy without being obnoxious; it’s smart without being obtuse; and it moves with the grace of a dancer. It also has the dual purpose of fortifying Stephanie’s character as starkly different from the rest of the Bat-family. She’s not a sidekick. She’s her own Bat. — Michael D. Stewart

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