You Should Try This! - Xbox Marketplace Mini-Reviews

When the winter holiday season rolls around, while some people may be waiting for Cyber-Monday or stalking out the mall for sales, video gamers are awaiting the numerous sales that hit on Steam, PSN, and the Xbox Marketplace. 2012 was no exception and, for me, the sales opened up the opportunities to try out several new games I was excited to try and a few classics that I was excited to play again.


Online Gaming

My first exposure to online gaming didn't begin in a lobby waiting for the server to auto-balance teams while various accents chatted out of my surround sound system. It was with my neighbor across the street, staring at the DOS setup screen for Doom 2, while shooing away our parents from picking up the telephone. How we play with/against one another has come a long long way. Looking back at the last two years, (as opposed to the last 20 in the aforementioned example) online gaming has evolved into a melting pot of shared entertainment. Recently, developers have expanded into cross-platform gaming (Portal 2), server-side game streaming (OnLive), and of course, world-wide ecologies that are even studied by scientists.

Online gaming is now more than just a connection, a session, and a scoreboard. Developers have experimented with physical proximity (3DS' street pass in which you passively exchange character or items, or Google's Ingress, an augmented reality, social game with emphasis on defending and conquering real-world landmarks). Social gaming isn't just expanding, in some cases it's stripping down the way we interact with one another: Journey for PS3, an award-winning game where mute players communicate only through gestures and actions, limits communication and identity for an atmosphere spiritual-like experience. And then there are experiences like Star Fox 3D for 3DS, that utilizes the face cam to show the expression of the player as his/her ship blows up.

Online gaming is such a melting pot of experience nowadays that even in-browser gaming has taken a foothold of lunch breaks without monthly fees and in most cases completely free. Take a look at the popular 3D MMORPG Runescape (said to have over 130 million accounts and growing). Even online gambling, considered to be the first online gaming experience, has taken a page from communities with regards to safety, accessibility, and entertainment. A plethora of free, various online experiences are just one Google search away.


Continuing Resolution Momentum with Podcasts

Around this time of year, for many of us, our New Year's Resolutions have started to lose steam. Maybe that trip to the gym keeps getting pushed off or your goal of reading a book a month has been replaced by reading a Vanity Fair at your hairdresser. It can be hard to continue your momentum when your couch looks so comfortable and all of your television shows have just started back up.
But if you have started to lose your motivation or maybe you want to pick up a new habit, you may want to try out a podcast or radio show to learn a little more and spend some time each week thinking about your goals.

Your Resolution:
I want to learn to meditate or I want to relax more.

The Perfect Podcast For You:
Meditation Oasis
While countless studies have shown the health benefits of meditation, it can still be a difficult endeavor for a newcomer to start a practice. For myself, Meditation Oasis has proven invaluable in providing guided meditations for beginners and experts that range from brief five minute breaks to longer thirty minute relaxation techniques. It can be very difficult to focus yourself at first and a guided practice will assist in walking you through what to do. Soon you will find the time passing quickly and yourself looking forward to your daily break.
Your Resolution: I want to become a better cook.

The Perfect Podcast For You:
KCRW's Good Food
Continuing my own personal love affair with KCRW (one of my favorite radio apps on the iPhone), Good Food is an excellent look at global and local food around L.A. which will get you excited about food and educate you on the best ingredients. While there are more hands on cooking podcasts out there, Good Food will make you a better cook through expanding your knowledge and encouraging you to be a little more daring in the kitchen.
Your Resolution: I want to read more.

The Perfect Podcast For You:
Escape Pod or Selected Shorts
It may sound funny at first that a podcast can assist in helping you read more, but if you are having a hard time finding the time to read, an audiobook can be a great option for still allowing your to escape into a story. Escape Pod is a weekly podcast featuring a science fiction short story read by a narrator. Most episodes run between 15-30 minutes and it is a great way to be introduced to new authors. If sci-fi isn't your thing, try out Selected Shorts from Public Radio International to hear great actors reading wonderful works of art.
Your Resolution: I want to keep up with the news, but I am not sure where to start.
The Perfect Podcast For You: Global News - BBC World News Service or NPR: Most E-Mailed Stories
It can be difficult in today's world with its wealth of sources and opinions to find an easy way to get up to date with the news. But by making it your goal to listen to one of these podcasts each day, you will be on your way to be a more news-savvy person.Both of these podcasts give an overview of news in under 30 minutes, but from different perspectives. The Global News podcast is compiled by the BBC of world news events, provided with great information and very little editorializing. In my opinion, the perfect pair to this podcast is NPR's Most E-Mailed Stories podcast that compiles the day's stories that the majority of visitors to their site chose to share with friends. This will often include important U.S. related stories, but also interesting human interest and world news stories.  Combined they will give you a great overview of what is happening in the world and put you on your way to be a current affairs expert.
Your Resolution: I want to learn a new language.

