Teaching kids how to code with programming games

computer codeIt comes as no surprise that computer coding is a viable life skill. Computer programs, video games, and virtually everything else runs off the stuff, and knowing how to write said instructions can turn into a lucrative career. The problem, however, is that there just aren’t enough coders to keep up with the booming rate of technology. At least that’s what the development companies are telling us. While there’s a huge demand for their products, there aren’t enough workers who can create them.

While, for the time being, software developers are working overtime, the companies have come up with a virtually fool-proof plan for the future: teaching code to kids.

Through apps, games, and other fun-related activities, kids old enough to hold a tablet are learning coding basics. By tackling this subject early on, there’s a better chance future generations will produce more coders. And, even if a majority doesn’t turn into software-writing pros, they’ll still hold the basic knowledge of binary and other computer controlling lingo.

The Lack of Learning Curve

But just how hard is it to learn these skills? For those of us with a basic understanding of HTML, it’s hard to tell if code is similar to learning-another-language hard, or reorganizing-mumbo-jumbo hard. Presumably, however, it’s several steps above the former. Not only does coding require the knowledge of computer language, one also has to know how to combine and adjust codes to achieve specific outcomes. While, when learning another language, various sayings can achieve the same meaning, the same is not true for computers.

It’s also likely true as to why there’s such a shortage of programmers in the status quo. If it were easy, everyone would do it. However, software company execs say with the release of these games, kids (or adults) are able to have fun while learning basic commands and combinations.

Some top-ranked programming games include:

Whether you’ve got a child at home or you’d like to try out these brain-teasing apps yourself, coding games are a great way to learn a new skill … and while having fun in the process.

Head to the iOS or Android app store to check out more programming games today.

Government cell phone monitoring shouldn’t come as a surprise

recording callsIn a recent announcement, it was shown that the National Security Association (NSA) has been “secretly” obtaining private information via Verizon Wireless. With permission through something known as “the blanket order,” Verizon has been handing over a variety of call-related data, such as call lengths, locations, and other unique identifiers.

As of yet, it’s stated that the calls themselves are not being recorded; the public is turning an angry eye toward both Verizon and the government for this invasion of privacy.

But is this really such a shock? How many of us read those fine-print contracts wireless providers require to be signed? Companies are legally allowed to do a number of questionable practices, data collection included.

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power,” and it seems as though the government is willing to go to extreme lengths to get it. Ages, races, and other target demographics can be reached with the right info, and obtaining said facts is the first step in expanding political popularity. Other non-surprise factors include every political movie ever, which almost always host a widespread privacy invasion. Not to mention the ease in which spying can be done these days. There are practically invisible recording devices, and even lasers that can detect conversations by measuring window vibrations.

In this case, however, the victims of surveillance just happened to be the owners of the recording devices.

What’s Next?

While it’s likely Verizon will suffer some serious image backlash (like we needed another reason to hate the 4G-pushing giant), the information they’ve collected is already obtained. It’s also likely that the information collection will continue, whether or not the public is ok with it.

But what else can be released? Are there other networks doing the same recording and sharing practices? Are calls actually being recorded – stored and listed to for terrorist-like activity by some full-time operators? Or is this simply as “harmless” as it seems from the outside looking in?

While it’s unclear as to why the government wants to know why you made a 90-second call at Burger King May 4th, or how often you travel away from home on calls, the consensus remains that the compilation is mega creepy. A surprise, perhaps not, but a definite invasion of citizens’ privacy.

That just leads us to ask: what other data is the government collecting through our personal electronic devices?

Custom mobile apps made easy with MobileSmith

mobilesmith screensThe difference between those who want to make an app and those who have the skills to write the code for an app is huge – Facebook-numbers huge. And while anyone with a PayPal account can pay a developer to do the job for them, there’s far more efficient ways to create a custom app, such as app-making software. Taking half the time and less than half of the funds (assuming you can’t do it yourself), these programs allow virtually anyone to create their own custom mobile app.

All that’s needed is an idea and the willingness to turn it into something new, and users of all tech experience levels can be on their way to creating a unique program with MobileSmith’s Mobile App Smith software.

How it Works

Through the site’s platform, users take step-by-step instructions, which allow plenty of room for creativity, to create their app. This also includes helpful webinars that offer industry tips, such as what to include on each app page, or how to best streamline user clicks. Utilizing options like these up front can greatly increase the chances that an app will be selected by stores; apps that are created from scratch can often miss key guidelines. The site points these out along the way and offers suggestions to best overcome each potential hurdle.

