Guiltless iPhone Games

Waiting to pick-up your car from the mechanic? Stuck in the doctor’s waiting room? Sitting around for the call to board the plane? If you got your kids with you and an iPhone there lots of ways to kill chunks of time. A couple of apps that I’ve been playing with that are both fun and actually help the kids with spelling and vocabulary are Boggle and Hangman.

My son and I are hooked on Boggle big time. We’ve been playing the analog version for several months and the iPhone app version is a well-constructed, easy-to-play, and arguably a more fun way to go. What’s great about it is that after your turn, you can see all the possible words from letters you’ve rolled – which can be encouraging and also very humbling. You can scroll through the list of all the possible words and actually learn new oness (um… ilia? sigil?). Also, it tracks your performance, scores, word averages, etc plus there are levels you can unlock and other fun little extras.

Hangman is also a fun and guilt free time killer allowing you and the kiddies to use the noggin to not only spell the words but figure out what the word is. The timer adds another dimension on which to compete. So simple yet can keep everybody engaged for quite a bit of time. If you can get over the essential morbidness of the game’s premise – you’re good to go. There are lots of versions out there but my favorite is the plain old classic version.

It’s not a game but I have to give a short shout-out for Shazam. My son now launches it almost everytime he hears a song and the app, which is able to recognize the song and provide a name of the track, the band/artist and the album it’s from, is down right awesome.

Pitch Perfect PSA

Always keeping my eyes open for advertising that truly impacts audiences and delivers its message in a break-through way. Simple yet beautiful and as a parent – the execution hits really hard. This PSA from Sussex (England) Safer Roads Partnership is an example of pitch perfect message delivery. The fact that I’m taking time to share it is proof enough:

Frank Black Dissects Doolittle

Charles Thompson, AKA Black Francis and Frank Black provides a personal perspective on Doolittle on this week’s Sound Opinions rock talk show – which airs from Chicago and hosted by two rock music writers and critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot from Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune respectively.

Doolittle is the subject of the show’s Classic Album Dissection of the Pixies landmark 1989 release. As it turns out, Mr. Black is actually extremely gregarious, opinionated and funny as hell and provides insights into the Pixies and the album – such as the origin of the album’s title (which does, in fact, involve the “slicing up eyeballs”), how the demos and final tracks were recorded, where his names came from and the real story behind “Here Comes Your Man”. If you’re a Pixies fan – it’s a must listen. I sat in my car today tuned into NPR catching the last half hour – with my son listening. He now knows more about the Pixies than any other eight year old on the planet.

There’s a few minutes of general music news before the interview starts. Click here to stream the interview.

Tasty Track – Beach Comber by Real Estate

Having spent several Summers during high school at the Jersey Shore, I can relate to the hazy dreamy imagery conjured up by the Ridgewood NJ band Real Estateon their self-titled album singing about loving and losing among the dunes. After a few rounds through the record, I get flavors of Yo La Tengo and Panda Bear

For those who think the Garden State is nothing but a bunch of freeways book-ended by Newark and Trenton, take a listen to the album to get a small taste of magical moments that can happen on the mid-Atlantic.

This track Beach Comber is shimmery slice of lo-fi pop has a killer hook that echoes for hours if not days after hearing it.

Beach Comber

Call of Duty Modern Warfare is My Son’s Pong

I was just recently at a friend’s house who is a big fan of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and who had his Play Station hooked-up to an 80″ HD plasma screen TV with insanely powerful surround sound home theater system. I’ve actually played CoD 2 a few years ago and was very aware of CoD MW2 but hadn’t actually seen the game. Needless to say, I was slacked jaw and blown away from the total experience. The realistic nature of the game – the fact that you’re effectively controlling a character in a life-like movie setting is simply amazing.

Given that our kids were running around, we played a few segments of the game that weren’t too bad in terms of violence and blood (which there’s a lot in the game). A couple of times, I let my son, who was dying to see it, actually play a few minutes here and there in sequences that were not any worse than a scene from the many action movies he’s seen like Hulk or Spider Man or Star Wars.

It then occurred to me that I was close to his age when Pong was first released. Pong, released in 1972 by Atari, is officially the first commercially successful video game, which ultimately led to the start of the video game industry. And it’s taken 38 years to get from that black and white paddle game to a completely photo realistic hyper-sensory experience that puts the player in the middle of intense fire fights and battles all over the world (Brazil, Russia, Middle East).

The question that quickly followed my realization was what kind of games will my son and daughter be playing with their kids in 38 years or 28 years or 18 years? Given the non-linear acceleration of computational power and broadband speeds and inverse relationship between the cost and capacity of storage – it truly boggles my mind to try to imagine what kind of gaming experience our children will have. Fully immersive gaming closets with bio-feedback interfaces? In-brain gaming implants? Bio-chemical hallucinatory mind-trips with full body stimulation…  avatars?

What will cause our children to look back at games like Modern Warfare 2 with fond memories and chuckle at the primitive and crude graphics, controls and game play? What will they be experiencing that will make MW2 look like Pong? As a parent and a closet gamer – it’s a very fun, exhilarating but also kinda scary question to ponder.

Tasty Track – This Isn’t Farm Life by The Essex Green

Instead of doing a write-up on the album – here’s a track from “Cannibal Sea” from the Brooklyn-based group The Essex Green that I’ve been listening to now for about three weeks straight – “This Isn’t Farm Life”.  A nice mix of New Pornographers and Belle & Sebastian (which I honestly thought before reading the Pitchfork review) – with a Shins lyrical bent. It’s a great smart pop song.

Essex Green – This Isn’t Farm Life

Dads, Be Prepared. Worry More.

