Saturday, August 29, 2009

The end of an era?

So far, with the global crisis and the prognosis of a meltdown, we have not really seen much end of an era scenarios. Okay, Woolworth went down and stayed down, GM went bust but soon bounced back. Michael Jackson and Ted Kennedy have died. Reader's Digest has filed for bankruptcy but news is that they will still be around. So the aftermath of the global financial crisis appears to be 'more of the same'.

But there is one era that is about to end for sure. Archie Andrews is marrying Veronica Lodge. Yes, you read that right. Looks like he is going to ditch Betty Cooper, and she is not the only one who is heart-broken.

I have been reading Archie comics for over 50 years, since I discovered comics. We used to read it surreptitiously because comics were considered to be 'yellow culture' corrupting the youth. I never found out what that meant, but they did make Socrates drink hemlock for 'corrupting the youth of Athens', so it has existed for a long time, and it still does. (In those days, Singaporeans would flock to JB to watch Chubby Checker's Rock Around the Clock because it was banned over there.)

Anyway, I have always also rooted for the underdog, and Betty was it. She was pretty and intelligent, as opposed to the merely extravagantly rich Veronica. Okay, she is beautiful, too. Still, she is the wrong girl. The report has it that this (the marriage proposal) happens when they graduate. What! They are not supposed to graduate, they are meant to be in High School forever. This is a comic, for Gods sake. It's like Superman suddenly becoming the bad guy. (Remember Superman 3, and how lame Richard Lester's effort was?)

So whatever comes next, this is the end of an era.

Video gaming is the reason teenagers don't read, right? Wrong.

"My son always spends too much time on video games. How do I get him to read, ah?"

I have heard this question from dozens of parents. I am sure the authorities will tell you the same. Ask a Minister. But a news report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US appears to say that the average gamer is actually "a 35-year-old man who is overweight, aggressive, introverted and often depressed."

The study further shows that children and teenagers who are addicted tend toward physical inactivity and corresponding health problems.

"... there is growing concern and uncertainty about the health consequences of video game playing,” the CDC reports. “Given the ubiquity of video games -- industry
estimates suggest that they are played in 65% of American households -- these concerns may be justified.”

According to the CDC, both male and female gamers were more likely to be overweight, had more poor-mental-health days and were less socially outgoing than non-gamers. Women gamers were more likely to say that they experienced depression and other general health issues than women who aren’t gamers.

Jim McGregor, an analyst says, "It gives Americans just another reason to be fat, dumb and lazy.”

Interactive e-books

It is the first day of school and what is the most familiar sight? Kids with huge loads on their back. One would have thought someone would have noticed a commercial opportunity there – no, not bigger bags. Maybe, the time has arrived.

ScrollMotion, the iPhone application developer has announced the launch of a new kids' e-book reader for the device that will encourage picture books that will "integrate text, audio and pictures in an organic and fun manner that is interactive for parents and kids, with buttons and interactions especially designed for small fingers".

So, what do Malaysian parents/teachers want? Buku kerja, of course. Now imagine a programme that will allow one to develop lots and lots of interactive (and downloadable) e-Bukukerja for a laptop or a desktop. There would be the problem with pirates, of course. But attractive pricing should solve that. Tuition teachers will love the stuff.

One of the eBooks adopted by ScrollMotion is the Curious George's Dictionary based on the popular book series by Margret and HA Rey. Most of the application's content is from the print book. The dictionary, which has more than 600 entries and illustrations, is enhanced with audio -- letters and words are pronounced aloud -- and is searchable by letter. The Curious George's Dictionary is more than an e-book: a bit like a game, and a bit like an educational tool.

But that sounds like a lot of educational games that have been around since the Apple 11e. What is required is a simple tool that will allow your average tuition teacher to whip up a set of questions and answers in a couple of minutes. The resource could be made available over the internet even.

Any programmer out there? Or, is someone already doing this?

Publisher's Weekly

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Japanese brain workout

Calling all kiasu parents. Built around the brain training methodology of Professor Makoto Shichida, BB Softservice, a Japanese software developer, has announced that an English version of its brain training programme entitled, Brain Training Unotan (make no mistakes about that) is now available for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Makoto Shichida is a renowned expert in the field of right brain therapy and training. Brain Training Unotan provides a series of training exercises that helps the brain improve and enhance memory retention, concentration and intuition capabilities, according to the makers.

Brain Training Unotan includes 15 brain training exercises that improve memory, concentration, and intuition using push-ups, crunches, squats, arm curls and aerobics.

This is from the website (verbatim):

The right-brain, known to excel at processing large quantities of visual information, is being activated through a simple continuous series of questions, consequently polishing memory retention. There is a free version contain one free training memory game.

This is a full-scale training product recommended for all hard-pressed adults wanting to improve job/school performances as well as retain a healthy brain by empowering the right-brain. The best prescription for your dormant right-brain! Train up your memory retention capabilities with this application.

Brain Training Unotan

Borders now sells toys

Latest news has it that Borders has added a selection of educational games and toys to the children’s sections in its superstores, with toys and games for children divided into three groups: three and under; three to seven; and seven to twelve. The space for the games and toys, apparently, used to sell music and movies. According to Borders, the toys and games have been chosen to help children learn to become readers by “promoting diversity, fostering creativity and helping build cognitive skills.” Borders will staff the children’s section with a specialist to help with recommendations.

Well, it does look like bookshops are finally getting sensible. I, for one, am all for it, but it is really not necessary to pretend that one is only going to stock educational toys. Bookshops need to diversify and redefine themselves to survive. If they have to sell toys, so be it. And there is nothing wrong with clothes and sports equipment either. And the jump from e-readers to mobile phones is not that big a leap. Everyone knows how low margins are in the book industry, not helped by the heavy discounting, and (now) serious remaindering. (The remainder trade is so serious that the entire book industry of many countries is in danger. Anyone with an internet connection and Google can import any quantity of books. Apparently, dealer's warehouses are so full they are begging 'remaindered' bookshops to take all they can, even offering some titles for free.)

Anyway, started life as a books only online store, now they are a virtual departmental store (although people still think of them as a bookshop).

Publisher's Weekly

Reading Cervantes in Venezuela

A BBC news story says that in Venezuela the government has given out tens of thousands of free copies of Don Quijote by Cervantes and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo to "promote reading for the construction of socialism and humanist values".

Wow! When they are serious about reading, they are serious about reading. Quite unlike our own box-tickers: Have we launched the reading campaign? Tick. Composed TV song? Tick. Put up posters? Tick. Was the campaign a success? Who cares, now we have to spend next year's budget.

"Today we launch the Revolutionary Reading Plan," President Hugo Chavez announced live to the nation in April. "Read, read, read, read. That should be our slogan for every day."

Since the announcement, the pace of the reading plan has quickened, says the report. A key component is a series of free book distribution events, which have been held in public squares across the country. The government says it has boosted literacy levels.

"I'm really pleased," one man said according to the report. "I've seen the film but never read the book, so this was a great opportunity as they're giving them away for free, and it's too expensive to buy." Venezuela has the most expensive books in the world.