The Perfect Podcast For You:
The "Coffee Break" series of podcasts
One of the hardest parts of learning a new language can be perfecting your accent and practicing with a native speaker. The Coffee Break series of podcasts gives you a quick chance to practice some common vocabulary and hear it pronounced in order to repeat. It is a great supplement to any language practice or a quick way before a vacation to increase your abilities.
Your Resolution:I want to make it big in Hollywood (or succeed in your chosen field).
The Perfect Podcast For You:
Making it with Riki Lindhome
Currently on hiatus, this is a great time to catch up with Making it with Riki Lindhome from the Nerdist Industries Podcast Channel. Whether your goal is to make it huge in the entertainment business or you are a creative person who wants to hear how other creative people inspire and motivate themselves, Making It features a weekly interview with someone in entertainment explaining their path to their current career. Hearing about others' process and methods to achieve in their field can help you even if you aren't trying to land a big role but rather are trying to find your own work/life balance or understand how to function as a creator in today's world.
Your Resolution: I want to be able to make better conversations at parties.

The Perfect Podcast For You:
Who Charted?
Full disclosure, Who Charted? is my current favorite podcast, so I would suggest this beyond any resolution. Each week, hosts Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack with a guest from the world of comedy go through one of the top Billboard charts and the top movies of the week. Whether increasing your knowledge of the top songs on the Korean billboard charts or helping you stay up to date on what is big at the box office, Who Charted? is guaranteed to help you from being left out of a conversation about the latest TSwift song. Additionally, the friendship between Wie-Wie and Ku-Ku (as they call themselves) makes the show both funny and adorable, making it seem a little bit like you are eavesdropping on two BFFs sharing opinions after a movie.


Tech Habits to Start in 2013

With the start of the new year, many people choose to take on the challenge of adopting new healthier habits. But while you are revamping your diet and dusting off your running shoes, how about updating your technology routine with one of the following resolutions for 2013.

1. I promise to back up my hard drive
In the last 7 years, I have switched computers as many times. This includes going from an Apple, to a PC, and back to an Apple. Each time this meant hoping that my data wasn't lost and beginning the painstaking process of figuring out how to transfer my full music library. But in the last switch, the process of transferring that information was as easy as downloading my last computer save off of the cloud service I use. With more of our media being digital and because accidents can happen at any time, it is important to save your data or, speaking from personal experience, you may end up having to re-purchase several full albums in a hard drive crash.
Our Suggestion: The type of coverage you need depends on what type of data you maintain on your computer and how much effort you want to put into it.  Personally, I love the ease of automated services like Mozy (which I use and love) and Carbonite. For a small monthly fee, my computer hard drive is automatically backed up to their servers and is fully downloadable in case of crash or computer swap. However, with a fully digital music collection and (striving for) paperless household, I depend on my hard drive for a lot.If you are interested in a free alternative and have less data to back up, you can also always use Dropbox (up to 2GB - 5oo extra MB per referral up to 18GB) or Google Drive (up to 5GB) to store your data. Alternatively, if you are nervous about saving your information on a server, you can always start backing up your data on an external hard drive. But in this case, I would suggest creating a calendar reminder for yourself to do this on a regular basis.

2. I promise to not app hoard
Take a look at your cell phone/tablet/dashboard and ask yourself, how many times have I used that program or app? When browsing the app store or if I see a great app suggestion from a site, I will often give it a test run. But slowly, you can find your memory and home screen can get cluttered with apps that you dutifully update but never open.

Our Suggestion: Your first step will be to take stock of your current app situation. Ask yourself with each app: when is the last time I used this? Remember, just because you delete something at this stage doesn't mean you can't re-download if you realize it is useful. Your next step will be to organize your home screen to ensure the apps that you want to be using are prominently featured. For example, I use a great task manager Clear on my iPhone and keep that front and center on my home screen to ensure I have easy access. In contrast, I love my Twitter app, but that can be filed with my other social networking apps. The final step is to begin being more critical with apps in the future. This might mean having a test drive folder to keep new apps or to research the best options before downloading. But by taking these steps, you'll continue to spotlight the apps you want to be using and increase your gadget's usability.

3. I promise to take my security seriously
In the last two years, I have had my e-mail address hacked twice, my twitter hacked once, and my debit card used to purchase web hosting in Sweden and a trip to China by complete strangers. What surprised me with every situation is how common these stories have become and how many people shared common experiences. These experiences have left me more conscious of my security online and I have begun to take steps to protect my information.

Our Suggestion: The easiest fix to taking your security seriously online is being careful and particular with your e-mail passwords. Ensure that you are changing your passwords on a regular basis and make sure your current passwords are secure enough. For myself, I use a password manager (LastPass because I love their app, but 1Password is also a great option) to create these passwords and remember them for me.

4.I promise to clean my equipment
How often do you clear your computer's recycling bin? How often do you run a computer cleaner program? How often do you clear your browser's cache? Now that you have answered those questions, ask yourself: when is the last time I cleaned my phone's screen, my video game controller, or my remote control? While cleaning our technology can seem like a tedious chore, consider how often you wash your hands during cold season and how often you touch your phone each day?
Our Suggestion: Add cleaning your equipment to your cleaning to-do list. Things like your cell phone like your iPhone need to be cleaned on a more regular basis due to the amount of use. You may start to find after doing this on a regular basis that your skin may improve due to less contact with oils from your hands. For technology like your computer or game controllers, I suggest planning on doing some cleaning on a monthly basis while doing a deep clean on a quarterly basis. In our household, these steps have allowed us to make our gadgets last longer and have helped us in avoiding the dreaded red circle of death.

5. I promise to expand my technical ability
In today's world, technical knowledge is a great commodity and can make you more attractive to potential employers. But also, we are a world that is spending more and more time interacting with gadgets and technology, and by having a greater understand of what we are using, we can become more educated consumers. For a goal this year, it may be a great time to begin working to expand your personal wheelhouse of technical skills.

Our Suggestion: Choose an endeavor that interests you and sounds fun, then attack it at full force. This resolution should allow you to increase your knowledge while enjoying yourself. Often times, this may be best as a tool to help you achieve a goal. For example, if you have been interested in starting a blog, it may be a great opportunity to teach yourself photo editing to increase your skills. Or maybe you have been really interested in creating a library catalog for your home and it may be a great change to learn some programming while building your database. Taking these steps will help ensure that you keep up with the task and learn something you will continue to use.

6. I promise to unplug
Technology is amazing, fun, and I still wonder how the pioneers had fun without their gadgets. But it can be easy to turn a fun brunch into a chance to populate our Instagram feed instead of have conversations with our friends. It is vital in today's world to take time detached from our e-mail account. It is also vital for your health with studies showing that too much screen-time around bedtime can be detrimental to your sleep.

Our Suggestion: Schedule some time each week to unplug for your technology. Whether it is going for a walk and leaving your phone at home or baking in the kitchen, take the time to not wonder what is being posted on Twitter but to enjoy your time. If you are in a relationship, have a technology free date with your loved one and spend your dinner chatting instead of checking e-mail.
If you can't imagine that time without your gadget, you may want to try a more drastic detox and put yourself on a technology fast for a weekend. Let your friends and family know your plan and pack your day with day trips and projects that will keep you busy.


Thanks, Siri

It was fun writing Gadchick's Unofficial Guide to Siri, but I wasn't sure if a little humor and snark would fit in a guide book. It was loved and hated, but at least it was downloaded enough times to be the #20 book for 2012 in iBooks. 2012 was a little busy for both Aline and I, but I think 2013 is going to be amazing for Gadchick. Stay tuned! I can look back and be pushed forward to better things with Gadchick and the women behind it.

Thanks, Siri, for getting Gadchick's name out there! You can check out our other books HERE.