When I was younger I used to read (or more accurately “skim”) Cosmopolitan Magazine because it offered me what I thought at the time was insight into how women think, what they want and what they’re looking for. Way back in the day – when I was doing this, occasionally I’d stumble on a couple of bits and pieces that I actually used. If nothing else, it provided interesting material for chatting up a cutey pie on a Friday night.

Recently, I’ve found more relevant and more helpful content at DoubleX – a women’s focused website with buckets of well written content on news, politics, parenting, relationships, etc. that I access usually through my visits. As a husband and father, the Cosmo sex quiz or “How to Get Guys to Buy You Whatever You Want” articles aren’t as helpful anymore… go figure.

Click here for an article I came across highlighting an interesting perspective that men ultimately suffer more than women when their kids leave for college.  This is consistent with my personal experience (and distant recollections) that guys take longer to get over serious relationships simply because we aren’t skilled at managing and sharing our emotions  –  with ourselves or our friends, which helps tremendously in coming to terms with a break-up and moving on.

The DoubleX article details how men, who – according to the piece “…don’t worry about things until they happen”, aren’t prepared for the shift that’s required when a child leaves home. The author, Mimi Swartz, writes that she (and her friends) begin the process months if not years before, thinking, worrying and mourning the pending seperation and are therefore better prepared when it happens and consequently able to work through the process much more quickly – and easily. With men, apparently not…

So Pops, if you want to make things easier for yourself when it does happen – start now. Although my kids are still in elementary school, I do try to really be present and relish every moment I can get – cuz it’s flying by so fast, college applications will be flying out the door in what will seem like a blink of an eye.

I’d love to hear from any dads (or moms) that can validate (or refute) this but it makes a lot of sense to me.

NORAD Tracking Santa

Squeeze in geography lessons while tracking Santa with help from an unlikely organization… NORAD (North America Aerospace Defense) the bilateral military effort between Canada and the U.S. charged with the mission of aerospace warning and control for North America.

For the past 50 years NORAD has been providing resources to track Santa Claus as he makes his way across the globe delivering gifts to all the kids of the earth. 🙂

In 2007, Google signed onto the project as a technology partner, and since then, has been incorporating NORAD’s data on Santa’s whereabouts into special 2D Google Maps and 3D Google Earth representations.

Just this week my three year old can pinpoint the Great Wall of China, Prince Edward Islands (South Africa) and Madagascar as she’s been watching the jolly fellow make his way East towards Europe, South and North America.

Check it out:

Iron Man 2 Trailer

Surprise, surprise. Mickey’s back:

Lady Gaga Scares Me

I like to think that when it comes to music, I’m a pretty progressive guy. Although I crossed the 40 threshold not so recently, I still am pretty up-to-speed on what’s going on in music, pop and otherwise – including hip-hop, punk/alternative, electronic, ambient, jazz, etc. And over the course of my listening career, there’s always been the bands that seem more interested in freaking people out versus writing really good music. Bands such as Marilyn Manson and Gwar whose shock-rock approach to performance was a bit disturbing but felt cartoonish and not really dangerous. Then there are bands like Slipknot – that aggregate various nightmarish personas into a loud, harsh, grating wall of angry sound that turned the dial into creepy-dom but, even with their over-the-top aggro approach – still didn’t seem to pose a real threat to pillars of modern society.

So, given that these acts sent chills down some parent’s spines – but not mine, I always wondered what kind of music and artist would serve as the wedge between me (with my supposed open embrace of all music) and my soon-to-be teenagers – who like all their predecessors – have a genetic mission to find a band or bands that simply are incomprehensible to their parents. I used to say that save for speed death metal and maybe some popular country western acts – I’d be hard pressed to be freaked out by anything my kids would listen to.

However – after recently watching “Bad Romance” (below) by Lady Gaga I’ve now crossed into “concerned parent” territory. Although many younger viewers might not quite totally get what’s going on in the video – a forcibly drugged girl getting bid on by anonymous and ominous sex partners with a clear S&M bent resulting in a literal flaming bed and corpse, as an adult, I’m feeling very much “in the box”. What’s causing concern is that, unlike the groups mentioned previously, this isn’t a fringe act or underground artist playing on the margins of pop culture but is currently the hottest talent out there right now – for all young, impressionable teens and pre-teens to consume.

I normally would dismiss a pop artist like Lady Gaga as a flash in the pan… the flavor of the month – but she’s got undeniable talent. She writes all of her own music and lyrics – so she’s not just a voice with dance moves. Apparently she’s more performance artist than true pop artist – having started her career in coffee houses and small theaters working her way up into unbelievable stardom. But that doesn’t compensate for the overtly sexual and disturbing content of the video which brings forth the rubberized fun-buddy “The Gimp” from Pulp Fiction, with an undercurrent of “The Hostel II”, tasty lyrics like “I’m a freak bitch…” and an overdose of product placement – the most frequent appearance by the Ukrainian vodka brand, Nemiroff. A perfect storm of sex and sales.

I’m somewhat aware of what’s freaking me out – she’s a woman, overtly expressing a powerful, somewhat maniacal and fetishistic sexual energy with unabashed confidence – and anger, who is claiming territory typically staked out by her male counterparts while charting new paths into onstage psycho-sexual therapy… and having that tidy package delivered straight into my “family room”. Yikes!

Apparently the artistic explanation of the “Bad Romance” video’s narrative is about the human sex trafficking trade – an interesting subject for a teeny bopper pop act music video. Given that acts like LG need to keep breaking through the clutter and getting buzz and coverage, I’m now scared at what’s next and even more scared at what’s going to be standard pop fare in the years to come. I’m just sayin’…..