When getting started, users can take a free strategy session for a better handle on their ideas, then work with MobileSmith professionals – including in-house designers who give each app a custom look – to create a functional, successful app. The site also includes code required by app stores, such as location identification abilities.

The Need

Within the mobile community, programs like MobileSmith allow all types of companies (or individuals) to create an interactive app. Without app creation software, the development, from scratch, is left to the engineers. This method is usually far more time consuming and much more costly. However, this middle ground helps level the field – still allowing for apps to be created while making the logistics far more efficient. App stores are also likely to jump on board as this expansion will bring them more traffic and platforms to offer users.

Whether a smartphone user or app developer (aspiring counts!), platforms like MobileSmith offer a great service to help cut out the middle steps. To create your own custom app today, head to their site and get started.

How to use iOS folders to keep your apps organized

apple folderWhen there are apps, apps, and more apps, keeping all of those programs organized and clutter free becomes increasingly difficult. Angry Birds intermingles next to voice memos, while Sound Hound and Pinterest become next-door neighbors. The rhyme and reason to mobile apps often only make sense to the person who put them there.

For the make-the-bed-every-day types, the thought of a cluttered device may even keep you from holding onto certain apps. If it hasn’t been used in the past month, it just may be ditched for something more cohesive. Others let the apps fall where they may, throwing all caution to any sort of mobile organization.

Why Folders?

No matter your thoughts on clutter, iOS folders can be a great way to clear up a device. Whether on an iPhone or iPad, these folders allow users to group similar items without taking up pages on the home screen. Group games, business apps, rewards systems, or any other category of apps. It’s a task that can be done in only a few seconds, while providing endless amounts of saved time and frustration.

Folders are also great for family devices, using a different section for each person’s apps. Create a folder for the whole family, one for mom, dad, and each respective child. This will cut back on searching time and allow everyone management access to their own apps. The use of folder organization can be more efficient than Users (especially for young children), allowing parents to monitor kids’ mobile steps and cutting out log in/out time.

Added Bonuses

For the organizationally challenged, folders allow apps to be quickly and easily navigated, no matter how many programs are downloaded to a single device. Just tap the folder and gain access to an underground layer of apps. It’s also a great storage space for those icons Apple won’t let you delete, like Passbook or Stocks. Just file them under “Stuff I Never Use,” and hide all the icons you’ve yet to open in a single slot.

To folder or not to folder – it’s a question many Apple enthusiasts ask themselves daily. But whether you’re the proud owner of 5 apps or 50, iOS’s folders are a great way to keep them in easy access form, no matter your location. After all, you never know when Tweets need updated or when an impromptu game of Fruit Ninja may be a necessity. To be ready for anything, with any app, consider the use of folders for your Apple device.

Mobile apps for business are on the rise

businessmanIn today’s app stores, there are thousands, if not millions of downloading choices. There are games, reward programs, platforms to help keep us up on sports, and other options most have yet to discover.

With all this success, the professional field has begun to take notice. No more are apps only for-fun, now users can file their taxes, sync multiple email accounts, and IM clients with these ever-growing business-friendly models.

Growing Technology

While, in theory, these options have been available to users since the induction of the first app, it’s taken updated versions and more user-savvy designs to put them in the spotlight. Advances in technology have also allowed more apps to be invented, such as those that use cloud storage or scan documents (GeniusScan, for instance). With clearer, more sophisticated cameras, smartphones are able to capture small text and reformat them into readable data.

These advancements can also be credited for geolocation, which, through network Internet, allows users to pinpoint colleagues or meet up with professionals in new locations. Apps like Brosix allow users to exchange coordinates through their business platform, which is also transferable to one’s computer.

Encryption-enabled platforms and voice recognition – such as Dragon Dictation – have also brought on a new layer of professional smartphone apps.

What it Means

With the growth of these for-business apps, more and more workers can perform tasks while on the go. Mobile offices can become much more efficient, cutting traveling costs or office expenses. In many cases, people are able to work from home, eliminating the need for an extra set of bills or commuting time and fees. Office equipment also becomes less expensive, as more and more electronics become unnecessary. With a smartphone alone – before apps are loaded – users can take out the need for an office phone, camera, calculator, phone book, and more.

These lowered costs allow companies to run more efficiently, and will even further advance the need for business app technology. Thankfully, the field doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, providing for more and more software inventions to come into play.

Whether using a smartphone for document scanning, geolocation, or email synchronization, the number of helpful app programs is on a steep rise. To get the most out of your mobile device, head to the app store to see what platforms are available for your needs – personal or professional.

The negative effects of cluttered website design

cluttered designAll too often we see websites that are difficult to navigate, read, or simply don’t make sense. In the process of looking for a trendy new look, site owners created a cluttered monster instead. There may be sliders, large photos that take too long to load, or design features that tend to muddle each page. Sure there’s the outdated site or two that’s just behind the times, but that doesn’t make their faux pas any less offensive.

As web travelers, we need user-friendly sites, links that take us to the pages they say they will, and plug-ins that don’t overlap. As for ill-designed sites, let’s hope their webmasters get a raise soon.

The Regular Offenders

Other forms of website clutter is found by way of multiple pictures, text that goes on for days, or a buggy template that doesn’t display like it should. These rookie mistakes can lead to loss of business, web traffic, or even some badmouthing on the internet. After all, how can we expect users to successfully navigate pages when the design inhibits them from doing so?

A properly functioning website should:

  • bring in new business
  • create traffic through word of mouth
  • act as a source of marketing for the company
  • inform customers
  • portray the business in a good light

A cluttered one, however, does just the opposite. Without a design that promotes company navigation, users are more likely to become frustrated or give their business to a competitor. Run-on text can also overwhelm viewers rather than inform and educate them. With an ill-planned design, it’s likely more customers are being sent away than are signing up to hear more.

These errors also hit websites where they hurt most, sometimes even questioning their services. For instance, when marketing companies or tech-savvy sites have cluttered sites, how are customers to trust whether or not they can perform their duties? If it can’t be done at home, customers may wonder whether or not it can be done at all.

De-Cluttering the Web 

Despite the many negative effects that can come from a cluttered website, it’s also just plain unappealing. No one wants to search through links and pages when there are plenty of sites that have done the work for them. To save face, bring in business, and to make the Internet a better place, remember to cut the clutter. Your viewers will thank you.

Facebook adds hashtags to compete with other social networks

hashtagA few weeks ago, Facebook announced that it was working on a way to integrated hashtags into its platform. Already a successful feature on Twitter and Instagram, the change would bring Zuckerberg and crew into the world of random and unnecessary links. Sure, some are helpful and even relevant, but when scouring Twitter, the majority of hashtags consist of a string of words that may or may not be spelled correctly. This is the world that Facebook wishes to join.

Once implemented, Facebook’s hashtags would link similar conversations, just as its counterparts do – or so their announcement said. However, unlike Twitter, Facebook has always been a somewhat private website; how will privacy locked-account owners react to these hashtags? Or will theirs even work? Will open accounts’ entire conversations be linked? There are still several questions in the way of logistics. But in theory, many are wondering if this is a necessary, or even a smart move.

Pros and Cons

Since the blowup of social media, Facebook has reigned as king. They have the most users, the most recognizable features (likes and tags, etc), and they even allow other accounts to post through their newsfeeds. Have a Twitter account? Link it to Facebook for maximum exposure! And so on. But now that Facebook is adapting others’ tactics, it’s hard to say whether they’re still on top, especially when the move doesn’t exactly fit into their platform.

Now, to conform, the site is spending thousands of hours and dollars on development, while raising questions along the way. And all to adapt to a trend someone else made popular.

As for the hashtag itself, only the future can know if it’s here to stay. It could easily die out just as quickly as it came to power, or forever change the way the public used the pound key.

It’s likely that Facebook sees this change as a move in popularity. “Everyone else has it,” they say. “Now we have to have it too.” Sure there will be less confusion as to exactly what the hashtag is, does, or when it can be used – though some will inevitably still use it emails, videos, or when speaking. But for the social media population not obsessed with hashtagging every other word, we’re questioning your motives, Facebook. I don’t see the value in stealing others’ mediocre ideas.

What happened, Hulu?

hulu logoAfter years of watching illegally obtained TV shows, I still remember the excitement I felt after the announcement of Hulu – a website to stream current TV seasons for free. No more downloading shows (along with viruses), no more recording shows on VHS tapes, and no more wishing that TiVo existed in the Midwest. It was an event that would change the way we watched TV forever.

Or so I thought.

Five years and an infinite number of changes later, that’s not exactly the case. Not only do users have to subscribe (at $7.99 a month) to watch shows that are a certain number of days old, free shows are only accessible via computer. That means internet capable TVs, tablets, and smartphones all cost extra for the same services. This would seem somewhat reasonable if more shows could be seen for free, but now an increasing number of programs require a Plus account, even for the newest shows. (TV shows are generally listed the day after being aired, with only a few available at a time. The older an episode, the less likely it can be seen for free.)

And how many of us have time to watch entire shows at our computer? Sure we can hook up our computers to our TVs, but the quality is never as good, and without a mouse the interactive ads just seem silly.

Double Jeopardy

The plot thickens when looking at Hulu’s owners – Disney-ABC Television Group at 32 percent, Fox Broadcasting Company with 36 percent, and NBC Universal Television Group at 32 percent. As the owners of programs being featured, these major network companies are re-earning from their content. Because they own the rights, it would be easy for them to post shows for free. Web traffic would be through the roof and they’d make a killing on ads – after all, they show tons of them.

But instead of offering up this incentive, they charge a monthly fee. That means if you already pay a cable bill, you have to pay twice to see the same content on the go. Three if you just happened to forget to DVR a show; how many times can we pay for the same access?

It’s likely we are years away from this universal one-fee-meets all access, but we can dream, right? Maybe with enough opposition, Hulu can return to its former glory, which is to say free. After all, if Netflix taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing a group of angry consumers can’t accomplish. Complain on, folks.

Without making some changes, Apple can’t stay on top forever

alternate apple logoWhen it comes to Apple, most people think they can do no wrong. Each time they come out with a new product, customers are lining up down the street to get their hands on it – regardless of price or how many previous Apple products they may have. So when, say, Apple decides to change their power cords or requires in the upwards of $20 for a single service call, the customers go along.

And why shouldn’t they? Apple is (arguably) the best option for durability and electronic safety, and their products are just so cute. When you buy an Apple, you know it’s going to work, you know there’s only a tiny chance you’ll get a virus, and you know you have purchased from the most recognizable, and perhaps most respected computer/mobile device creator.

But why all the hoops? Why must we buy adapters to charge our new devices with our old cords? Why won’t our old computer chargers work with our new computers – even when the hardware is the same shape? When wanting an unlocked phone, why must we pay hundreds? And even after our wireless contract is fulfilled, the phone is still attached to the service provider – does that seem fair? (Especially since a profit is still being made on the signing price.) But most of all, Apple, why is everything so secretive?

Consumers have proved loyal release after surprise release, yet every new piece of electronic is still kept under pinky-sworn secrecy until launch day. Surely you can imagine our disappointment when minimal changes are made – after all that to-do we wanted screen unlock with facial recognition, two-week battery life, or at least the option of a new color.

Even for the fans, it’s hard to get past some of these glaring issues, especially as the products remain massively expensive with few updates in between.

In an alternate, un-secretive universe, Apple could leak their own news to see the feedback before a product hits shelves. Then again, maybe they just don’t care. Because of all the loyal fan money coming in (even the money they earn from new adapters matters), the company is still making ends meet and then some. Maybe it’s time to get past the “Apple can do no wrong” phase and realize that, just like every company, without happy customers, there’s no business. Without making some changes, Apple can’t stay on top forever. Let’s just hope said changes come before the growing pains are too great.

Xbox Live: Great for gamers, but unnecessary for everyone else

xbox liveFor the gamers out there, the thought of one of their most beloved gaming systems being unnecessary (gasp) is a virtual slap in the face. It’s easily accessible, relatively inexpensive, and opens our TVs up to the world of the internet.

But when not playing video games, how much does Xbox Live’s capabilities really have to offer us? Despite the constant access to play your friends at weapon-toting games or “party” watch movies – that’s when you and others watch the same movie at the same time, despite being in different locations – it’s a program that’s surprisingly limited.

Sure there’s ESPN channels, including live event streaming (not to mention watching the same game the next day without the need of a DVR), but that’s only if your internet provider also subscribes. So, despite the fact that you’re paid up, if say, Joe’s Internet Shop or Sally’s Cable Access isn’t, you don’t get any ESPN benefits … at all. It’s likely that larger companies will offer the program, but there are no guarantees, and nothing contractually obligating each provider to maintain Xbox Live access. For many, it’s luck of the draw.

Xbox Programs Plus

Next, look at other programs that are offered, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, or movie rental – all require a paid or per-use membership. Sure that $50/year fee may not have sounded bad at first, but that’s on top of any additional subscriptions; Xbox live only allows you to access these outside programs, not to use their services.

Now back to video games. For avid gamers, it’s likely a worthy service. But for the rest of the population, we may just be better off using an internet capable DVD player, or a one-time payment box that doesn’t require additional fees. While I can’t speak for the gaming community (there’s obviously something there; the program continues to thrive year after year, despite the same consul being in production for nearly eight years), I can speak for the non-gaming community, and we say we want more – or rather, less. No more double subscribing to ESPN to get the same service everyone is paying for. No more gouged fees. And no more constant updates during the middle of shows; it’s just another unnecessary interruption.

But until a better option exists, one where gamers and non-players alike can intermingle and benefit from the same programs, it’s likely the service will continue to stay in place.