LittleBits teaches children how to use microcontrollers

“It is easy to learn how to use these controllers,” says Travis Good, editor at Make magazine. “Even kids can do it.” They sure can with a kit from littleBitslittleBits. On these microprocessor boards, each color is an input, a processor, or an output. The parts snap together and in only one way so that it is impossible for inexperienced users to make a mistake. Kids can prototype systems without worrying that they will damage the parts by lack of knowledge. LittleBits are pricier than the plain Arduino. A starter kit costs almost $90.



Sew interactivity into your clothes with a LilyPad Arduino

LilyPad ArduinoSparkFun in Boulder, Colorado makes and sells the LiliPad Arduino, a flexible microcontroller that is designed to be installed in a fabric object. Designed by Dr. Leah Buechley, Associate Professor at the MIT Media Lab, this bendy microprocessor can even be put through the washing machine. (Buechley made this “Turn Signal Bike Jacket” with it: The LiliPad Arduino costs between ten and thirty dollars, depending on its complexity. SparkFun also sells plenty of other helpful electronic bits and pieces. “Whether it’s a robot that can cook your breakfast or a GPS cat tracking device,” they write, “our products and resources are designed to make the world of electronics more accessible to the average person.” They offer online tutorials, too.


Add interactivity to the items that you make with the Arduino microprossessor

ArduinoTravis Good, editor at Make magazine, writes about bringing his self-constructed items to life. “It used to be, when you wanted to put smarts into something, you had to use a computer,” Good said. These days, he notes, you use a microcontroller. The favorite one among amateur makers is an Italian brand: Arduino.

This open source microprocessor makes objects interactive. It takes input from the environment (temperature, the presence of light or movement) and then responds by flipping a switch, turning on a relay, or lighting a sign. The Arduino board is inexpensive, costing less than $50. It can run on Mac OS, Windows or Linux. It is simple for beginners to learn how to program, yet its code is extensible and can be expanded through C++ libraries. It has become such a standard in maker circles than any microprocessor is now referred to as an “Arduino.”


The Gig Easy iPad app eliminates the need for sheet music

Gig Easy appMusicians, are you sick of lugging notebooks thick with sheet music to gigs, music that you must clamp to stands with clothes pins to keep it from fluttering away as you play? Here is your answer: get yourself an iPad and download the Gig Easy app ($3.99). You can now load thousands of pages of sheet music in .pdf format which you can then search and organize into set lists.

To hold your iPad in place as you play, be sure to pick up a Gig Easy iPad holder. ( Designed for musicians by musicians, the Gig Easy screws right onto existing music stands, so you don’t have to bring your own.

Gig Easy app

Autoblog Your Travels with HipGeo

HipGeoThese days, travelers with smartphones like to record and share images of their vacations on the web. It’s a happy marriage: they get the expense and interruption of actual travel and you get the pleasure of seeing amazing sights through their eyes. When you look at their photos, it’s almost like you are there: anyplace from Belarus to the banks of the Ganges.

Los Angeles-area software developer Scott Daniels connects extroverted travelers and their armchair observers and with his new iPhone app called HipGeo.

This free app, which launched in January 2012, makes it easy for people to automatically record their travels in a blog format. The user fires up the app to start a “trip” or a series of automatically logged entries; while the app is running, it uses iPhone’s geolocation to map the user’s movement. When the user snaps a photo with the phone, HipGeo inserts it into the timeline of the trip which appears on the app and the website. The timeline becomes a virtual travel blog which the user can later convert into a video.

Although the app has been out only a few months, it already has posters in 125 countries. “It’s really fun,” reports Daniels. “I see people who are in Saudi Arabia following a guy in Thailand. I made a friend in Azerbaijan! I could never have reached across the world like this without HipGeo.”

The best thing about the app, Daniels enthuses, it that it automatically “curates” the entries, tagging them not only with the user’s title but also with location: city, country, and, in the U.S., with state name. Click on the “Explore” tab to search locales. “It’s great!” Daniels exclaims. “We already have 5300 cities and points of interest.”


“Boomers” vs. “Silvers”

Silver SummitIn Canada, there is a group called “Seniors for Seniors” ( in which “junior seniors” age 60-65 can volunteer to assist “senior seniors” aged 85-90 as personal caregivers and drivers. That brings up the question of:
what exactly is a senior?

“Baby boomers” is the name for that abundance of children born between 1946 and 1964. The oldest of these are now over 65 (and the youngest are developing problems reading small type.)

Tony Vagneur, boomer and actual cowboy in Aspen, Colorado declares, “I don’t understand why there’s a dichotomy, separating ‘older people’ from the rest of the world? If it weren’t for older people (over 50, the largest marketing demographic), there wouldn’t be profitable demand for those products that claim to be youth-oriented.”

Of course, he’s a sharp, fit Colorado outdoorsman. It is ridiculous to put him in the same marketing category as a people old enough to be his parents. Yet, young engineers have a hard time imagining the needs of either baby boomers or the older silver generation who now live to be age 90 and beyond.

A Silver Field of Dreams
Susan Estrada reports from the Silvers Summit, the senior tech segment of the 2012 CES (Computer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas ( She quotes Marty Cooper, the engineer credited with inventing mobile phones, as saying that, although young designers long to tap into the senior market, “they can’t ‘think’ like an older adult.”

Many Seniors Enjoy the iPad2

iPad for Seniors for DummiesApple’s tablet is easy to use and the screen text can be enlarged with the spread of two fingers. “My 76-year-old Mom got an iPad, initially to use as a reader,” writes college buddy Laurie Howlett. “But she and her husband fought over who got to use it so they bought another!” Professional organizer Tracy McCubbin also says that many of her older clients “have loaded up the Kindle app on it for easy reading.” They also use the iPad for email.


All of the elegant, intuitive Apple products seem to be popular with tech savvy older folks. McCubbin’s 83-year-old client had her load an iPod Nano with meditations that she listens to at night to go to sleep. Writer Kathy Talley-Jones notes, “My father likes to listen to books on his iPod Touch and gets every new iPod Shuffle, Nano, etc. when it is released!” offers these lessons for new old owners of iPads: